Opening day of athletics sees two finals and our 500th athletics Olympian
Fourteen Australians line up on the opening day of track and field competition, including the first two medal events of the Games athletics program, the women’s 10,000m with Eloise Wellings and the men’s 20km walk with debutants Dane Bird-Smith and Rhydian Cowley.
Research by the Australian Olympic Committee reveals that to date 496 athletes have represented Australia in athletics at the Olympics, tracing back to our first - Edwin Flack. So we will celebrate today our 500th track and field Olympian with the honour shared by our walkers Dane Bird-Smith and Rhydian Cowley who make their Games debut.
The morning session begins with the discus qualifying with big Benn Harradine (Qld) in group A - one of 7 indigenous athletes to have represented Australia in athletics at the Olympics, entering the circle for his third Games. The Australian record holder was a finalist in London and at the world championships in Daegu and Beijing. He’ll be joined by debutant Matthew Denny (Qld) in group B, the national champion and former world youth champion who turned 20 in June. Denny won the silver at last year’s Universiade in Korea in his senior international debut.
Australia has a full complement in round one of the men’s 800m for the first time since Melbourne in 1956. The Victorian trio in Rio is headed by one of the surprise packets of the 2016 season, Luke Mathews (Vic) in heat 2. Three years ago Luke was winning the 800m at the APS sports in Melbourne. Now 21 - he's the national champion and is making his Olympic debut. Luke is joined by three-time Olympian Jeff Riseley (Vic) in heat 6 who is coming into form at the right time and late qualifier Peter Bol (Vic) in heat 7, the Sudan-born former West Australian, who smashed his PB in late June to gain selection.
The first athletics final of the Games is the women’s 10,000m with Eloise Wellings (NSW) returning for her second Games. With daughter India, Eloise is one of two mothers on the Australian team (the other being marathoner Lisa Weightman) and will be searching for Australia’s first ever top eight placing in this event at the Olympics.
The men’s 20km walk kicks off at 3:30am (AEST) with 2015 World University Games champion Dane Bird-Smith (Qld) and fellow debutant Rhydian Cowley (Vic) leading the charge. Bird-Smith’s father and coach Dave is a dual Olympian in the walk (Moscow and Los Angeles) and after finishing 8th in Beijing last year Bird-Smith is a sneaky medal chance. Unfortunately team captain and Beijing bronze medallist in this event Jared Tallent (SA) is a late withdrawal from the 20km walk event. Tallent’s withdrawal is a precautionary measure due to a slight hamstring niggle, ahead of his main event, the 50km walk.
In the evening session, the women’s 1500m first round will see London semi-finalist Zoe Buckman (Vic) in heat 3, Sydney University’s Jenny Blundell (NSW) who has risen from 22nd to 5th on the Australian all-time list in heat 2 and Linden Hall (Vic) in heat 1 who has sliced almost 10 seconds off her PB this year.
Our men are set for take-off in the long jump qualifying with world championships silver medallist Fabrice Lapierre (NSW) and London finalist Henry Frayne (Qld) looking to land a spot in the final.
The Breen-machine, Australian 100m record holder Melissa Breen (ACT) completes the Aussies in action on day one in the first round of the women’s 100m.