MonteCarloThe 9th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Athletics take place this weekend in Birmingham, UK at the National Indoor Arena (14-16 March).
We conclude our competition Previews with the Track events - the Field and Multi-events Previews were published earlier today. Preview writers – Ed Gordon (Track), Garry Hill (Field) and Steven Downes (Multi)
The form charts suddenly changed with the resurrection of American sprinter Justin Gatlin in the US championships, where the 21-year-old ran a world-leading 6.45 to pip the 6.48 of Terrence Trammell, previously the season's fastest sprinter.
Britain's Jason Gardener has looked consistently sharp after an early-season cramp, and with a pair of 6.49 dashes this year, is arguably on the same level as the American duo. A home crowd will give the reigning European indoor champion added incentive.
After these three, only Deji Aliu of Nigeria (6.53) has repeated performances at the top level which might propel him to a medal race.
Gardener's compatriot, Lisbon bronze-medallist Mark Lewis-Francis, at 6.57 looks a bit off the form he had last winter in winning the European silver medal, but he too may enjoy the added push that comes from a highly partisan audience.
With Frank Fredericks of Nambia deciding to return home to await the birth of his first child, the one-lap race will not see the potentially exciting match-up of the veteran sprinter with his younger successors.
US champion John Capel leads the year list in the event at 20.39, and defending World champion Shawn Crawford, in a late-season 200 debut, was pulled by Fredericks to a 20.55 in late February.
France-based Joseph Batangdon of Cameroon was an unruly guest in the recent French Championships, running a PB 20.47 and walking off with the top prize ahead of the host country's Leslie Djhone (20.51). Both sprinters have other good performances backing up these times and should be part of the mix in the final.
The British pair of Marlon Devonish (20.51) and national champion Allyn Condon (20.69) also figure to have a say in who makes the Birmingham top six.
Defending World Indoor champion Daniel Caines of Great Britain not only leads the indoor list at 45.75--with two other performances under forty-six seconds--but also will enjoy British fans cheering his every step, and thus he has to be regarded as the man to beat.
The other British entry, Jamie Baulch (46.21), is in the top-ten all-time in this event, and has seen a fine return to top form this season as he nears his thirtieth birthday.
An unknown quantity in this event surfaced at the recent US championships, as Tyree Washington--the 2001 outdoor leader in the 400 Metres--captured the national title with 46.27 in only his fourth indoor appearance in the event over the past five seasons. Though relatively inexperienced at indoor running in general, but with a 44.28 outdoor PB, it is likely he is capable of going well under forty-six seconds, especially in a high-stakes race.
Even newer to running under a roof is Australia's Daniel Batman, who breezed into Britain in late February with no career indoor credentials at all and came away with a dazzling 45.98 win as a guest at the UK Championships on the Birmingham oval.
After running 46.02 in winning the Spanish national championships, David Canal seems poised to go under forty-six seconds for the first time. And current European indoor champion Marek Plawgo of Poland (46.24), after a winter training camp in South Africa, should also be expected to re-enter this elite territory.
Belgium's Cédric van Branteghem (46.18), Davian Clarke of Jamaica (46.24) and Corey Nelson of the US (46.33) also have suitable credentials to make the final. In addition, World Cup champion Michael Blackwood of Jamaica (46.51) and Edmonton champion Avard Moncur of the Bahamas (46.57) appear to be peaking for Birmingham after their close one-two race last week in Athens.
Although Wilson Kipketer's return this year has been somewhat bumpy, the Dane demonstrated his old savvy of preserving a victory with a 1:44.96 in his final tune-up race in Karlsruhe at the end of February. He leads the list of those competing in Birmingham, as notable absentees include iconoclastic Russian Yuriy Borzakovskiy (voluntary), the defending champion, and Edmonton winner André Bucher of Switzerland (illness).
Should Kipketer falter even slightly, Kenyans Wilfred Bungei (1:44.97), the Edmonton silver medallist, and Joseph Mutua (1:45.25), last year's Commonwealth silver medallist, will be ready to pounce, as will South Africa's Hezekiel Sepeng (1:45.12), the Seville silver winner.
US champion David Krummenacker (1:47.20) doesn't bring a fast time to Birmingham, but he could well be a factor in the final.
High finishes could also come from a pair of young Europeans, World Cup champion Antonio Reina of Spain (1:46.68) and Dutch runner Bram Som (1:45.86).
The Kenyan pair of Bernard Lagat (3:37.07), the Sydney and Edmonton silver medallist, and outdoor World Junior Record holder Cornelius Chirchir (3:34.85), still only 19 years old, could conceivably take the top two medals.
