With just three days to go before 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 women's events. Note that this preview is based on entry information received by the IAAF but before the official start lists have been decided.
Who would have predicted at the start of this indoor season that the main danger to Veronica Campbell-Brown retaining her 60m title would be Tianna Madison?
There is little doubting Madison’s athletic qualities - she won the Long Jump titles aged just 19 at the 2005 World Athletics Championships in Helsinki and also landed World Indoor silver in 2006.
Since that early success she has almost vanished from view as a world-class performer that is up until this indoor season where she has repackaged herself as a gifted 60m sprinter.
Now aged 26 Madison has slashed 0.16 from her lifetime best this winter, twice run world leading times of 7.02 and is also unbeaten in seven races (including heats and finals). Significantly, she also defeated Campbell-Brown – the Jamaica’s sole 60m competition this year - in Fayetteville on 11 February.
Yet for all Madison’s progression Campbell-Brown will present a formidable rival. The reigning Olympic and World 200m champion boasts an outstanding championship pedigree and she will be keen to become only the second woman in history to retain this title – the other being Dutch athlete Nelli Cooman.
Other contenders include US Championships runner-up Barbara Pierre, the 2011 Pan American 100m silver medallist, who clocked a lifetime best of 7.06 in Albuquerque.
LaVerne Jones-Ferrette (7.05) of the US Virgin Islands is another danger while Murielle Ahoure (7.08) has set two Ivory Coast 60m records this season and could also be in the mix.
The 2005 European Indoor 200m champion Ivet Lalova of Bulgaria (7.14), European 100m champion Verena Sailer, who set a personal best of 7.15 to land the German title, and Dutch teenager Dafne Schippers (7.19) are also entered.
The 2009 World outdoor 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross adds a welcome dash of star quality to the women’s two-lap event. The American has had her injury and illness issues over the past few seasons but there is no questioning her quality as evinced by her outdoor lifetime best of 48.70.
She rarely competes indoors but this winter is unbeaten on the boards and has also recorded the world’s top two times including a new personal best of 50.71 to win the US title.
Her main opposition could come from Bulgaria’s Vania Stambolova. The two-time World Indoor 400m medallist (silver in 2006 and bronze in 2010) has a season’s best of 51.26 and will be hoping to complete the full set of medals in this event.
Russia also boast a proud 400m tradition and their assault is led by Aleksandra Fedoriva, the 2010 European 200m bronze medallist, who ran a lifetime best of 51.18 to land the national title. Watch out also for Jamaican Patricia Hall, who has won four out of five 400m races in 2012 and lowered her personal best to 51.66, and the second string US runner Natasha Hastings (51.66).
The story of the indoor season in the women’s 800m has been the welcome return to form of Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo. Since enjoying a stellar 2008 season the Kenyan has struggled to recapture her best but in finishing second and recording 1:59.10 to go No.2 on the World Lists in Lievin she should be a genuine medal threat in Istanbul. Among Jelimo’s main rivals will be the woman who beat her in France Malika Akkaoui. The Moroccan set a national record of 1:59.01 in Lievin, is unbeaten this winter and is sure to provide stiff opposition.
The Russians historically provide top class women’s 800m athletes and this year is no exception. National champion Elena Kofanova (1:59.63), a former European Under-23 champion, is sure to be in the mix and her compatriot Yelena Rusanova, who took the bronze medal at the 2011 European Indoor Championships, could also be a factor.
Also entered are the 2009 European Indoor bronze medallist Elisa Cusma of Italy and Erica Moore, who set a personal best of 2:01.08 when landing the US Indoor title last month.
Genzebe Dibaba has been streets ahead of the opposition so far this indoor season and starts a clear favourite to prosper in Turkey. The younger sister of Ethiopian distance running great, Tirunesh, has recorded the fastest two times in the world this year with 4:00.13 in Karlsruhe and 4:01.33 in Birmingham and the 21-year-old will be keen to prove she can also deliver in the unforgiving major championship environment.
Her teenage compatriot, Tizita Bogale, who earned noteworthy top three finishes in Stockholm and Lievin, is another with medal aspirations.
The Moroccans may present Dibaba’s main threat led by Stockholm winner Btissam Lakhouad (4:07.80), the fourth place finisher at the 2011 IAAF World Championships.
Her compatriot Mariam Selsouli (4:03.67), the 2008 World Indoor 3000m bronze medallist and a third Moroccan Siham Hilali (4:04.53) stand No.2 and No.3 on the World Lists, respectively, but have yet to decide whether to compete in the 1500m or 3000m.
The reigning Russian and European Indoor champion Elena Arzhakova (4:09.43) is another whose medal claims should be respected. Other significant entrants include: Ukrainian record holder Anzhelika Shevchenko (4:06.78), Poland’s Angelika Cichocka (4:07.83) and Turkey’s Asli Cakir, the World University Games 1500m champion.
