With potentially up to a dozen Samsung Diamond League winners in action led by the second fastest man in history Tyson Gay, day one of the revamped IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup promises to serve up some top quality fare in the Croatian seaport of Split.
Some 20 events are shoehorned into a packed opening day’s schedule as four teams – Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia/Pacific (Asia and Oceania) - battle it out for global supremacy inside the Poljud Stadium.
Four continent for one trophy
The race for overall victory is a difficult one to predict with Africa expected to dominate the endurance events, the Americas looking strong in the sprints and Europe, on paper at least, the powerhouse in the field.
And with every point set to count we could very well have a much better idea of which continent could prevail by the end of the first day of competition.
Gay plans to run the third leg of the 4x100m for the Americas as part of their formidable-looking squad, which also includes his compatriot, the 200m Diamond League winner Wallace Spearmon, world indoor 60m bronze medallist Daniel Bailey of Antigua and Beijing Olympic 100m fourth-place finisher Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles.
The squad has speed in abundance, but remember they have had little chance to practise and will take on a well-drilled French team led by Christophe Lemaitre, which landed the European title in Barcelona earlier this summer.
Lemaitre takes over rest of the world
Earlier in the programme the quick men will do battle in the individual 100m and in the absence of Gay, who has opted not to compete, Lemaitre (EUR) starts favourite.
The 20-year-old, who landed the sprint treble of 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at the European Championships, has enjoyed a sensational year and his 9.97 personal best recorded last weekend in Rieti marks him out as clear favourite. Although the twin Americas threat of Bailey (10.00) and Monzavous Edwards of the USA (10.00) will have to be watched.
The women will also clash over 100m with the Americas duo Kelly Ann-Baptiste (10.84) of Trinidad and Shalonda Solomon (10.90) of the USA expected to help their continent to a sizeable points haul. The pair also feature as part of a strong-looking Americas 4x100m squad with the European champions, Ukraine, their likely main rivals.
Wariner - the man to beat in the one-lap event
Another one of the dozen Diamond League champions on view on the opening day in Split is Jeremy Wariner (AME), who will be the man to beat in the 400m. The former World and Olympic champion from the USA has shown signs of returning to his very best in recent weeks and he will surely have half an eye on the World Cup record of 44.47 set by his compatriot Mike Franks some 25 years ago in Canberra.
The women’s 400m is expected to be a more wide open affair with Debbie Dunn (AME) of the USA, Botswana’s Amantle Montsho (AFR) and Tatyana Firova (EUR) of Russia all boasting realistic chances.
The Americas will expect to snare more good points in the men’s 400m Hurdles led by the World No.1 and Diamond League champion Bershawn Jackson. The US athlete is joined on his team by World silver medallist Javier Culson of Puerto Rico, although rising British talent David Greene (EUR), the European champion, will fancy his chances of upsetting the pair.
Europe will expect a prominent showing in the women’s 400m Hurdles led by their continental champion Natalya Antuykh. The Russian athlete with a season’s best of 52.92 is comfortably the quickest in the field and much will be expected of their second string athlete, Bulgaria’s Vania Stambolova.
Africa unbeatable in middle and long distances?
Africa will expect to bag heavy points in the middle and long distances, although they might not have matters all their own way, particularly in the women’s 800m.
The pre-event favourite and Diamond League winner Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya will be well fancied, but Russia’s European champion Mariya Savinova and the Americas duo, Alysia Johnson, the world No.1 of the USA and Jamaica’s in-form Kenia Sinclair will ensure a genuine inter-continental scrap.
Africa has strong claims in the men’s 1500m led by their Olympic and continental champion Asbel Kiprop and supported by Morocco’s Amine Laalou and Mekonnen Gebremedhin of Ethiopia. Their main challengers will be the impressive Leonel Manzano (AME) of the USA and reigning World champion Yusuf Saad Kamal of Bahrain, who represents Asia/Pacific.
All eyes will be on four-time world indoor 3000m champion Meseret Defar (AFR) in the women’s 3000m. The Ethiopian athlete and 2006 World Cup winner over 5000m is a supreme performer on the big occasion but will face a strong challenge from Shannon Rowbury (AME) and the European 5000m champion Alemitu Bekele of Turkey.
The African trio in the men’s 5000m is led by Imane Merga of Ethiopia the Diamond League winner. Backed by African champion Edwin Soi of Kenya and Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro they present a strong challenge with the former world champion for the distance, Bernard Lagat (AME) of the USA their likely main opposition.
Perkovic carries home support on day one
The centre of attention in the field will be rising Croatian star Sandra Perkovic. The European discus champion will expect to receive both passionate and vocal home support inside the Poljub Stadium and since triumphing in Barcelona she has gone from strength to strength. She posted a new national record of 66.93m in Brussels, but standing in her way is Diamond League champion Yarelis Barrios (AME) of Cuba, who has the ability to break Croatian hearts.
Christian Cantwell the World champion indoor and out has proved virtually invincible this year and will fancy claiming maximum points for the Americas in the men’s shot. The US strongman will also have half an eye on Ulf Timmermann’s 25-year-old World Cup record of 22.00m – a distance which is more than within his range.
Perhaps no event on the opening day here in Split quite epitomises the global nature of athletics than the men’s long jump because all four teams have genuine chances of victory. German Christian Reif (EUR), the world No.1, Dwight Phillips (AME) the World champion of the USA, the World indoor champion from Australia Fabrice Lapierre (APA) and the World and Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena (AFR) of South Africa all have realistic claims.
Among the other slew of world-class names on show today will be Diamond League winner Yargeris Savigne of Cuba in the women’s Triple Jump, where she faces Olga Rypakova (APA) of Kazakhstan, the World indoor champion.
In the women’s javelin, look out for European champion Linda Stahl of German up against her continental team-mate Russia’s Mariya Abakumova, the Olympic silver medallist. In the men’s High Jump European champion Aleksandr Shustov of Russia will be among the main contenders while in the men’s hammer, Libor Charfreitag of Slovakia, the European gold medallist will start favourite.
Diamond League winner Fabiana Murer (AME) of Brazil will face off with Russia’s recently crowned European champion Svetlana Feofanova in the women’s Pole Vault.
Steve Landells for the IAAF
IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup
Composition of Teams
- Each team will be allowed to enter two athletes in each event (three in the 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and 3000mSC but only the first two finishers from each team shall score points).
- Only one athlete from any one country may compete in each individual event.
- individual events: 1st: 8pts – 2nd: 7pts – 3rd: 6pts – 4th: 5pts – 5th: 4pts – 6th: 3pts – 7th: 2pts – 8th: 1pt
- relays: 1st: 15pts – 2nd: 11pts – 3rd: 7pts – 4th: 3pts
- teams: Points achieved by men and women will be combined and the overall winner of the IAAF Continental Cup will be the team with the most combined points.