Mark Butler for IAAF and Maebashi 99
Mens 60 Metres
Maurice Greene (USA) came within 0.01 of his world indoor record in the semi-finals of the US Championships, but was beaten in the final by Tim Harden. On paper these two should also contest the world title, with their closest challengers being Eric Nkansah (GHA) and Deji Aliu (NGR). The African pair dominated this winters European circuit. Aliu in particular will want to do well following his disqualification two years ago for false starts, a decision he bitterly contested. The Paris winner, Háris Papadiás, has stayed in Greece, so unless Canadas Bruny Surin can regain his form of 1993-95, there will be a new champion. The home crowd will hope that it might be Koji Ito, who was the sprint star of the Asian Games last December. The 29 year-old from Kobe may opt instead for the 200. Another man capable of a surprise is Britains Jason Gardener, who has more indoor championship experience than some of those ranked above him.
Mens 200 Metres
His world outdoor record may be safe for some time, but Michael Johnsons Maebashi 200m track record of 20.81 is surely doomed. One of the strongest fields in the history of the championships is entered, headed by four times Olympic silver medallist Frankie Fredericks. The Namibian rarely runs indoors but is in terrific form, demonstrated by his recent 19.92 in Melbourne - the same figure as his brilliant world indoor record from 1996. Defending Champion Kevin Little - favourite until the declaration of Fredericks - was pipped by Rohsaan Griffin at the US Championships 20.32-20.41. The other two medallists from Paris 1997 - Iván García (CUB) and Francis Obikwelu (NGR) - are also entered, as is Olympic 4th-placer Obadele Thompson (BAR), who defeated Griffin in Boston this winter. The final result may hinge on the lane draw, so we can expect plenty of fast running in the early rounds by those keen to gain an advantage. The best qualifiers will be drawn in lane 5 and 6 in subsequent rounds, unlike at the last championships.
Britains Jamie Baulch will start favourite, just as he did in 1997. Then, the Welshman won silver after Sunday Bada caught him in the final 20m. The Nigerian defends his title but is not in the form which won him medals at the last three world indoor championships. Baulch, meanwhile, scored four major indoor victories in eight days before completing his preparations in Australia.
The new US Champion Angelo Taylor (45.50) declined selection in order to concentrate on his studies, so the top American is Milton Campbell who, like Baulch, has a best of 45.60 this winter. Watch out too for Spains David Canal. The reigning European Junior Champion has already clocked 46.00 and showed in Budapest last year how he can improve massively in a championship setting.
It was two years ago in Paris when Wilson Kipketer began his epic year of world record-breaking. After his travails of 1998, the Dane returns, having prepared for the Championships in Australia. He has no recent form, but that was the case also in 1997.
Kipketer will need to be near his best to withstand two challengers of the highest standard, Johan Botha (RSA) and Nico Motchebon (GER). Botha has been one of the stars of the winter season, scoring 6/6 victories including sub-1:46 wins in Stuttgart and Ghent. The former prison guard, managed by Jos Hermans, looks set to win South Africas first ever World Indoor track medal. Motchebon was beaten, narrowly, by Botha in Stuttgart but has improved since then. He took the German title (his 12th) in 1:45.38 and last weekend at Sindelfingen set a world best for 600m. The German - who superstitiously sleeps in his running vest the night before a big race - would be a popular winner, after just missing out on a medal in Paris. The race is not likely to be slow but if it is we should watch for the fast finishes of Norberto Téllez (CUB) or Czech Champion Lucas Vydra, both of whom have major championship medals outdoors.
In the absence of Hicham El Guerrouj, the race looked being a duel between Iberia and Kenya ... until Haile Gebrselassie declared his interest in going for an unprecedented double. The Ethiopian, second on the all-time indoor list with 3:31.76, needs only to race once at 3000m here because the event will be a straight final on Saturday. He therefore will be free to run a 1500m heat on Saturday with the final on Sunday. In Stuttgart on Februard 7, Gebrselassie beat both Andrés Díaz (ESP) and Laban Rotich (KEN), who have gone on to clock the two fastest times of the year. Díaz beat Rotich in Stuttgart then finished behind the Kenyan at 2000m in Birmingham. Last week the two ran remarkably similar times in separate solo races. In Athens on February 24, Díaz broke Peter Elliotts European indoor record with 3:33.32. The next day in Stockholm, Rotich won in 3:33.39.
Rotich, world number 2 last year, must be regarded as favourite. Besides his fast times he also posseses a fierce finishing kick, as shown in last years African Championships when he was timed at 37.52 for the last 300m. Díazs Championship showings so far have been less impressive but the Spaniard appears to have moved to a new level this winter. The other two principals are Rui Silva (POR) and William Tanui (KEN). Silva split Díaz and Rotich in Stuttgart. The Portuguese runner, who took European indoor gold and outdoor silver last year, went on to set a national 800m record in Ghent. Tanui (35) has been pacemaking in Europe but set an indoor personal best behind Díaz in Athens.
Who would bet against another win by Ethiopias Haile Gebrselassie, who has not lost at this distance since placing second to Noureddine Morcelis world outdoor record in Monaco five years ago. The Ethiopian is already a leading candidate for indoor athlete of the year, having set a world 5000m record in Birmingham and running fast 3000m times in Stuttgart and Liévin. The next quickest man is Paul Bitok (KEN), but he was soundly beaten by Gebrselassie in Birmingham and Liévin. Bitok might have to work hard to prevent an Ethiopian 1-2; Million Wolde pipped him in the Stuttgart 3000 and is a close third on the 1999 world list. Could he beat Gebrselassie ? No Ethiopian has done that since 1993. The non-African challenge should be spearheaded by former champion Gennaro Di Napoli (ITA). With just 14 entries and probably fewer final declarations, the event will be a straight final on Friday.