In the women’s 3000m Ethiopian superstar Meseret Defar is hoping to become the first woman in history to land a fifth successive individual World Indoor title.
The Ethiopian great has held an iron-like grip on this 3000m title since 2004 and if she successfully retain this crown in Istanbul she will match the achievement of Cuba’s Ivan Pedroso, who landed five back to back World Indoor gold medals in the Men’s Long Jump from 1993-2001.
So far this season all the evidence points towards a Defar quintuple. She holds the two fastest times in the world this year and her crushing victory in Birmingham in a world lead 8:31.56 suggests she will the woman to beat.
She is joined on the Ethiopian team by the 2008 World Indoor 1500m champion Gelete Burka, who set a season’s best 8:36.59 in Birmingham.
Kenya will be determined to wreck Defar’s ambitions and in Hellen Obiri and Sylvia Kibet they have two strong contenders. Obiri, who tripped and fell in the 2011 World Championships final in the 1500m, clocked an impressive 8:35.35 for second in Birmingham behind Defar and will be out to overturn that result. Kibet (8:43.54) the 2011 World Championships 5000m silver medallist, also boasts top class pedigree.
Morocco may also provide a strong challenge. The 2010 World Indoor bronze medallist Mariem Selsouli posted a swift 8:36.87 to win in Karlsruhe and watch out for her team-mate Siham Hilali (8:46.17). Note, both have yet to make a decision on whether to run the 1500m or 3000m.
The leading non-African contenders include Svitlana Shmidt, who set a national record of 8:41.01 to land the Ukrainian title, and Great Britain’s European Indoor champion Helen Clitheroe.
The 2011 Female Athlete of the Year Sally Pearson will start a clear favourite in the 60m Hurdles despite having made only one indoor appearance over that distance in her career.
Pearson’s solitary indoor appearance came when placing second in 7.97 at the Millrose Games in 2009 yet despite her inexperience, such is her class she will be the woman the rest of the field will be gunning for. The Australia has been busy competing outdoors in the Australian summer season and with a season’s best clocking of 12.66 behind her for the 100m Hurdles she is clearly in very good shape.
In the absence of defending champion Lolo Jones the US challenge is led by Kristi Castlin. The 23-year-old set a world leading mark and personal best of 7.84 to take the US title in Albuquerque, although Istanbul represents her first major international championship.
Great Britain’s Tiffany Porter, the 2011 European Indoor silver medallist, with a season’s best of 7.93 will be expected to contend. Watch out also for the German champion Cindy Roleder (7.96) and US Indoors runner-up Vanneisha Ivy (7.93), who has improved by 0.17. Canadian 2011 World Championships 100m Hurdles finalist Nikita Holder (8.00) also competes.
At the 2010 World Indoor Championships in Doha the USA ended Russia’s streak of eight successive 4x400m gold medals by just 0.10 in a classic. Here in Istanbul expect another head to head clash between the USA and Russia for top spot on the podium. The defending champions are bolstered by the presence of Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2009 World outdoor 400m champion while National champion Aleksandra Fedoriva will lead a powerful-looking Russian team.
Other medal hopefuls include Ukraine, Belarus and Great Britain.
In the absence of defending champion Blanka Vlasic the overwhelming favourite in the Women’s High Jump is World outdoor gold medallist Anna Chicherova.
The Russian, who has snared both World Indoor silver and bronze medals, will look to complete the full set in Turkey. Chicherova boasts a five out of five high jump record this season and leads the World Lists with a stunning 2.06m in Arnstadt – a performance good enough to climb to joint third on the all-time lists.
Her main rival is expected to be the 2010 World Indoor bronze medallist Chaunte Howard Lowe. The 28-year-old catapulted up to second in World Lists with a stunning area record of 2.02m to land the US Indoor title and she should be a factor.
Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut (1.97m), the 2008 World Indoor Pentathlon champion, also has strong credentials and the Belgian will keen to make her mark.
Other podium contenders include Italy’s Antionetta Di Martino (1.94m), the European Indoor champion, and Spain’s Ruth Beitia (1.93m), a two-time former World Indoor medallist.
Chicherova’s Russian team-mate Irina Gordeeva (1.97m) and the Swedish duo European silver medallist Emma Green Tregaro (1.95m) and Ebba Jungmark (1.95m) are also entered.
After three years of frustration, an enforced absence from the sport and erratic form Yelena Isinbayeva has finally returned to her brilliant best this indoor season and will be gunning for a fourth World Indoor Pole Vault title.
The Russian superstar is unbeaten during the indoor season and registered a 28th world record with a 5.01m clearance in Stockholm. Clearly buoyed by this display the 29-year-old Russian will start a clear favourite to regain her global indoor crown.
