With just three days to go to the start of the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships, Istanbul, Turkey (9-11 March), here is a preview spotlighting some of the highlights expected this weekend in the men's events. Note that this preview is based on entry information received by the IAAF but before the official start lists have been decided.
A lot can change between the 60m point of a 100m sprint and the finish line.
Which is precisely what makes the 60m indoor championship distance so exciting and unpredictable. Istanbul 2012 promises to be no exception.
Trell Kimmons of the USA leads the world list with 6.45 seconds to win the US title. Justin Gatlin’s 6.47 put him second to Kimmons and equal-second with Lerone Clarke of Jamaica on the world list.
But the Albuquerque venue is 1512 metres above sea level, probably giving the two Americans a bonus of a few hundredths.
Ceding the title to a Jamaican is fraught with difficulty, too. Despite the Caribbean nation’s fabulous recent record outdoors, no male Jamaican sprinter has won the 60 at the world indoors. The 13 editions of the World Indoor Championships have yielded just a solitary silver medal, to Michael Green in 1997.
Clarke won the Commonwealth Games 100 in 2010. Joining him in Istanbul is Nesta Carter, a 9.78 man outdoors and an Olympic and World championships gold medallist with the Jamaican 4x100M Relay.
So it’s all up for grabs then, with defending champion Dwain Chambers (6.58) by no means out of it. Chambers will be chasing a medal for a third consecutive World Indoor Championships.
Grenada had not won an outdoor world championships gold medal until Kirani James won the 400 in Daegu last year, and the precocious 19-year-old will be favoured to win again in Istanbul.
Should he succeed, James will not be the first - Alleyne Francique won consecutive world indoor 400 titles in Budapest in 2004 and Moscow in 2006 – but he will add more lustre to his burgeoning career credentials.
James ran his list-leading 45.19 in Fayetteville last month, defeating another top contender for the gold medal in Istanbul, Demetrius Pinder of The Bahamas. He also won in Stockholm on 23 February.
With defending champion Chris Brown, who will be going for a medal at his fourth championships in a row, the Bahamas will field a strong duo.
Gil Roberts won the US title with a 45.39. He and teammate Calvin Smith will be trying to win the USA’s first gold medal since Tyree Washington in 2003, a surprising statistic given its outdoor dominance in the same event.
Britain’s Nigel Levine burst into contention with his 45.71 to 46.17 victory in Birmingham recently over Brown and could challenge for a medal. Others in the mix include Levine’s teammate Chris Buck and Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic.
In 2008, Abubaker Kaki of the Sudan was the youngest-ever winner of a world indoor title when he won this race; in 2010, he made it back-to-back wins.
Kaki will not be seeking an unprecedented third consecutive title in Istanbul, but Doha 2010 second, third and fourth – Boaz Lalang (Kenya), Adam Kszczot (Poland) and Ismail Ismail (Sudan) – are all back. The Pole heads the annual list at 1:44.57 in Lievin and must stand a great chance of moving to the top of the medal dais.
Ismail does not have much recent form to recommend, but as silver medallist from Beijing 2008 he must be respected.
Mohammed Aman, the Ethiopian teen who ended David Rudisha’s two-season winning streak at the end of last year, finished fifth in that race, but in a bizarre twist, set his best time of 1:45.40 in winning in Birmingham with Kszczot in fifth place.
Marcin Lewandowski (Poland) was second in Birmingham, with Lalang third, so the form line is nothing if not inconsistent. Any of these four could win if they produce their best on the day.
Timothy Kitum, second in Lievin, is Kenya’s other entrant and along with Britain’s Joe Thomas and Andrew Osagie could also come into the reckoning.
Can Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco go one better than last time and progress from silver to gold? He heads the world list (3:34.10) and defeated two of his strongest opponents to win in Lievin.
