The first of a series of pre-meeting press conferences were held today ahead of Sunday’s (15) Dunlop Shanghai Golden Grand Prix, the second stop on the 14-meeting 2011 Samsung Diamond League series.
Three international athletes to arrive early in the city, USA’s three-time World and 2004 Olympic Long Jump champion Dwight Phillips, Australia’s World Indoor and outdoor Long Jump bronze medallist Mitchell Watt, and Norway’s double Olympic and World Javelin Throw champion Andreas Thorkildsen, were joined at the Regal Shanghai East Asia Hotel, the official meeting HQ, by Chinese Shot Putter Gong Lijiao who like Watt took World bronze in 2009.
Mitchell Watt, who jumped a PB of 8.44m when winning the Australian championships in Melbourne on 17 April, has come to Shanghai from the Kawasaki IAAF World Challenge Meeting (8 May) where he leapt 8.07m, and is “looking for 8.30m (on Sunday) and is “feeling good. I arrived early to adapt to the time zone.”
Dwight Phillips, who took the World title ahead of Watt in Berlin in 2009, hasn’t yet competed in his specialist event this year preferring some track races instead to sharper himself up. “I haven’t competed yet (in 2011), Shanghai will be the kick start for me. It is my fifth time competing in Shanghai. My goal this year is to be for the fourth time World champion.”
Andreas Thorkildsen, flew to Shanghai straight from the opening Samsung Diamond League meeting in Doha last Friday (6 May) where he had begun his year in a low gear, fifth with 83.63m. “Doha was my first competition to get everything together technically. I know where I stand and how to improve on things. I was close to doing well in Doha, but the last piece technically didn’t come together. Hopefully I’ll get it together here in Shanghai.”
Gong Lijiao, who has also had only one outdoor competition so far in 2011, her 19.86m victory at the national grand prix in Zhaoqing on 23 April, confirmed that this winter “I have been training in Portugal, I have had minor ankle injuries, but it hopefully won’t hurt my performances too much.”
Powell and Zelezny
Aside the talk of fitness and season ambitions there was one topic that really fired up the imaginations of the largely Chinese media corps who had assembled for this early press conference, and that was the subject of World records.
When the Chinese moderator of the conference asked Watt why the Long Jump World record of 8.95m had been around for so long and was it the limit for men’s long jumping, he seemed surprised that the Australian champion spoke with such awe about the 8.95m mark that was set by Mike Powell in his epic duel with Carl Lewis in Tokyo in 1991.
“You have used the word ‘amazing' three times” said the astonished moderator to Watt after his first answer, with the Australian reconfirming “it is an amazing record. It is intimidating since it is still a long way off.”
Phillips concurred, “the record is spectacular, unlike most events the record has only been broken once in the last 43 years. I feel the record can be broken, with the right atmosphere, the right athletes competing against each other. I feel I can break it; it’s really high on my goal list, that is what I am working for every year, every day.”
Thorkildsen then reflected that the World record in the Javelin Throw was equally outstanding, the mark of 98.48m having lasted since 1996, with its holder Jan Zelezny, like Powell, one of the all-time greats of Athletics.
Never to be outdone, even with his use of adjectives, the always entertaining Norwegian confirmed with a broad smile that Zelezny’s record was “amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing!”
Once the laughter had died down, Thorkildsen continued, “both the Long Jump and the Javelin Throw records are long standing records in our sport and achieved by great athletes. I have no idea if I can go and break the World record. In the Javelin you must rely on wind and need just that special day. I will try to go as close as possible, if that happens it will be great.”
The Olympic champion then paused, and deftly timed for the greatest impact, added, “…or amazing!”
The room reverberated with laughter once more.
Chris Turner for the IAAF