Leading her opposition will be US champion Jenny Suhr (4.88m), the 2008 World Indoor silver medallist who has enjoyed an encouraging indoor campaign. The breakout performer of the indoor season is Great Britain’s Holly Bleasdale who has advanced her personal best by 37cm this year. She has twice set national records and her 4.87m lifetime best recorded in Villeurbanne marks her out as a genuine medal prospect.
Cuba’s Yarisley Silva has also made good progress setting or equalling an area record four times during this winter campaign with a best of 4.72m in Stockholm.
Also entered in a high-class competition are two-time European Indoor silver medallist Silke Spiegelburg, who set a German record of 4.77m in Leverkusen, and Jirina Ptacnikova of the Czech Republic (4.70m). Australian Alana Boyd set a lifetime best and area record of 4.76m outdoors in Perth last month and may also contend.
American Brittney Reese will attempt to become the very first woman in World Indoor Championship history to mount a successful defence of the Long Jump title.
Reese, the reigning World outdoor champion, has not quite been at her best this winter – her season’s best of 6.86m earned her only second at the US Championships - but such is her outstanding championship record she will have the respect of the field.
The woman who beat Reese to the US crown – Janay DeLoach - leapt 6.89m to land gold in that event and she too will contend. DeLoach finished sixth in the Long Jump at the 2011 World Championships and is a steadily improving performer on the international stage.
Russia – excluding the Soviet era – has taken gold in this event on five occasions and yet again boast strong claims. On this occasion hopes rest with Yelena Sokolova (6.88m), the 2009 European Indoor silver medallist and Darya Klishina (6.86m) the 2011 European Indoor champion.
Watch out for the Belarus duo Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova (6.82m), who finished fourth at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, and Veronica Shutkova (6.77m). Shara Proctor (6.80m) set two British records when winning in Birmingham and is also not without chances.
The defending champion Olga Rypakova will be seeking to bank a second successive World Indoor Triple Jump in a competitive-looking event.
Rypakova has competed only once this season winning the Kazakhstan title with a personal best and world leading 14.84m in Karaganda and has enough class to triumph in Istanbul.
Among her chief opposition will be the 2008 World Indoor champion Yargeris Savigne (14.47m) of Cuba who although short of her very best this year is another with proven championships pedigree.
Savigne’s countrywoman Mabel Gay (14.34m), the 2009 World outdoor silver medallist, is also entered while leading the Russian challenge will be national champion Anna Krylova (14.39m).
Other potential contenders on view will be Belarus record holder Kseniya Pryiemka-Dziatsuk (14.48m), Greek Niki Paneta (14.47m) and the 39-year-old veteran Yamile Aldama (14.44m) of Great Britain, a two-time former World Indoor medallist.
A battle for gold between New Zealand’s Valerie Adams and Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus has been one of the great inevitabilities of global Shot Put competitions for the past five or six years and expect it to be no different in Istanbul.
Ostapchuk, the defending champion, leads the World Lists with 20.70m set at her national championships in Mogilyov in February in her sole indoor competition this season.
By contrast Adams has had a busier schedule preferring to compete three times outdoors in the Oceania region.
Her form has slowly improved and a 20.67m effort in Sydney in her last outing suggests the Kiwi is in the mood to regain the World Indoor title she won in 2008.
The best of the rest would appear to be 2011 World outdoor bronze medallist Jillian Camarena-Williams of the USA who set a personal best and area record of 19.89m in Fayetteville. Other hopefuls include Russia’s Yevgeniya Kolodko of Russia (19.47m) and veteran German Nadine Kleinert (19.33m), the 2006 World Indoor silver medallist.
The eagerly anticipated Pentathlon showdown between reigning World outdoor Heptathlon champion Tatyana Chernova and the defending champion Jessica Ennis promises to be one of the championship highlights in Istanbul.
Chernova beat Ennis to that World Heptathlon crown but the Russian knows the size of the task in Turkey.
The Russian has a lifetime best of 4855pts but Ennis’ accumulated 4937 points when landing this title in Doha two years ago and is well suited to the five-event format.
Also the Briton’s form this winter has been scintillating - as witnessed by lifetime bests of 7.87 for the 60m Hurdles and 6.47m in the Long Jump in Birmingham last month. In fact, such is the quality on view in this event the 20-year-old world record figures of Irina Belova of 4991 could be under serious threat.
Two-time World Indoor silver medallist Natalya Dobrynska of Ukraine is also not without chances. The reigning Olympic Heptathlon champion oozes class and her lifetime best performance of 4880pts to land her national title last month marks her down as a serious gold medal candidate.
Russian hopes do not solely rest with Chernova as her compatriot Ekaterina Bolshova has enjoyed a seismic progression this indoor season. Bolshova, 24, has improved her Pentathlon lifetime best by more than 500 points this winter and a world leading score of 4896 in Moscow last month elevated her to fifth on the all-time lists. Her lack of experience may count against her, but she too must be respected.
Steve Landells for the IAAF