Second-placed Ilham Ozbilen Tanui, the former William Biwott Tanui of Kenya, was second in that race and now represents Turkey. Silas Kiplagat, third in Lievin, was silver medallist at last year’s World Championships in Daegu and fastest in the world in 2010.
Matt Centrowitz, the surprise bronze medallist in Daegu, lost the US title to Leonel Manzano in a big kick finish, but has the third-fastest indoor mile of 2012. Manzano will not be in Istanbul, with Galen Rupp the second US representative.
Iguider, too, has strong back-up with another Daegu finalist, Amine Laalou, also representing Morocco. Ciaran O’Lionaird of Ireland, another Daegu finalist, has moved to the US to train with Alberto Salazar. This will be the biggest international test of his improvement.
Ethiopia’s Mekonne Gebremedhin and Spanish pair, Francisco Javier Abad and David Bustos, are other who could come into the reckoning.
If the race is slow, as championship 1500s often are, position will be everything in the final two or three laps.
If there is a better tactician going round than Bernard Lagat, you wouldn’t want to be running the closing stages of a race against him.
At 37, Lagat shows few signs of diminishing powers, not in the US championships anyway, when he kicked away from Lopez Lomong and Galen Rupp in the closing stages.
But he will need to be at his best to retain his title as the 3000m draws together one of the strongest fields at Istanbul 2012. Kenya’s Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi sit atop the 2012 list at 7:29.94, the only men to have broken 7:30 this season.
Mo Farah suffered a rare loss over two miles in Birmingham recently, but the man who beat him, Eliud Kipchoge, will not be in Istanbul where Farah can be expected to be back in peak form. World champion at 5000m last year, he stands a great chance of adding another global title here.
Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew burst onto the scene with 7:27 both indoors and outdoors last season. He has not been as impressive since, but was third behind Choge and Soi in Karlsruhe. Dejen Gebrmeskel gives Ethiopia a strong back-up challenger.
Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro, Australia’s Craig Mottram and Bahrain’s Asian indoor champion Bilisuma Shugi are others who could make a bold showing.
But if Bernard Lagat remains in a winning position with two laps to go, don’t bet against him.
The rivalry between two of the world’s greatest hurdlers - Dayron Robles of Cuba and Liu Xiang of China – continues in bizarre fashion. [NOTE: Robles has withdrawn from the competion due to a slight injury.]
In Daegu last year, Robles was disqualified after impeding his rival off the last hurdle and the gold medal went to Jason Richardson of the US.
Two indoor meetings thus far in 2012 have not been any more conclusive. Liu Xiang beat Robles comfortably in Birmingham, running what was then a season-leading 7.41 to the Cuban’s 7.50, but false-started out of the race at the XL Galan in Stockholm, after which Robles won in a moderate 7.66.
So we still await the eyeballs-out, decided-on-the-dip sort of race we have been envisaging most of the past few years. Perhaps it will come in Istanbul, perhaps we will have to wait till London, perhaps we will have to lower our expectations.
Aries Merritt (7.43) and Kevin Craddock (7.46) ran the year’s next two-fastest times in placing first and second in the US championships. Dexter Faulk ran a world-leading 7.40 in the heats, but was disqualified for a false start in the final, so will not be in Istanbul.
France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, Emanuel Abate of Italy and Helge Schwarzer of German are the only others under 7.60 this season competing in Istanbul.
Robles will be defending the title he won in Doha two years ago in a championships record 7.34. Liu Xiang won at the previous edition in Valencia in 2008.
A win in Doha 2010 gave the USA gold medals in eight of the past 10 editions of the world indoor championships.
The squad this time – individual 400 runners Gil Roberts and Calvin Smith, Frankie Wright, Manteo Mitchell, Quentin Iglehart-Summers and Jamaal Torrence – doesn’t perhaps have quite the look of solidity as the Doha unti which was anchored by Bershawn Jackson.
If that proves to be the case, who might take advantage. The British squad looks strong, with Nigel Levine, Chris Buck, Martin Bingham and Conrad Williams forming a strong nucleus, while the Bahamas is led off by Chris Brown and Demetrius Pinder.
