By Nicole Jeffery
March 21, 2011 12:00AM
JAI Taurima's national long jump record is officially on notice after Mitchell Watt recorded the biggest legal jump in Australia since the Sydney Olympics, at the Sydney Track Classic on Saturday night.
In his comeback season after a serious groin injury ruled him out last year, Watt made the best of difficult wet conditions to produce a huge leap of 8.38m, just 11 centimetres short of Olympic silver medallist Taurima's benchmark (8.49cm).
Only three men in the world, including Commonwealth Games gold medallist Fabrice Lapierre (8.40m), have jumped further than Watt in the past year.
He and Lapierre are now headed for a showdown at next week's Australian Athletics Tour final in Perth, which traditionally offers favourable conditions for jumpers and sprinters.
It is the site where Lapierre leaped a massive 8.78m (wind-assisted) at last year's national championships.
Former Olympic long jumper and commentator David Culbert believes it is "just a matter of time for both of them" to overtake Taurima.
Watt is now eagerly anticipating his chance to soar in Perth, and is giving himself two opportunities. He and coach Gary Bourne will go west this week to contest the WA championships on Saturday, then back up for the tour final.
"In all honesty, I was more disappointed to miss Perth last year than the Commonwealth Games," Watt said. "My coach thought I would have broken the Australian record if I had been in Perth."
Watt had trouble on the runway throughout the Sydney event, fouling his first three jumps, and his fifth, and said he was still "rusty" from his long lay-off.
Bourne predicted Watt would go "a fair bit further yet this season" once he sorted out his runway issues.
"He looks like he will really bust something out," Bourne said.
"The stage is set for something in that (8.49m) realm."
The Sydney jump was 1cm further than the 8.37m he cleared for the bronze at the 2009 world titles and sets him up for a charge at the world crown this year.
Sprint hurdler Sally Pearson's flying 100m was another high point of the Sydney meet, as she registered the fastest time by an Australian women on home soil in 13 years, 11.21sec.
National record-holder Melinda Gainsford-Taylor ran the same time in March 1998 in Brisbane.
Pearson is undefeated in the flat sprints this season but had been frustrated by her inability to translate great training form into a fast competition time.
She found the right inspiration when the Australian 4x100m relay team she leads fell agonisingly short (0.02sec) of the qualifying time (44sec) for the world titles.
Anchor runner Melissa Breen threw the baton down the track in disgust when she saw the time, and Pearson was similarly furious at the near-miss. But she channelled her aggression when she backed up for the 100m sprint an hour later. "I was so ready for the 100," she said.
Commonwealth Games javelin silver medallist Kimberly Mickle was the other world championships qualifier in Sydney, launching the spear 63.82m, a personal best which lifts her into the world's top 10 in the past year.
Interesting that the relay time required now for a World Champs qualifier is 'only' 44.00s. Two years ago the girls had to run 43.90 and fell short with a 43.95 in Osaka. This team (with Pearson in 11.2 shape) should smash 44.00 yet have run 44.05 and 44.02 at their two tries so far. They should be running mid 43's. Something's not working?