There aren’t many track and field duels more symbolic than the one between Tia Hellebaut and Alessia Trost that will unfold on Sunday (10) in Gent at the Flanders Indoor, an IAAF Indoor Permit meeting.
Local hero Hellebaut, the 2008 Olympic High Jump champion from Belgium, who turns 35 next week, faces Trost, the still only 19-year-old World Junior Champion from Italy who is one of the most talented and promising high jumpers that international athletics has seen in recent times.
The local crowd will be pampered with other Belgian stars such as Kévin and Jonathan Borlée and Eline Berings lining up against a strong international field.
Experienced Hellebaut vs talented Trost
Hellebaut is a three-time Olympic High Jump finalist who also won honours in the combined events during her career – she was the 2008 World Indoor Pentathlon champion – and she now looks stronger than she was last year.
“I’m coming back from a training camp in South Africa where I went through thorough training sessions in ideal conditions,” said Hellebaut a few days ago. “I have become stronger and more powerful and I want to transfer that to my upcoming competitions.”
And Hellebaut made an impressive start in Arnstadt last week by clearing 1.96m, followed by a 1.97m victory in Eaubonne this Thursday where she had decent attempts at 2.00m. Hellebaut now ranks as the second-best performer in the world this year – right behind Trost.
The Italian achieved a magical 2.00m jump and a lifetime best two weeks ago in Trinec, improving her best of last winter by eight centimeres. “Jumping 2.00m in Trinec was a big step forward and an unexpected result,” said Trost. “I trained hard this winter and I always try to get the right focus when I compete.”
Operating in the shadow of these protagonists are Olena Holosha of the Ukraine, the European bronze medallist who finished second to Hellebaut in Eaubonne, and Nadezhda Dusanova of Uzbekistan.
Kévin against Maslak, Jonathan against Santos
The Borlée brothers’ main goals this year rest with Moscow in the summer, but their indoor races in Gent this Sunday will tell a lot about how high their hopes may reach. Kévin Borlée, who finished fifth in the Olympic 400m final, opened his season with 21.18 in the 200m and is drawn against European champion Pavel Maslak from the Czech Republic in the rarely-run 300m.
Twin brother Jonathan Borlée impressed with 32.84 over 300m last week and he will be challenging Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos from the Dominican Republic in the 400m. Jonathan finished sixth in the Olympic final after having set a national record of 44.45 in the first round in London. Brian Gregan from Ireland is a strong outsider with a seasonal best of 46.07 to his credit.
Eline Berings looks stronger than ever
Explosive starter Eline Berings seems destined to excel at 60m Hurdles rather than at the outdoor 100m Hurdles. Last week she came close to her Belgian record of 7.92 – set when winning the 2009 European indoor title – when she clocked 7.95 in Gent. But the likes of USA’s Yvette Lewis and World indoor bronze medallist Alina Talay from Belarus will put pressure on Berings.
The men’s 60m Hurdles will be a contest between Ladji Doucouré from France, American Kevin Craddock and local favourite Adrien Deghelt.
Lemaitre heads a list of other international stars
For his first appearance in Belgium, Christophe Lemaitre is set for the 60m dash. Strong opposition is waiting for the World 200m silver medallist – Angel David Rodriguez from Spain and Jaysuma Saidy Ndure from Norway will make it a tight European battle.
Kenyans Abraham Rotich and Anthony Chemut, both sub-1:44 runners on the outdoor track last year, are ready to make it an exciting 800m. World indoor 1500m bronze medallist Mekkonen Gebremedhin of Ethiopian is the favourite in the 3000m, where fast finisher Yoann Kowal from France could be a threat. There is also a strong Kenyan trio in the form of Vincent Rono, Paul Koech and Daniel Kipchirchir Komen – all of whom have the guts and experience to take control of the race.
The women’s 1500m reunites two sisters – Mimi Belete competes for Bahrain while her younger sister Almensh represents Belgium. Isabel Macias from Spain could be a strong contender as well.
Trecia Smith and Dana Veldakova are the big names in the Triple Jump where Svetlana Bolshakova hopes to please the local fans.
More action on the infield is assured with a high-quality men’s Pole Vault competition and a triathlon where Belgian decathlon record-holder Hans Van Alphen takes on World indoor silver medallist Oleksiy Kasyanov and Spain’s Eusebio Caceres.
Ivo Hendrix for the IAAF