Poland, Russia and the Ukraine will also fancy their chances of a medal.
Life continues to move on for Mutaz Essa Barshim. The young Qatari left his teen years behind when he turned 20 last June, improved to 2.35m in winning at the Asian championships and finished seventh in Daegu.
This year, Barshim has twice improved his indoor personal best, first to 2.33m and then to 2.37m in winning the Asian indoor title in Hangzhou. Each time he improved the Asian area record which had stood at 2.31m to China’s 1984 Olympic bronze medallist Zhu Jianhua.
Can he win in Istanbul? It will certainly be no easy task with World champion Jesse Williams of the USA (2.32m this year) and the Russian pair of 2008 Olympic champion Andrey Silnov (2.36m) and Doha 2010 World indoor champion Ivan Ukhov (2.34m) heading the opposition.
Also at 2.34m is the British jumper Robert Grabarz, who cleared that height in winning in Wuppertal, while others with claims include Germany’s Raul Spank (2.32m), Italy’s Silvano Chesani, Britain’s Samson Oni and Kostadinos Baniotis of Greece (all at 2.31m).
Others at or over 2.30m this season include Jaroslav Baba of the Czech Republic, Andriy Portsenko of Ukraine and Daegu bronze medallist Trevor Barry of the Bahamas. Barry is backed up by former World champion, the mercurial Donald Thomas.
As ever, there will be shocks and surprises in qualifying before the survivors settle down to battle it out for the medals.
Two years ago in Doha, Renaud Lavillenie departed the Pole Vault competition in qualifying, failing to clear 5.60m.
This time, the flying Frenchman is back as world leader – at 5.93m – and favourite to win the gold medal.
Steve Hooker, the winner in Doha with a championship record 6.01m, will not be defending his title but a host of challengers are right on the favourite’s heels.
German veteran Bjorn Otto has usually been the support act to more fancied compatriots. This year, though, he has moved front and centre, twice vaulting an indoor lifetime best 5.92m.
With the Doha 2010 silver medallist Malte Mohr at 5.87m, Germany fields a formidable duo.
Another veteran returning to form after a long battle with injuries is Brad Walker of the US. Walker, the Osaka 2007 World champion, won the US title with 5.86m, an indoor personal best and his best height since 2008 when he cleared 6.04m outdoors.
Dmitriy Starodubtsev of Russia has cleared 5.90m this season and will be another medal prospect.
Neither last year’s surprise world champion Pawel Wojciechoswki nor his Polish teammate Lukasz Michalski are competing in Istanbul, but Daegu silver medallist Lazaro Borges of Cuba is. He has a best of 5.72m at Donetsk.
Greece’s consistent Konstadinos Filippidis has gone 5.75m this season while among several at 5.72m is Great Britain’s Steve Lewis.
Fabrice Lapierre will not be back to defend the title he won in Doha two years ago. Mitchell Watt, bronze medallist then, will not compete either.
Yet an Australian still has the longest jump in the world this year – Henry Frayne with his 8.27m in Sydney on 18 February.
Frayne is selected for both events in Istanbul, but whether he doubles, and which event he will do if he opts not to double, probably won’t be clear until just prior to the championships.
Indoors, Russia’s Aleksandr Menkov and Will Claye of the US lead the way with 8.24m. Like Frayne, however, Claye has a double dilemma confronting him as he is also in the Triple Jump. The Long Jump comes first in the schedule.
From there, the contenders split between those with current indoor form and those with stronger outdoor credentials.
Topping the latter group would be South Africa’s Godfrey Khotso Mokoena, silver medallist in both Beijing 2008 and Berlin 2009 and with an outdoor best of 8.50m. On this year’s indoor list, Mokeona has a best of 8.04m in Moscow at the beginning of February. Fit and in form, however, he would be one of the favourites in Istanbul.
