Tasmanian Donna MacFarlane has smashed the Australian and Oceania record in winning the bronze medal in the 3,000m steeplechase at the IAAF Golden League meeting in Oslo, Norway, overnight.
MacFarlane, whose long time coach and mentor Max Cherry passed away last month, produced the race of her career to clock 9min 18.35 seconds.
The time is the eighth fastest ever for the event that will make its Olympic debut in Beijing and sliced nearly six seconds off Melissa Rollison’s national mark of 9:24.29 set at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. MacFarlane’s previous best of 9:25.05 was set in winning the bronze behind Rollison’s silver in Melbourne.
In a race billed as “the greatest women’s steeplechase field ever assembled”, the race was won by world record holder Gulnara Galkina of Russia in 9min14.77sec; world champion Yekaterina Volkova of Russia was second in 9:18.24.
MacFarlane ran a controlled race and moved through the field to lie in sixth place with two laps remaining before beginning to make her presence felt on the final lap.
With Galkina outside her own world record (9:01.59) but still with a comfortable lead, MacFarlane moved into fourth place in the finishing straight. Despite knocking her knee and stumbling away from the last barrier, she recovered quickly and in a sprint finish was narrowly held out by world champion Volkova in a finish that saw 0.19 seconds separating second to fourth.
“It’s not often that I get out sprinted to the line, but I had the world champion in my sights and I was a bit eager to beat her,” an ecstatic MacFarlane said after the race.
“In the end I hit my knee and was lucky to stay on my feet,”
MacFarlane, 30, who is now guided by Cathy Freeman’s former coach Peter Fortune, has been based in Belgium for the past fortnight, travelling with husband Marty and her two children Marcella, 6, and Gabriel, 3, in order to have the best possible Games build-up.
“It was special for me to run well in Oslo because Max was here with me last year,” MacFarlane said in reference to her former coach.
After a disastrous world championships campaign is Osaka last year, where she lost her shoe just 50m from the start line in her opening heat, MacFarlane is putting together an impressive string of performances, including World Athletic Tour wins in Melbourne and Doha and now a podium finish and Australian record in Oslo.
Sally McLellan finished sixth in the 100m hurdles in 12.87 behind Berlin winner Jospehine Onyia of Spain (12.59).
Kenyan newcomer Pamela Jelimo was again too strong in the 800m, winning in 1:55.41. World indoor champion Tamsyn Lewis improved on her time in Berlin (2:02.05) to record 2:01.06 to finish eighth.
Melissa Rollison finished 18th in the steeplechase in 10:20.73.
The major highlight in Olso was the world 5000m record set by Tirunesh Dibaba. The Ethiopian broke free of the field two kilometres from the finish to set a time of 14 minutes 11.15 seconds, knocking more than five seconds off the mark of 14:16.63 set by her compatriot, Meseret Defar, last year.