Year leader Roberto Parra of Spain (3:34.66), and the man who defeated him for the Spanish indoor title this year, Juan Carlos Higuero (3:41.64), the silver medallist last season at the European Indoor Championships, will provide strong competition for the Kenyans.
Even more of a factor will be the holder of three indoor golds at the European and World levels, Portugal's Rui Silva (3:36.86), who won a close, fast three-man race in Athens last week against runners he will see in Birmingham.
The fast leg speed needed at the close of the likely slow-paced final also brings France's Driss Maazousi (3:36.93) and possibly Ivan Heshko of Ukraine (3:38.11) into the medal picture.
Two-time World indoor champion Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia is on an exciting collision course with Spain's Alberto García, the European outdoor 5000 champion, for the top honours in this event.
Gebrselassie is in peak form, as evidenced by his splendid two-mile World Record and a 7:28.29 in the 3000 metres which leads the year list in that championship event. But García clipped off European Records in the 3000 metres (7:32.98) and 5000 metres during February and appears ready to challenge the Ethiopian.
Behind this pair, it should be an unpredictable scramble for the final medal. Haile's compatriot, Abiyote Abate (7:40.75), certainly merits strong consideration, as does Kenyan Luke Kipkosgei (7:40.10). Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco (7:40.85) and García's teammate, Jesús España (7:43.78), also bring strong credentials to Birmingham.
Three-time World outdoor champion Allen Johnson's 7.39 in winning the US championships over the then-world leader at 7.42, Sydney silver medallist Terrence Trammell, indicates that the veteran hurdler is positioning his season's peak with the idea of regaining the World indoor title he won for the only time in 1995. To do that, however, he will need to get past training partner Trammell one more time.
Despite starting his indoor season late, the Sydney gold medallist, Cuba's Anier García (7.47), promises to be a key factor, as will Britain's Colin Jackson (7.51), for whom the championships will serve as a retirement party.
Other possible contenders for the awards platform include Asian Champion Liu Xiang of China and former European indoor champion Stanislav Olijar of Latvia (7.52).
Edmonton 100 metres champion Zhanna Block (7.09) should be the heavy favourite here. The Ukrainian has six of the top eight performances of the year among those who will be in Birmingham, and the only sprinter to have dealt her a loss this season--France's Muriel Hurtis--has opted to run only the 200 metres.
Even without Hurtis, France’s Sylviane Félix (7.19) offers a formidable punch. Unfortunately, Christine Arron (7.17) has had to withdraw due to injury.
US champion Angela Williams (7.16), the silver medallist from Lisbon, is well-suited for indoor competitions and could well be a medal threat once again.
Savatheda Fynes (7.14) of the Bahamas is coming off a consistent season near the top of the sprint lists and will be carrying her country's hopes for retaining the gold medal won in Lisbon by Chandra Sturrup, who has bypassed this indoor season.
The mystery entry is newly-crowned Russian champion Mariya Bolikova, whose 7.11 in winning the national title moved her near the top of the sprint chart. Whether she can export her show to Birmingham is the big question. The runner she defeated for her crown, European silver medallist Marina Kislova (7.17), has an outside chance for a place in the top three, as does Austria's Karin Mayr (7.16), fourth in last year's indoor Europeans.
Former World champion Merlene Ottey (7.17), at age 42, will be a sentimental favourite as she competes for Slovenia for the first time. The emotion of the moment may push her to another season best and into the medal chase.
In spite of Anastasiya Kapachinskaya's world-leading 22.59 in winning the Russian Championships, she cannot neutralize the experience and the collection of times posted this season by Muriel Hurtis of France (22.64), the current European indoor and outdoor champion, who should have the edge.
Hurtis will be challenged well by Michelle Collins of the US (22.64), who has dropped down from her usual 400 metres distance to use the shorter race for speed training, with four sub-23 times resulting.
Karin Mayr, the current European indoor silver medallist, moves solidly into contention with a 22.89 from only last Sunday.
Defending champion Juliet Campbell (22.95) has not quite reached the same level this winter which brought her gold two years ago, but the Birmingham atmosphere may change all of that.
Cydonie Mothersill of the Cayman Islands (22.82) has a deep resume near the top of the list and will be looking to improve her fifth-place finish in Lisbon. Just behind Mothersill and also with an extensive set of quality marks is Nora Ivanova of Turkey (23.05).
Russians could possibly have swept the medals, were if not for the two-runner limit for each country, as they have four of the top five performers in this year's list.
There is no reason not to pick their top two for the top places. Russian champion Natalya Nazarova's (50.57) two runs this season have been superb and have been a month apart, indicate she is holding form well. And as runner-up, Yuliya Pechonkina (51.00), having already indicated she has her eyes on the 400 Hurdles World Record for the summer, also sports a top winter condition.