Su Xionfeng of China has a best of 8.19m. Portugal’s Marcos Chuva was a finalist in Daegu last year, has a best of 8.34 but sits on the indoor list at just 8.00m. Again, all are contenders if in form, as is 30-year-old veteran Louis Tsatoumas of Greece.
Alexandru Cuharenko of Moldova has improved from a lifetime best of 7.61m outdoors to 8.09m indoors this season. In such a wide-open event, surprise medals could be on the cards.
Teddy Tamgho closed the Doha competition with a World record in the Triple Jump. The Frenchman won’t be in Istanbul, though, as he is serving a French Federation suspension.
This leaves young American Will Claye as the favourite. With his 17.63m to win the US championship, Claye has a 40-centimetre buffer at the top of this year’s world list. If he does both jumps though, he will be faced with the Triple Jump qualifying competition on the Saturday morning and the Long Jump on Saturday evening.
Christian Taylor electrified the outdoor world championships last year with his 17.96m performance to take the gold medal. He cleared 17.21m for second to Claye in the US champs, and will be well placed to take advantage of any fatigue or mis-steps by the favourite.
Arnie David Girat and Alexis Copello form a formidable one-two combination for Cuba. Girat found 17.36m good enough for only a bronze medal last time.
Fabrizio Donato, 36 years old but still at 17.24m this year, and his teammate Daniele Greco (also 17.24) likewise give Italy two shots at a medal.
France’s Benjamin Campoare jumped 17.14m behind Donato in Lievin, while others in the mix include Russia’s Lyukman Adams, China’s Bin Dong and another experienced campaigner in Marian Oprea of Romania.
For added intrigue, there is Henry Frayne of Australia, ninth in Daegu and an outdoor 17.14m this year, and the Ukraine’s Sheryf El-Sheryf, who produced that amazing 17.72m in Ostrava last year but nothing comparable since.
Indoor competition gives spectators the chance to get closer to the shot put and the men’s competition should be one to watch.
Young German David Storl has been described as the future of the Shot Put. He won’t be favourite, but at 21.40m he is close enough to win a medal, even a gold.
Defending champion Christian Cantwell didn’t make the US team, always a possibility in a nation with such depth. Competitively, it hardly matters as Reese Hoffa and Ryan Whiting sit atop the world list with 21.87m and 21.60m, respectively (Storl is next at 21.40m).
Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland is the other man over 21 metres this year, with 21.27m in Karlsruhe (ahead of Storl).
Others coming into medal contention include Russian duo Maksim Sidorov and Ivan Yushkov, Canada’s Dylan Armstrong, Portugal’s Marco Fortes and Rutger Smith of the Netherlands.
Two years ago, Ashton Eaton upstaged Bryan Clay by setting a World record in the NCAA Heptathlon on the same weekend as Clay was winning the World indoor title in Doha.
A year ago, Eaton upped his World record from 6499 points to 6568.
Many tout the 24-year-old Eaton as the next big thing in American track and field. If indeed he is, he should win in Istanbul.
Eaton does not have a major weakness in the seven-event Heptathlon, though his Shot Put may qualify as a minor one and his running ability gives him an edge over those whose strengths do lie in the throwing events (there’s just one in the Heptathlon, compared with three in the Decathlon).
On indoor performances, Eaton has a comfortable cushion over Oleksiy Kasynov of Ukraine, Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus, and the two Russians, Artem Lukyanenko and Ilya Shkurenov.
On outdoor Decathlons, Eaton likewise has a clear buffer over Mikk Pahapill of Estonia and Cuba’s Yordani Garcia.
Of course, all this applied in Daegu last year when a 4.60m pole vault – compared to a 5.05m in the US championship – let him down badly and he finished just 40 points behind the gold medallist, teammate Trey Hardee.
Provided he can avoid similar disaster in Istanbul, Eaton looks all over the winner.
Len Johnson for the IAAF