Preview Ponce, Puerto Rico

World champions Merritt and Ibarguen the star attractions in Ponce

Javier Culson on the way to another victory in Ponce (Organisers)Javier Culson on the way to another victory in Ponce (Organisers) © Copyright

Local hurdling hero Javier Culson, 2013 IAAF World Championships gold medallists LaShawn Merritt and Caterine Ibarguen, as well as Hungary’s London 2012 Olympic Games hammer gold medallist Krisztian Pars lead a field of 27 former and current World and Olympic medallists who will compete at 8th Ponce Grand Prix, an IAAF World Challenge meeting, in Puerto Rico on Saturday (17).

World and Olympic medallist Culson has won the 400m hurdles race four times in front of his home crowd on the at the Francisco ‘Paquito’ Montaner track in Ponce and set his personal best of 47.72 in 2010.

However, he lost last year and would like to redeem himself in his home town.

Culson already shown decent early season form with a 48.68 clocking for second at the Drake Relays last month.

The 29-year old will meet two other men who have broken the 48-second barrier: Cuba’s 2011 Pan American Games champion and 2013 World Championships fourth placer Omar Cisneros and USA’s 2013 World University Games champion Jeshua Anderson.

Puerto Rico will also have at least three other men in race: 2012 IberoAmerican champion Eric Alejandro (who has a best of 49.12), Jamele Mason (48.89) and Carlos Benitez (50.99).

The men’s 400m is also expected to be a crowd pleaser with the fourth encounter of the year between Moscow 2013 winner LaShawn Merritt and Puerto Rico-based Olympic Games and World Championships medallist Luguelin Santos, of the Dominican Republic.

Merritt set a world leading 44.44 at the Drake Relays and repeated the same time at the Diamond League opener in Doha last Friday. In between, Santos beat him in Kingston.

The young Dominican has a lot of followers in Puerto Rico, where he studies at the Interamerican University to the men’s division at the National University League.

The duo will be joined by other top athletes, including 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner, Belgium’s Kevin Borlee and Trinidad and Tobago’s Renny Quow as well as the US trio of David Verburg, Manteo Mitchell and Kind Butler.

The sprints also promise to produce fast times on the new track installed in 2013. The men’s 100m features seven men with personal bests under 10 seconds: USA’s Wallace Spearmon, Mookie Salaam, and Water Dix of the USA, Trinidad and Tobago’s Keston Bledman and 2008 Olympic silver medallist Richard Thompson and Cayman Islands’ Kemar Hyman.

Dix, Salaam and Spearmon will also double in the 200m and will be joined by 2009 World Championships silver medallist Alonso Edward, of Panama, The Netherlands’ Churandy Martina and the other Borlee twin, Jonathan.

The women’s 100m field is also impressive with five athletes boasting personal bests of 11 seconds or faster: USA’s Alex Anderson, Barbara Pierre, Shalonda Solomon and Octavious Freeman, as well as Jamaica’s Carrie Russell.

The men’s 800m sees the USA’s Olympic fourth placer and world leader Duane Solomon up against emerging local star Wesley Vazquez, fourth in the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships, who set a Puerto Rican record of 1:44.64 last month.

Having won at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha to extend her winning streak to 12 triple jump competitions, Ibarguen will be excited to compete in what she refers to as her second home as the Colombian got her nursing degree at the local Metropolitan University.

Her main opponent should be Cuba’s two-time World Championships medallist Mabel Gay.

Cuba’s 2012 Olympic silver medallist and 2014 World Indoor Championships pole vault winner Yarisley Silva will meet USA’s Mary Saxer, who will be looking to bounce back after failing to clear a height in Doha, and Kylie Hutson.

The Ponce Grand Prixis also the first stop for the men on the 2014 IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge where Pars, second in the Challenge last year and also the Moscow 2013 silver medallist, will make his season’s debut.

He will be joined by Slovakia’s 2010 European champion Libor Charfreitag, fellow Slovakian and 2013 World Championships finalist Marcel Lomnicky and USA’s Olympic finalist Kibwe Johnson. USA’s Amanda Bingson is the favourite in the women’s hammer.

Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF