We continue our three part preview of the 10th IAAF World Indoor Championships (5 – 7 March 2004) with the FIELD EVENTS.
Undefeated in seven competitions this season with an average winning height of more than 2.33—a mark only one other jumper has cleared even once--Sweden’s Stefan Holm is a clear favourite to win his third consecutive World Indoor title.
Only 19-year-old Czech Jaroslav Bába, last year’s European junior champion, is remotely close to the Swede’s level. His indoor best of 2.34 this season is supported by three additional 2.32 performances.
Andrey Sokolovskiy of Ukraine, the silver medallist three years ago in Lisbon, enjoyed three performances at 2.30 or higher within a ten-day period in February. Along with Romania’s Stefan Vasilache and his pair of recent 2.30 jumps, these two merit serious consideration as medal candidates.
Jamie Nieto registered a PB 2.32 in February and added a 2.30 when winning the US championships, while reigning European outdoor champion Yaroslav Rybakov drew attention with his 2.30 win in the Russian Championships ten days ago.
Tallin winner Oskari Frösén of Finland seems to be peaking at the right time with a PB 2.31 only last week. And Rozle Prezelj of Slovenia, with his early-season PB 2.31 and now free of recent foot problems, completes the list of eight 2.30-or-higher jumpers from this season going to Budapest.
No distinct forerunner has emerged here, although the always-helmeted Toby Stevenson of the US (5.81) and Russia’s Igor Pavlov (5.80) have shown the most consistency at the top end with multiple performances at 5.75 or higher. Both bring with them teammates with strong resumés—season leader Jeff Hartwig (5.88) and Pavel Gerasimov (5.77).
Defending champion Tim Lobinger of Germany (5.75) still has to be reckoned with for his long experience with pressure competitions, as does European outdoor champion Alexander Averbukh of Israel (5.81), who has shown the ability to convert a single remaining try into a win.
Also moving into vaulting’s top rank after his 5.81 last Sunday in Leipzig is Germany’s Björn Otto.
The condition of Paris champion Giuseppe Gibilisco is unknown after reports of a recent illness which has swept through the Italian team in the past week. Until now, the Sicilian had built upon his sudden success last year with an indoor national record 5.82.
Budapest could be the opportunity for 2003 outdoor leader Romain Mesnil of France (5.71) to break loose. If Holland’s Rens Blom (5.70) can score a PB as he did last year in winning the bronze in Birmingham, another medal could well land in his pocket.
Freshly arrived in Europe is Paris silver medallist Okkert Brits of South Africa (5.75), also in a position to make an impact despite only two indoor competitions. And moving from strong outdoor seasons to indoor competiton for the first time are Australian’s Dmitri Markov (5.75), the Edmonton champion, and Paul Burgess (5.70).
This has been one of the more invisible events of the winter, with rare appearances on the programmes of international competitions.
Savanté Stringfellow’s season includes both a world-leading 8.41 but also an 8.26 last weekend in winning the US championships. Vitaliy Shkurlatov (8.24) of Russia brings a strong resumé of four jumps of over eight metres to Budapest and looks to be Stringfellow’s main challenger.
Bogdan Tarus put forth a strong 8.20 in the Romanian national championships, and 8.13 jumps from Paris finalist Vladimir Zyuskov of Ukraine and China’s Zhou Can bring that trio into the picture, although somewhat obliquely.
Although he’s jumped only 8.04 this season, one somehow feels that Spain’s Yago Lamela, a two-time World Indoor silver medallist, will find renewed energy under these championship conditions and will be fighting for a medal when the final rounds approach.
Plagued by a tender quadriceps lately, Olympic champion Iván Pedroso of Cuba (8.01) does not appear to be in condition to bounce back for a try for his sixth indoor gold, but compatriot Luis Meliz (8.10) is surging at the right moment.
Even more certain than Stefan Holm’s overwhelming favourite role is that of fellow Swede, Christian Olsson, who is riding the crest of a 22-competition winning streak, with an astounding consistency measure of surpassing the seventeen-metre mark in 48 of his last 49 meetings.
Brazilian Jadel Gregório has looked strong lately, with a 17.46 South American record only two weeks ago. Month-old season bests—all PBs and from the Samara competition--are presented by Russia’s Danila Burkenya (17.41), Paris silver medallist Yoandri Betanzos of Cuba (17.39) and European U23 champion Dmitriy Valyukevich of Belarus (17.31).
Presumably recovered from a calf injury which likely denied him a medal in Paris last summer, Romania’s Marian Oprea seems ready to leap farther than his current season-best 17.16 and could be a medal factor.
The Russian champion at 17.23 two weeks ago, Aleksandr Sergeyev is still somewhat of an unknown, despite his bronze medal in the last World Junior Championships.
New US champion Christian Cantwell is the season leader at 21.95 (increased from last year’s PB of 20.86), and he owns four of the year’s top performances, prompting glowing reports from eyewitnesses praising his recent technique refinements.
Joachim Olsen of Denmark exploded after nearly one-month’s rest with a 21.63 in Tallinn last week and appears ready to challenge the young American.
Should that pair falter in the least in Budapest, then a number of others move into challenging positions for the top medals.
Cantwell’s teammate, Reese Hoffa, had a superb month with a 21.05 PB, followed by a 20.97 in the US Championships.
