Local hero Javier Culson and USA’s Michael Tinsley, both Olympic medallists, are expected to deliver an exciting London rematch this Saturday as the main attraction of 7th Ponce Grand Prix – the fifth leg of the IAAF World Challenge.
The Francisco "Paquito" Montaner Stadium expects a crowd of 12,000 people to encourage more than 20 former and current World and Olympic medallists, including Culson, who gave Puerto Rico their first Olympic athletics medal in history when winning the 400m Hurdles bronze in London 2012.
Ponce-born Culson set a still-standing national record of 47.72 on his home track in 2010 and posted a then world leading 48.00 last year to clinch a fifth Grand Prix win in Ponce.
The two-time World silver medallist’s performance in London confirmed him as a national hero. He has trained in different locations and toured schools and hospitals to inspire Puerto Ricans. More recently, he and his coach Hector Cano Amil were honoured at Jardines de Ponce school in his hometown.
“Puerto Rico is very proud of Javier (Culson), an athlete nurtured at home with a local coach,” said meeting director Victor Lopez. “He has shown Puerto Rico can excel in athletics and others are following on his footsteps.”
London silver medallist Tinsley will arrive in Ponce as the fastest man in the world this year following his 48.55 win at the Drake Relays in late April. Unbeaten in three races in 2013, he is also the Diamond League leader after his 48.92 victory in Doha last Friday.
Tinsley is no stranger to the Puerto Rican meet, having finished second in 2010 and 2011. He was less fortunate in 2012 as he finished eighth.
Culson, the 2012 Diamond League champion, finished third at the Drake Relays and did not finish his second race of the season in Guadeloupe on May 8. He is aiming at a sixth total and fifth consecutive victory in Ponce.
The duo is joined by three other men with personal bests under 48 seconds: USA’s Johnny Dutch (47.63 PB), Jeshua Anderson (47.93) and Cuba’s 2011 Pan American Games gold medallist Omar Cisneros. Also in the race is Jamaica’s Olympic finalist Leford Green, who has beaten Culson twice in Puerto Rico in 2010-2011.
Culson will have two other compatriots on the track: fellow Olympians Eric Alejandro and Jamele Mason.
Ahoure v Bartoletta in women’s 100m
With a new Mondo track, an impressive line-up and weather conditions permitting, fans should witness fast times in the sprints as well.
Olympic 4x100m winner and World record-holder Tianna Bartoletta (nee Madison) should find strong opposition in her quest to repeat her sprint double from this meeting last year. Also confirmed are fellow Olympic relay gold medallist Bianca Knight, 2005 World champion Lauryn Williams, and Barbara Pierre, the second-fastest in the world this year with 11.02.
Double Olympic finalist Maurielle Ahoure, the fastest woman indoors this year, will run her second 100m of the year on Saturday after opening her season earlier this month in Kingston with 11.11. She, along with Bartoletta, Williams, Knight and Pierre, will double in the 200m.
The 110m Hurdles features four of the five fastest men in 2013: world leader and Olympic finalist Orlando Ortega of Cuba (13.17 this year), Antwon Hicks of the USA (13.25), Barbados’s 2009 World champion Ryan Brathwaite (13.26) and Jamaica’s Andrew Riley (13.28). They will be targeting David Oliver’s meeting record of 13.12 set in 2010.
Ponce now part of Hammer Throw Challenge
The Ponce Grand Prix has this year been added to the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge and the men’s event will be contested on the Universidad Catolica grounds. Top names include Poland’s 2000 Olympic and 2001 World champion Szymon Ziółkowski, 2012 Olympic finalist Kibwe Johnson of the USA, 2007 World bronze medallist Libor Charfreitag and Slovakia’s Marcel Lomnicky.
Apart from Culson, local fans have high hopes in 19-year-old Wesley Vazquez, who finished second in the 800m at this meeting last year with an area junior record of 1:45.63, a time he later improved to 1:45.29 to finish fourth at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona.
Double winner at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games, Beverly Ramos is ready to battle for the victory in the 3000m Steeplechase, which will be contested for the first time at the Ponce Grand Prix.
“Despite the date clash with the Shanghai Diamond League, we were able to gather great fields, especially in the sprints because of the great reputation and credibility of the Ponce Grand Prix among athletes and athletes’ representatives,” said Lopez. “People in Ponce love athletics and they cannot wait to see their hometown hero Javier Culson competing against world-class athletes in front of them.”
All in all, 24 current and former World and Olympic medallists are confirmed for Ponce, as well as more than 40 London Olympians representing 21 countries from four continents.
Organized by Voluntarios por Ponce (Volunteers for Ponce), the meeting will draw close to 200 athletes from 28 countries in events. Men and women will contest 100m and 800m. Men will also compete in 400m, 3000m, 110m and 400m Hurdles, Pole Vault and Hammer Throw. Women will also take part in 200m, 100m Hurdles, 3000m Steeplechase, Triple Jump and Javelin Throw.
Ponce boasts a rich history in organizing athletics events, from the 1975 Central American and Caribbean Championships, the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 2006 Iberoamerican Championships.
The Ponce Grand Prix joins Kingston and Rio de Janeiro – all held in May – as the only three Latin American and Caribbean stops on the IAAF World Challenge tour.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF