Birmingham ready to go the distance to reclaim his crown

TOP FORM: Ballarat Olympian Collis Birmingham is out to reclaim his national crown in the Zatopek 10,000m event at Olympic Park tonight.AUSTRALIAN 10,000-metre record-holder Collis Birmingham is out to reclaim his national crown tonight.Birmingham has strong Ballarat support in the annual Zatopek’s marquee 10,000m event at Olympic Park.Eureka stablemate Duer Yoa, Ballarat Harriers’ Nathan Hartigan and Ballarat-trained Ben Toomey are also in the field.Birmingham won the event in 2007, his track debut in the distance, but tonight’s Zatopek carries extra weight, doubling as Commonwealth Games’ selection trials.Less than a second stood in the way of Birmingham’s 2006 bid in the 1500m for a spot at the Melbourne Games.This time, if the Ballarat Olympian runs close to his personal best and national 10,000m record time – 27 minutes, 29.73 seconds set in California in April – he should easily slip inside the Commonwealth Games A-qualifying time of 28:05.00.Birmingham enters Zatopek in strong form after winning the national road race title less than two weeks ago as first Australian home and runner-up in the Great Australian Run.The 24-year-old, who contested the 5000m and 10,000m finals at the Berlin world championships, is among favourites to win the men’s race.Eureka mentor Rod Griffin, who will co-call the event tonight, said his former charge would face tough competition from defending Zatopek champion David McNeill and Michael Shelley, the only fellow athlete in the field to have raced sub-28 minutes.World Champion marathon runner Martin Dent is also in the mix.”Collis’s form lately has indicated he’s a pretty good chance,” Griffin said.”But it’ll be those four at the pointy end of the race.”In the 12 months since Birmingham last contested the Zatopek, he has clocked personal bests for 10,000m, 5000m, the mile and 1500m.For emerging Eureka runner Duer Yoa, this season’s Zatopek is an important learning curve.The 19-year-old will has the high-pressure role as pacemaker for the event’s leading athletes.Fellow Ballarat athlete Nathan Hartigan, coached by John Walsh, has begun to make his mark on key events.Hartigan’s season includes a personal best time in the Victorian 5km championships and he will also enjoy exposure to a decorated field.Also in the mix is Ben Toomey, part of the Griffin stable, a proven miler, including a win in the 1600m handicap at the Stawell Gift in 2008.
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