Germany’s Grit Breuer (51.76) could challenge the Russians, and Christine Amertil (51.15) of the Bahamas will also have an opportunity to confirm her late-season time which ranks just behind the top Russian pair.
The list then thins out quickly, with only those four entries having dropped below 52 seconds for the season.
Defending champion Sandie Richards of Jamaica (52.39) and US winner Monique Hennagan (52.44) appear to be the most formidable aspirants on the next tier, and they could work their way to medals under optimal conditions.
Sydney winner Maria Mutola of Mozambique (1:58.53) would appear headed to a fifth World Indoor Championships gold medal, unprecedented for a female athlete in a single event. One of her would-be challengers, training partner Kelly Holmes (GBR), has opted to run the 1500 metres.
Slovenia's Jolanda Ceplak (1:59.97), the European indoor and outdoor champion, still is in less than absolutely top form due to reported illness during the winter. And Olympic silver medallist Stephanie Graf of Austria (1:59.56), despite two recent good performances after last summer's minor surgery, seems not quite yet on the level needed to conquer Mutola.
The two Russian entries, Yekaterina Puzanova (1:59.91) and Nadezhda Vorobyeva (2:00.59), may be ready to challenge virtually anyone in the field, with the exception of Mutola, after their recent national championships performances.
The sudden emergence of Britain's Jo Fenn (1:59.74), brings a new name into the realm of medal contenders, while the silver medallist in last summer's European Championships, Spain's Mayte Martínez (2:00.53), should likewise be in the battle for an award.
Diane Cummins of Canada (2:00.66) has looked splendid in late-season races, and Namibia's Agnes Samaria (2:00.55), a medallist at both the Commonwealth and African Championships, could also pull a surprise.
Ever since her World record race earlier this year, Regina Jacobs of the US (3:59.98) has garnered amazement throughout the athletics' world with history's only indoor sub-4:00 clocking. Even more incredible is her approaching fortieth birthday in August.
However stunning her World record may have been, Jacobs' path to the World Indoor gold medal is seemingly blocked by a pair of Russians, Natalya Gorelova (4:00.72), the Edmonton and Lisbon bronze medallist, and Yekaterina Rozenburg (4:02.58).
Poland's Lidia Chojecka (4:03.58) is the only non-Russian to have beaten Gorelova in the 1500m this year, having done so last month in Birmingham on the track where she hopes history will repeat itself.
Britain's Kelly Holmes (4:09.78) has distinguished herself more in the 800/1000 range this season, but it is to be expected that she will be in the lead group when the bell sounds in the 1500m. Her teammate, Lisbon 3K finalist Hayley Tullett (4:07.40), has similarly been splitting time between the 1500m and the 3000m, as have many of the top entrants in this event.
Others of note include Morocco’s defending champion Hasna Benhassi (4:06.72), Kutre Dulecha of Ethiopia (4:07.84) and Romania's Maria Cioncan (4:08.20).
This will likely be a tactical race which Ethiopia’s Berhane Adere (8:31.73) will break open in the final laps, as is her usual style.
Others who have distinguished themselves this season as top contenders are two Moroccans, Zhour El Kamch (8:39.27) and Zahra Ouaziz (8:42.01), plus European outdoor 5K champion Marta Domínguez of Spain (8:41.14).
From "down under", outdoor leader Benita Johnson of Australia (8:48.57) is already in good form for the summer and could impact on the results.
Because the qualification window for Birmingham extends back to the beginning of 2002, there may be other notable athletes who have elected to make the World Championships their only indoor competition of the year.
With only two hurdlers in indoor history having faster times than Gail Devers' 7.74 this year, it would appear that the only one who could keep a gold medal away from the three-time outdoor World Champion from the US, would be Devers herself.
Teammate Melissa Morrison (7.88), the Sydney bronze medallist and this year's US runner-up, should be one of the top contenders for a medal, along with Spain's Glory Alozie (7.94), the European outdoor champion, who had a late start to the season.
European U23 hurdles champion Susanna Kallur of Sweden led the world for almost a week with a then-surprising 7.90, to which she has since added four more clockings under eight seconds.
Two Jamaicans will figure highly in the final results--World Cup runner-up Bridgette Foster (7.97) and Commonwealth winner Lacena Golding-Clarke (7.94).
France also contributes a pair to the medal mix with current European indoor champion Linda Ferga-Khodadin (7.91) and last winter's Euro bronze winner, Patricia Girard (7.88).
Ed Gordon for the IAAF