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PROTRACK » GENERAL » LaShawn Meritt & Felix Sanchez headline Perth Track meet on February 22nd

LaShawn Meritt & Felix Sanchez headline Perth Track meet on February 22nd

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Olympic stars to race in Perth

By Bridget Lacy
The West Australian
January 11, 2014

LaShawn Merritt

Next month's Go for 2 & 5 Perth Track Classic has had an injection of wow factor, with international stars Felix Sanchez and LaShawn Merritt confirmed to headline the event.

The Dominican Republic's Sanchez, 36, is a dual and reigning Olympic champion in the 400m hurdles, while 27-year-old American Merritt is the current world champion and Beijing gold medallist in the 400m.

The pair will be joined at the WA Athletics Stadium for the February 22 Classic by Australia's biggest stars, including 100m hurdles champion Sally Pearson and WA world championships javelin silver medallist Kim Mickle.

It will be the last chance for the Australian athletes to qualify for the world indoor championships in Poland in March.

Athletics WA chief executive Wayne Loxley said there would be more international competitors announced for the event and he was confident of assembling the best field in its history.

The international stars will compete on a new track which is being laid at the stadium.

"It's fantastic for athletics and WA to get two international stars who have won gold medals at the highest level and we hope that attracts people to come and see them perform in the best conditions they'll get in the world," Loxley said.

"We have had individual athletes who have been at that level, but in my time it's the best array of athletes we have had in terms of natural talent and what they have achieved."

Loxley had been determined to lock in more world-class athletes after the 2013 Classic was beset by a series of injuries and no-shows.

Star attraction Oscar Pistorius could not attend after he was charged with murdering his girlfriend in South Africa.

Countrywoman Sunette Viljoen, who had been preparing for a showdown with Mickle, pulled out because of an injury.

London long jump silver medallist Mitchell Watt withdrew after one fouled jump and Pearson (hamstring) and rising sprinter Melissa Breen (calf) were also unavailable.

"Eventscorp and the State Government have been the best supporters of athletics in the country and part of that support has been about getting that talent here," Loxley said.

"We have been disappointed in the past, but this year we will see some of the best athletes from around the world."

Sanchez dominated the 400m hurdles from 2001 to 2004, winning two world championships and claiming gold in Athens.

But the veteran stunned the favourites in the final in London in 2012 to take his second Olympic gold.

Sanchez said he was looking forward to his first visit to Perth.

"Word is that the conditions are perfect once the sun starts to set," he said.

"Warm conditions usually mean a better result.

"I'm just keen to race alongside the best you guys have to offer."

Merritt, who returned to his best at last year's world championships in Moscow after a 2010 drug suspension, holds the fifth-fastest time in history in an event in which Australia is strong.

"I like new challenges, so starting my season with a race on a fresh track is a bold and positive move," he said.

"I'm the kind of athlete who likes to put on a great show for those who turn out, so I'll be making sure that I'm in shape to hopefully drop something big and start my track season as strong as possible.

"The Aussies have always had a pretty competitive 4x400m so I know that race will be quick.

"The bigger challenge from those around me, the better."

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