Preview Athens, Greece

10th IAAF World Cup in Athletics - MEN’s PREVIEW

Gay now third fastest ever - 19.68 in Stuttgart (Getty Images)Gay now third fastest ever - 19.68 in Stuttgart (Getty Images) © Copyright

The 10th edition of the IAAF World Cup in Athletics takes place in Athens, Greece, on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September. Here is a preview of some of the action expected in the MEN'S EVENTS.

NB: Preview is based on the provisional ENTRY lists. START LISTS will not become available until after the Technical Meeting has taken place on the evening of Friday 15 September (meeting commences at 1800hrs local time – 1500hrs GMT).

Sprints

With co-World record holder Asafa Powell stating he will only be taking on relay duties for the Americas squad this weekend -despite what the current entry list reads -, the spotlight in the 100m will shine on Tyson Gay as the 23-year-old American concludes a stellar campaign during which he’s emerged as the year’s finest all-around sprinter. If his admittedly problematic first half is up to snuff, the race will be one for second. Leading the chase should be European double dash champion Francis Obikwelu and the top Frenchman, Ronald Pognon. A wildcard is Andrey Yepishin, who was the surprise runner-up at the European championships after his 10.10 Russian record.

While Gay attracted much of the spotlight over the half lap this summer, his training partner Wallace Spearmon, the reigning World championships silver medalists, will try to steal some of it back. The young American displayed strong late season form in Stuttgart with a 19.88 personal best behind Gay, and is the man to beat here. World junior record holder Usain Bolt, who’s also run 19.88 this season, is expected to do justice to the Americas team, while both Obikwelu and Pognon will be doubling back in the 200 as well.

World and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner may not be in the race, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a fast and fiercely fought contest over 400m. Over the past month, African champion Gary Kikaya and U.S. runner-up LaShawn Merritt have gradually emerged from Wariner’s shadow, with Kikaya edging Merritt 3 to 2 in head-to-heads this year. Both produced personal bests in Stuttgart last weekend; Merritt 44.14 and Kikaya 44.10, an African record.
 
Middle & long distances

Olympic silver medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa has been on a tear over 800m in recent months. The 26-year-old has won his last five races, all against stiff competition, and produced a world-leading 1:43.09 in Rieti. The World Athletics Final winner is clearly the man to beat. Giving it a try will be Canadian record holder Gary Reed, Youssef Saad Kamel of Bahrain, European Champion Bram Som and U.S. champion Khadevis Robinson, all of whom have dipped under 1:44 this summer.

Kenyan Alex Kipchirchir has won gold at every major competition available to him this year - Commonwealth 800, African 800/1500, World Athletics Final 1500 – and looks well poised to conclude his season with a World Cup 1500m win for Africa as well. Though inconsistent since, Ivan Heshko, Ukraine’s World Indoor champion, handed the Kenyan a defeat at the Paris Golden League race, and could be a factor here.

Since winning the 3000m at the 2002 World Cup, Australian Craig Mottram has gradually evolved into one of the world’s most solid all-around distance talents. Back to defend, he’ll face Kenyan Mike Kigen and Spain’s European champion Jesus Espana.

It can be argued that one of the hardest working athletes on the circuit this summer has been 5000/10,000m record holder Kenenisa Bekele. More often than not, he’s faced fresh-legged challengers nearly week-in and week-out, and with a pair of exceptions, emerged victorious on each occasion. News is that the Ethiopian is ill but if he does toe the line his season-capper won’t be made any easier with Saif Saaeed Shaheen in the field, well-rested after skipping the World Athletics Final to prepare for his 5000/Steeplechase double here. This could be the showdown of the weekend.

For his part, Shaheen, who had dominated his favoured event in recent years, is facing his most difficult weekend. In the 3000m Steeplechase, he’ll be up against Paul Kipsiele Koech, the African champion, who has also run under eight minutes this season.

Hurdles

Olympic champion Liu Xiang returned to international competition in spectacular fashion last weekend in Stuttgart with a scorching 12.93 performance, showing that his 12.88 World record from July was hardly a fluke. But chasing him in Stuttgart was the young talent Dayron Robles who, still only 19, equalled the Cuban record at 13.00. Another fast race should be expected.

Periklis Iakovakis provides the most promising prospect of a home win for Greece. A sub-48 performer for the first time this year, Iakovakis cruised to the European title last month, before taking wins in Zurich, Monaco and again last weekend in Stuttgart. U.S. champion Kerron Clement is the world’s fastest this year at 47.39, but has struggled to find that form again.

Jumps

All but three competitors in the High Jump have cleared at least 2.30m this season, promising one of the deepest competitions of the weekend. Despite his runner-up finish in Stuttgart, the man to beat remains Russia’s European champion Andrey Silnov, also the world leader at 2.37. Czech Tomas Janku (2.34), jumping for team Europe, has come the closest.

Although he couldn’t finish higher than fifth at the World Athletics Final, Steven Hooker still has the best late season momentum in the Pole Vault, particularly after his 5.96m win in Berlin two weeks ago, to arrive in the Greek capital as the front runner. Four others have jumped higher that 5.80 this season, led by South African veteran Okkert Brits.

The Long Jump promises to be a delightful skirmish, with Golden League Jackpot winner Irving Saladino, also the world leader at 8.56m, topping the field. Commonwealth and African champion Ignisious Ghaisah of Ghana, Italy’s European champion Andrew Howe, and Mohamed Salman Al Khuwalidi of Saudi Arabia have all proven to be fiercely competitive throughout the season.

American Walter Davis, the World indoor and outdoor champion, and Romanian Marian Oprea, each reached their 2006 bests of 17.73m and 17.74 respectively indoors, and are looking to end their seasons on an up note here, particularly Davis, who won the title in 2002 after a very long collegiate and domestic campaign. Brazil’s Jadel Gregorio could mount a challenge as well.

Throws

In the Shot Put, American Reese Hoffa, the World indoor champion, and Germany’s Ralf Bartels are the class of the field, and should battle for top honours. In the Discus, Lithuanian Virgilijus Alekna is in a class of his own here, as is Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen in the Javelin Throw. Anything short of a win for the pair of Olympic champions would be a major upset.

The Hammer Throw features Japan's Olympic champion Koji Murofushi, who has pieced together an unbeaten campaign in seven competitions this season. Second in the 2002 World Cup, his primary rival this time will be European champion Ivan Tikhon, who finished second to the Japanese in Stuttgart last weekend.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF