In a story by Gennie Sheer it is reported that "Kathy Watt is under enormous pressure to win today's individual pursuit at the Australian Championships in Perth to secure a start in the event at the Atlanta Olympics. Watt took the silver medal in the 3,000 metre race at the Barcelona Olympics only days after her surprise victory in the women's road race."
Sheer writes that "at last year's world championship in Colombia she was 10 secs off gold-medal place, and in her quarter-final failed to improve on a qualifying time that placed her eighth in the world rankings. Watt's main threat is Lucy Tyler-Sharman, who is tipped as Australia's future leading female pursuit rider."
"National coach Charlie Walsh has cautioned against this one race being used to select the Olympic pursuit rider and has suggested a possible ride-off between the pair at a later date, an idea Watt rejects. The 31-year-old Victorian believes if she wins today in Perth, regardless of her time, she should be selected for the event in Atlanta."
Watt said "At this stage of Olympic preparation it's hard to pull out world class times." Watt has been training for the Olympic road race to defend her title from Barcelona and for a placing in the ITT. "Watt did not compete in last year's national titles due to an Achilles injury, and in her absence Tyler-Sharman won all five of the women's events on the program. Since then, Tyler-Sharman, who is also a six-time US champion, has taken Walsh's advice and directed her energy towards the endurance events."
Interestingly, last Tuesday, as reported yesterday, Tyler-Sharman DNF the women's points race after an "exercise-induced asthma attack while leading halfway through. But the setback hasn't unsettled her plans for the pursuit."
Guinness writes that "Australia's anticipated Olympic Games medal haul in track cycling in Atlanta would be floundering were it not for the move to allow professionals to compete in this year's Games. That is the opinion of national track coach Charlie Walsh, who has seen many of his senior squad recently join the paid ranks."
"They include Victorian sprinter Gary Neiwand and team pursuiters Brett Aitken and Stuart O'Grady of South Australia, and Dean Woods of Victoria. However, others may have followed suit had the open plan not been endorsed."
Walsh said during the national track titles in Perth that "Australia is very, very lucky that the Games are now open. If they were still amateur we would have had a serious problem with regards to our medal objectives."
Guinness emphasises this and says that "Australia has an abundance of world-class junior track riders who are gearing towards top level senior performances after the Atlanta Games. But without the likes of Woods, O'Grady and Aitken, the depths of endurance, strength and experience needed to win gold at Atlanta would be shallow. Woods, at 29 years of age and the eldest member of the endurance track squad, became title favourite by recording the fastest qualifying time from 10 starters for the final."
"The Wangaratta rider's bid to repeat his 1994 national title victory began with him clocking 4.30.83 against the 4.36.5 of South Australia's Tim O'Shannessy - another national senior team pursuiter who was the second fastest qualifier. Meanwhile, Aitken, in his first year back under Walsh's wing after a one-year absence, was the third fastest in 3.37.42. In his qualifying heat, he met South Australia's reigning world junior pursuit champion Luke Roberts, who clocked the fourth fastest time of 4.40.04."
Guinness says that "the outcome meant that the run-up to last night's final saw Woods race against Roberts in the semi-final, while Aitken confronted O'Shannessy. Woods said the pursuit title had been opened up by the absence of NSW's Bradley McGee, who went to hospital yesterday for a throat operation. He said "If he was at his best, I don't think anyone would beat him."
Late NewsO'Shannessy surprised by winning the title in an Australian record time. More later.