Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Linden Hall still has goals to accomplish after big breakthrough

13 JUL 2016 Feature Melbourne, Australia
The past few months of Linden Hall’s life must seem like one long dream.
A near nine-second improvement in the 1500m, selection for her first Olympic Games, and an engagement announcement; the Australian middle-distance runner would not have dared to script her year so far.
Ranked 101st in the world over her speciality distance in 2015 following a PB of 4:10.41 in Heusden last July, the Florida State University graduate was very much on the margins of the international scene.
That was until May when Hall wiped almost six seconds from her PB with an impressive 4:04.47 clocking at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford, only to trump that performance just four weeks later to place fifth on her IAAF Diamond League debut in Eugene in a time of 4:01.78, taking her to third on the Australian all-time list.
“It has all been a little bit crazy,” says Hall struggling to articulate her thoughts on her rapid rise. “I read one article which compared me to Sarah Jamieson and Margaret Crowley (the two fastest Australian women ever at 1500m). To be sharing similar territory to them is a bit of a shock.”
But while Hall’s rapid rise has certainly caught the eye of many observers, her Olympic ambitions have been 20 years in the making.
Growing up in Melbourne, she recalls as a five-year-old watching the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and being utterly spellbound by the action.
“I said to my mum ‘this looks pretty cool. One day I would like to win a medal’.”
In an early attempt to pursue her dreams, she tried several sports, including swimming, but quickly acknowledged her main talent was running. She was a gifted schoolgirl athlete, although by her own admission she was no superstar performer.
She competed in the 1500m and 3000m – finishing eighth and 10th respectively – at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games but otherwise missed out on teams for World Junior and World Youth Championships.
While some may have been tempted to drop out of the sport to focus on studies and work life, this was never an option for the dogged Hall.
“A guess I’m a little bit stubborn,” she says. “I felt like I could make it (to the next level). That it would happen. I had loyalty to the coaches I’ve worked with and my club (Athletics Essendon) and I like to think I’m not much of a quitter.”
At a “loose end” studying and training in Melbourne, in 2011 she opted to take up a scholarship to live and train in the US at Florida State University. It proved a wise decision and she describes her experience competing there as “the most amazing four years”.
She thrived under the ‘professional’ track and field set up at the college. Part of a powerful training group, Hall made more giant strides in her development.
In 2014 she earned an unexpected bronze medal in the 1500m at the NCAA Championships in Eugene and featured on the FSU team that swept the conference triple crown of cross country, indoor and outdoor.
“I had a great time,” she says of her time in the US collegiate system. “I was aged 20 when I went to the US. I was a little more mature (compared to the younger students) and the whole experience made me a stronger athlete.”
Returning home to Melbourne after graduating in dietetics last June, she opted to join Bruce Scriven’s highly rated training group, also known as the “Wolfpack”. The decision to join Scriven – who coincidentally guided Sarah Jamieson to the Australian 1500m record of 4:00.93 – has proved an astute one.
Hall admits she has changed very little in her training from her life in the US, save for “a little less mileage and a bit more quality” and the combination has worked wonders.
She enjoyed a solid domestic season earlier this year and finished second at the Australian Championships, but on her return to the US for the Payton Jordan Invitational meeting on 1 May, she was fizzing.
“I definitely expected a PB, but I was thinking I would run about 4:07,” she explains. “I hadn’t raced for a month but that played into my favour because I was so excited to compete. My old college teammates were there, my old coaches and many of the girls I used to race against. It was special to be there.”
Inspired, she stopped the clock at 4:04.47. Her career had just moved to a new stratosphere.
Four weeks later and invited to the Prefontaine Classic, she admits to being “star struck” sat around the dinner table before the race with the likes of 2011 world 1500m champion Jenny Simpson and 2013 world 800m bronze medallist Brenda Martinez.
But Hall shrugged off any doubts she may have harboured to run the race of her life at Hayward Field – a venue where she had frequently excelled.
“It has a lot of positive energy for me and it was exciting to be back,” she adds. “I knew it would be fast and I would have to tack on the back and hang on.”
She went through 800m that day at a PB time for the distance, but did far more than “hang on” to finished fifth in a PB of 4:01:78, just 0.21 behind Simpson and in front of the likes of Martinez and USA’s world indoor bronze medallist Shannon Rowbury. It was a major breakthrough. The question is: why?
“I’ve had a consistent last 18 months of solid training and I’ve had a good base of winter training,” explains Hall. “I know consistency is a cliche, but I’m a year older and a year stronger and all these things help.”
Hall further illustrated her new-found form by hacking more than three-and-a-half seconds from her 800m PB in Portland with a 2:02.85 clocking before returning home to Australia, only to receive a thrilling boost after she and boyfriend, New Zealand marathon runner Ben Ashkettle, were recently engaged.
After securing selection for the Australian Olympic team on Tuesday (July 12), she plans to return to Europe shortly where she hopes to maintain her dazzling recent form.
“I said to someone after Eugene, ‘I’m a little scared to run another 1500m because it might be disappointing’,” she says with a smile. “Hopefully there is more to come and I have half an eye on that Australian record. We’ll just have to see.”
But her big date is 12 August, when the women’s 1500m gets underway at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“I’m just going to take it round by round,” she says. “The first aim is to get out of the heats to then make it all the way to the final. That would be huge.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF

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