The defending champion, Manuel Martinez of Spain (20.78)—who dramatically outdueled Olsen in Vienna two years ago to win the European title—and Britain’s mammoth Carl Myerscough (20.91 last Saturday for his US university team) appear ready to make a move up, along with Holland’s Rutger Smith, who won his national title with a NR 20.75 less than two weeks ago.
One of the lessons gleaned from Paris last year is to never overlook the top Belarus throwers, and with a 20.85 more than a month ago in his single appearance, Andrey Mikhnevich, the World outdoor champion, is a definite threat.
Yuriy Belonog of Ukraine, the indoor bronze medallist last year, opened the year with a significant 20.47, and then dropped out of sight, but he could be poised to spring a surprise in Budapest.
This is potentially the best high jump field ever at the World Indoor Championships, with all six jumpers at 2.00 or higher this season on the card for Budapest prior to Sweden’s double champion Kajsa Bergqvist’s withdrawal through injury earlier this week..
Tops for the year at 2.04 has been Russia’s Anna Chicherova of Russia, whose early season included four performances at 2.00 or higher within a month’s time. Even though defeated in the recent Russian Championships at 1.98—a competition won at 2.01 by Yelena Slesarenko—the Birmingham bronze medallist should still have the inside track over her less-seasoned compatriot.
Daniela Rath is the only remaining jumper in the field with multiple visits to two-metre territory this year. However, the German’s relative inexperience in pressure situations would make her an outside shot for a medal, as is also the case with Spain’s Ruth Beitia (2.00).
Rather, look to Croatia’s Blanca Vlasic (1.99), the fourth placer in Birmingham and seemingly overdue for a two-metre indoor performance, and Vita Palamar of Ukraine (2.00) to enter the medal race.
This may be the most highly anticipated event of the weekend. In the last two years, defending World Indoor champion Svetlana Feofanova of Russia nudged up the world record nine times without any visible challenger.
Only three weeks ago, Russian rival Yelena Isinbayeva, the Paris bronze medallist, broke the standard twice in one day at the all-star meeting in Donetsk to shatter Feofanova’s iron hold on the record.
It took Feofanova and her new stiff fiberglass weapon only a week to move the record back into her own dossier at 4.85, and a riveting duel should ensue in Budapest.
Barring complete collapse of these two top protagonists, only one medal is realistically up for grabs. Sydney champion and former world-record holder Stacy Dragila of the US (4.71) should be in the thick of that battle. Additionally, Poland’s Monika Pyrek, the Birmingham bronze winner, is coming off a recent national record 4.65 and showed good form last weekend in Chemnitz.
But in truth, all of these are just ladies-in-waiting for the two Russian claimants to the women’s pole-vaulting throne.
The big question: Will Russia’s Tatyana Lebedeva decide to compete in both jumps in Budapest?
Sitting in the unique position of leading the world in both the long and triple jumps, Lebedeva could be on the brink of World Indoor history by winning the gold in both. But with qualifying rounds now back in the programme after a brief absence, her decision will require careful consideration.
Teammate Irina Simagina won’t be fazed by Lebedeva’s plans because she too has a 6.95 yearly best, as both jumpers put on a thrilling show at the Russian Championships. That would leave defending World champion and third-ranked Tatyana Kotova (6.81) in limbo, depending on Lebedeva’s course of action.
Former World champion Fiona May of Italy (6.69), with three performances at 6.61 and higher, stands out among the non-Russians, as Marion Jones of the US (6.75) has not included Budapest in her plans.
If success at home can be exported to Budapest, national champions Valentina Gotovska of Latvia (6.72) and Spain’s Conchi Montaner (6.65) might be part of the final mix.
Not to be overlooked is Australia’s Bronwyn Thompson, who brings a 6.72 from outdoor competition.
Germany’s Bianca Kappler leaped a PB 6.63 in her narrow win over World Heptathlon champion Carolina Klüft of Sweden (6.62) last week, and both are part of the tightly-bunched field distantly behind the Russians.
With defending World champion Ashia Hansen of Great Britain absent, the chase for the title will be led by Paris champion Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia, the year leader at 14.97 (and also with two more performances over 14.90).
Next in the year rankings is Greece’s Hrisopiyí Devetzí with a freshly-minted 14.81 a week ago in Athens. Whether she can improve on her away-from-home best—an eighth-place 14.34 in the Paris championships—will play a major role in her fortunes.
Two Cuban-born jumpers with new allegiances—Yamilé Aldama of Sudan (14.65) and Magdalin Martinez of Italy (14.62)—stand ready for medal honours, as does possibly Romania’s Adelina Gavrila (14.58). However, late word indicates Aldama is possibly not at full strength because of an undetermined physical condition.
Otherwise, it will take a marked improvement on season bests for the remaining jumpers to crack into the elite trio.
Vita Pavlysh unleashed a 20.73 a week ago to win yet another national title with the season’s best throw, and unless something goes terribly awry, the Ukrainian should win her second world indoor title, the first coming seven years ago in Paris.
Defending champion Irina Korzhanenko of Russia (20.13) has an uphill fight to hold her title, it would appear. She and compatriot Svetlana Krivelyova (19.68) occupy the next echelon of competitors, which possibly also includes Trinidad’s Cleopatra Borel, who surprisingly improved her PB by more than a metre to 19.48 two weeks ago.
US champion Laura Gerraughty had a splendid February and also improved her PB from last season more than a metre to 19.14 in three competitions. Recent performances also bring Germany’s Nadine Kleinert (18.70) and Krystyna Zabawska of Poland (18.50) into a somewhat murky picture for the subordinate medals.