60 Metres Hurdles
After silvers in 1989, 1993 and 1997, Colin Jackson is a sentimental favourite. The Briton lost by 0.01 to Anier García in Paris two years ago. The Cuban has not shown his Paris form so far this year, so big threat to Jackson will be from Falk Balzer of Germany and the American pair of Duan Ross and Reggie Torian. Torian, an aspiring actor, has not raced outside of the United States so far this year and has won all four of his races. Last weekend he won the US indoor title impressively with the years fastest legal time, 7.38.
The fastest illegal time of 7.34 belongs to Balzer, set in Stuttgart when the result was annulled because of the Germans rolling start. That race apart he is 1-3 down to Jackson this winter. Ross (2-2 versus Jackson) won in Birmingham, Madrid and Liévin but faltered in Stockholm. A close race can be expected and a time even in the low 7.4s may not be good enough for a medal.
The two highest jumps this year both came on February 25; Javier Sotomayors 2.32 in Birmingham and Vyacheslav Voronins 2.33 in Moscow. The Cuban will be bidding for his fourth world indoor title 10 years after his first in Budapest when he set the current world indoor record. Voronin has jumped higher than his outdoor best this winter, but the big threat to "Soto" will surely come from defending champion Charles Austin. The Texan was below his best at the US Championships (=3rd at 2.20) but has scaled 2.31 this winter and can never be discounted.
A new star could emerge in Andrey Sokolovskiy (UKR), who has made a big improvement this winter from 2.22 to 2.31.
In the absence of Maksim Tarasov (6.00 in February), there should be a terrific battle for the gold between Olympic Champion Jean Galfione (FRA) and last years world number 2, Jeff Hartwig (USA). Both men are in their best form. Hartwig, with 6/6 wins this year, has set national indoor records of 5.91 and 5.92. Galfione raised his French indoor record to 5.95 on February 28 in Paris, but has not been as consistent as the American. The Germans have also been in record-breaking form this winter and are so strong that three men - Danny Ecker (5.90), Tim Lobinger (5.81) and Andrei Tiwontchik (5.85), have been nominated for the two available places. Look out the Quirot-like comeback of Spains José Manuel Arcos. Badly burned in a domestic accident on his 24th birthdday in 1997, he raised the Spanish indoor record to 5.80 last weekend.
Iván Pedroso, who leapt a world-leading 8.37 in Liévin, bids for his fourth successive title against a strong field including five men at 8.20 or better this winter. These include the only man to have beaten the Cuban since 1996 - Jamaicas James Beckford.
Erick Walder (USA) is also a potential winner and is particularly strong in the final round. He proved this in Liévin with 8.35 to Pedrosos world-leading 8.37. Yago Lamela (ESP) and the Romanian Bogans - Tarus and Tudor - have all set national indoor records this winter, but may need to do so again to win medals.
The most open of the mens events in Maebashi. World Champion Yoelbi Quesada (CUB) is the biggest name in the field but has no reported form this winter. If he is below his best then Europeans could take all three medals.
Germanys Charles Freidek, the worlds number one at the end of last season, has rounded into form nicely with wins at the German nationals (16.99), Athens (17.13) and Sindelfingen (17.18). He was fourth in Paris and will expect to do much better this time.
The world list is headed by Balkan Indoor Champion Rostislav Dimitrov on 17.26. The 24 year-old Bulgarian is already jumping further than he did in the whole of last year, when he won a surprise bronze at the European Championships. Can he win the event again for his country 14 years after Khristo Markov? Further Balkan challengers are Hungarys Zsolt Czingler and the teenage Ionut Punga (ROM), who won the world junior title last summer and has quickly progressed to 17m.
John Godina chose the worst possible occasion to suffer his first loss in 25 contests when he placed only third in the US nationals. He was reprieved from the prospect of missing these championships by the injury to C. J. Hunter, so has a chance to go better than his bronze in Paris. However, the Ukrainian gold and silver medallists from two years ago - Yuriy Belong and Aleksandr Bagach - are also entered. Bagach has been in sensational form at home. He broke his national record first with 21.36 then a mighty 21.83 on February 21 for fifth place on the all-time list.
Closing the gap on the Eastern Europeans is Spains Manuel Martínez, who broke the Spanish record twice in the Six Nations Trophy meeting.
Erki Nool looks set to carry on where he left off in 1998 as the worlds number one. He was a commanding victor in his own contest in Tallinn, where he set personal bests at 60m (Estonian record of 6.72) and shot put. He won by 100 points from the rising Czech star Roman Sebrle, who himself set three lifetime bests.
Two who were not in Tallinn were World outdoor Champion Tomás Dvorák (CZE) and reigning European indoor Champion Sebastian Chmara (POL). Dvorák confirmed his goof form by winning the Czech indoor 60m hurdles title with personal best of 7.78.
Mystery surrounds the form of the man who was leading for most of the contest two years ago in Paris - Chris Huffins. The American has not competed in a combined events contest this winter, but a 60m time of 6.69 indicates that he is close to his best in that event. However it is the 1000m where he needs to have improved.
4 x 400 Metres Relay
A dramatic race can be expected because as many as five teams are capable of winning. In 1997, the United States won after a solid first leg took them clear of a chasing pack which suffered from collisons and falls. On paper the United States appear to have the edge again but Great Britain, Jamaica, Japan, Poland and Spain all have excellent squads. Classy performers such as Solomon Wariso (44.68 in 1998) and Robert Mackowiak (45.04) have passed up the chance of an individual run in order to concentrate on this event. Experience will count for much; on a 200m track, changeover errors will cost dear. The team with the cleanest performance should not only win but also threaten the world record.