MonteCarloThe 9th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Athletics take place this weekend in Birmingham, UK at the National Indoor Arena (14-16 March).
We continue our short series of competition Preview stories with the Field events - the Multi-events Preview was published earlier, and the Track events will be published later today. Preview writers – Ed Gordon (Track), Garry Hill (Field) and Steven Downes (Multi)
Women’s Pole Vault:
If there's an event rife with promise for World Record action at the Championships, it's the women's Pole Vault, where Stacy Dragila (US) and Svetlana Feofanova (Russia) will continue their sky-high duelling.
Between them, Dragila and Feofanova have raised the indoor WR no fewer than 15 times over the course of the last four seasons, Dragila's 4.78 now standing as the best ever.
The two staged an epic battle at the 2001 World Outdoor Championships, the American winning gold to cap an 8-2 overall yearly record against her Russian rival. But everything went Feofanova's way last year as she smashed Dragila 9-0 in head-to-head meetings.
Feofanova continued hot this winter, raising her own World record twice before Dragila reclaimed it at the U.S. Championships. Birmingham will represent their first meeting of the season. Dragila, whose next goal is the English-measure barrier of 16-feet (4.88), says “I'm really looking forward to meeting her. I want to show her I've got plenty to give. It's like, ‘I've seen what you've got and here's what I have’. ”
Both will have to be at their best to stave off challenges from the likes of the only one to beat Feofanova this year, teammate Pavla Isinbayeva, and German recordholder Annika Becker.
Men’s Triple Jump:
The last field event on the meet programme--the men's Triple Jump--will be eagerly awaited by British fans wanting to see Jonathan Edwards add the one major title that has escaped him in his illustrious career. History's farthest jumper at 18.29 (outdoors), the 36-year-old Edwards has won golds at the Olympics, the World Outdoor, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games, but has "only" a silver in this meet.
His road to the top of the podium will not be an easy one--even though defending champ Paolo Camossi (Italy) will not be in the meet--as a pair of disparate young challengers will be hot on his heels. Sweden's Christian Olsson (who recently had a string of 26 straight meets over 17m broken) and American Walter Davis (plagued by inconsistency but a 17.50 threat every time he steps on the runway) combined for 7 wins against him last year.
And suddenly Davis has a challenger from home, Tim Rusan bouncing a world-leading 17.45 to win the U.S. title.
Women’s Triple Jump:
UK fans have a real shot at celebrating two home victories in the Triple Jump, because Ashia Hansen comes into the meet holding down the No. 1 position in the IAAF World Rankings.
The holder of the indoor World Record at 15.16--a mark she established in '98--Hansen won gold at the ’99 World Indoor but injuries kept her from trying to defend at Lisbon in ’01. Her 14.71 form puts her very close to the top of the lists this year (the lists are led by Cuban expatriate Yamilé Aldama, whose eligibility to switch to representing Britain has not yet been certified).
Hansen figures to be strongly challenged by Adelina Gavrila (Romania), Lisbon silver medalist Tatyana Lebedeva (Russia) and a pair of new record-setters, Magdelin Martínez (Italy) and Françoise Mbango (Cameroon).
Defending champion Tereza Marinova of Bulgaria, who is also the reigning Olympic gold medallist, remains a bit of a question mark as she comes back from the Achilles tendon injury which wiped out her outdoor season last year.
Ukraine's Inessa Kravets is history's longest jumper outdoors (15.50) and is twice a gold medallist in this event, but coming off a 2-year layoff, at age 36 she has a tough row to hoe.
Men’s High Jump:
Sweden also has high hopes for a field-event double, as the yellow and blue colours boast both the defending High Jump champions--Stefan Holm and Kajsa Bergqvist.
Holm is definitely hot, having won all seven of his indoor competitions in 2003, the last six of them all at 2.31 or better. And the best of them, a personal best 2.36 has him 2cm higher than anyone else on the yearly list. Measuring only 1.81, the speedy Swede is likely to be the only competitor in the field standing less than 6-feet tall.
Holm had familiar company on the podium in Lisbon, teammate Staffan Strand picking off the bronze. He'll certainly be in the mix, as will the ’01 silver medalist, Andrey Sokolovskiy. Russia's Yaroslav Rybakov and Canada's Mark Boswell are also very familiar with standing on victory podiums. Dragutin Topic (S&M) is jumping well of late after a couple of years out of competition.
