Riley Day passes sprint test as Sasha Zhoya flies in pole vault

Junior sprint sensation Riley Day has two big tests this week and she’s not sure which one is more important. She passed the first with flying colours last night, winning the national under-18 100m title in Sydney in a personal best time of 11.59sec, a time that would have earned her third place in the women’s open field at last year’s Olympic trials.

The second will be passing her driving test on Thursday, when she turns 17.

After announcing herself as a future star by racing the open athletes at the Nitro series last month, Day returned to racing the girls in her age group and she showed a clean pair of heels last night, winning by more than two metres.

“I was hoping there wasn’t going to be a two-metre (illegal) tailwind there so I’m glad it was legal and I’m really happy with it,’’ Day said.

She said she learned a lot about racing at the Nitro series, particularly racing against Usain Bolt in a mixed relay, but she said it wasn’t hard to go back to her lower-key junior events.

“I’ll get to the opens eventually but I may as well race in my age group while I can,’’ she said. “I’m happy with how I’m going. I was looking forward to nationals and I wasn’t stressing as much as I normally do.’’

Day’s victory will almost certainly earn her a place in the Australian team for the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas in July.

She will also race the 200m tomorrow, and she hopes to complete the same sprint double as she did last year, but she said she was more nervous for her driving test.

“I have my Ps test on Thursday, it’s stressing me out, and then I have to go back to school for assessment,’’ she said.

Her parents, who drive her regularly from their home in Beaudesert to either the Gold Coast or Brisbane for athletics commitments, will be as excited as she is if she passes.

But Day said her grandmother was less enthusiastic. “Nan says she will miss taking me places,’’ she said.

Earlier yesterday, Australia’s next pole vault prodigy was revealed as Perth 14-year-old Sasha Zhoya, who cleared an Australian under-16 record height of 4.92m to win the national under-17 title.

It is believed to be the best pole vault performance by a 14-year-old boy and lifts Zhoya to the top of this year’s international under-18 rankings.

Guided by Olympic champion Steve Hooker’s former coach Alex Parnov, Zhoya only narrowly missed his first five-metre clearance.

Athletes like Day and Zhoya will now be able to take advantage of the Australian Sports Foundation’s announcement that junior athletes will be able to set up tax deductible crowd-funding pages, after a pilot program for Olympic and Paralympic athletes that ran last year.

ASF chief executive Patrick Walker said the success of that program encouraged the foundation to expand it this year to include all national-level athletes. It is understood one of the athletes on last year’s program received a $100,000 donation.

Day said it was a great initiative. “Every cent helps because we’re not ridiculously rich and it’s an expensive sport,’’ she said. “But I love it so my parents are willing to do whatever they can to help me fulfil it.’’

The Australian
Nicole Jeffery
Sports Reporter