Women’s High Jump:
Kajsa Bergqvist hasn't been quite as hot as compatriot Holm, actually losing three meets before starting off a four-meet win streak with a Swedish record of 2.03. Last yea, Bergqvist had as many meets over the 2m barrier--10--as all the other jumpers combined.
The event's newest star is 20-year-old Anna Chicherova, who has improved all the way to a list-leading 2.04 from her previous best of 1.93. Only two other women have ever jumped higher indoors. But the Russian youngster still lacks consistency and Bergqvist has beaten her in both previous meetings this winter.
Bergqvist's biggest Russian threat is likely to come from Yelena Yelesina. The reigning Olympic champion still has a lot of life in her legs at age-32, beating Chicherova for the national title. Ukraine's Inga Babakova, the '99 World outdoor champion, is always to be feared in major meets.
Men’s Pole Vault:
Probably because of the new rule which mandated shorter pegs for the crossbar this year, men's vaulting is at a low ebb in terms of heights cleared. For the first time since 1985, no one has yet cleared 5.90 (or 5.85, for that matter).
Indeed, only four men have managed to climb over 5.80, led by Tim Lobinger (5.82), whose consistency stamps him as the favourite going in. The German has four meets over 5.80, more than the total for Adam Ptácek (Polish Record 5.81), Romain Mesnil of France and Derek Miles of the U.S. (both 5.80). Mesnil was the bronze medalist two years ago. Commonwealth Games winner Okkert Brits (South Africa) and European gold medallist Aleksandr Avrbukh (Israel) have had little exposure this winter.
Expect the Birmingham entrants to vault conservatively, entering at lower heights than they would have in previous years.
Women’s Long Jump:
Only 5cm separates the first five performers on the yearly women's Long Jump list. That's not surprising in an event given to close finishes. In the last six editions of this meet, only 37mm has separated gold from silver on average.
Tatyana Kotova didn't jump until March began but reigns as a solid favourite to win the gold (even if by some minuscule margin). The 26-year-old Russian lost only once in 14 meets in '01 and won both the European Championships and World Cup.
Kotova's top competition will come from teammate Olga Rublyova, unless Brazilian Maurren Maggi--who beat Kotova for last year's Grand Prix Final title--is in any kind of form. She has no indoor performances to judge her by. Kravets could score well here too.
Men’s Long Jump:
The men's Long Jump will be conspicuous by the absence of Iván Pedroso. The most honoured athlete in World Indoor Championships history, the Cuban has seen injury prevent him from being able to try to win a record sixth straight gold medal in the meet.
Pedroso would have had to have been at his best, however, to turn back the powerful duo of Miguel Pate and Dwight Phillips, who knocked number one world ranker Savanté Stringfellow off the U.S. team. Not to mention yearly world leader Yago Lamela (8.43). After several years of frustrating injury problems the Spaniard is quickly coming back to the form which saw him extend Pedroso to the limit in a titanic duel in Maebashi during the '99 Worlds.
The world's top-rated men's shot putter, Adam Nelson, was unexpectedly bounced to 3rd at the U.S. Championships, but the Birmingham competition nonetheless looks like another U.S. vs. Ukraine battle. Throwers from those two nations have won 8 of the last 9 medals awarded in this event.
The U.S. will be led by defending champion (and three time World Outdoor winner) John Godina, ably backed up by the year's longest thrower, Kevin Toth (21.70). Ukraine will be led by ’97 winner (and '99 bronze medalist) Yuriy Belonog, who has reached a lifetime best 21.46 this year. Those three plus Olympic gold medallist Arsi Harju Finland seem miles ahead of everyone else.
Based on early-season form, Vita Pavlysh is miles ahead of the rest of the women's putters, giving Ukraine a leg up on two golds in that event. The ’97 gold medallist, Pavlysh has a full half-metre on her competitors coming in, her 20.44 making her the year's only 20m performer.
Her stiffest competition will come from a pair of Russians (Svetlana Krivelyova and Irina Khorzanenko) and the German duo (Nadine Kleinert-Schmitt and Astrid Kumbernuss). Khorzanenko, who easily won both the European Championships and World Cup last year, came up big when it counted.
Garry Hill for the IAAF