06 MAR 2008 General News

Athletes express guarded optimism on eve of championships - Valencia LOC Press Conference

Dayron Robles at the press conference on the eve of the World Indoor Championships (Getty Images)Dayron Robles at the press conference on the eve of the World Indoor Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright

6 March 2008The official IAAF/LOC Press Conference to launch the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain took place in the palatial Valencia City Hall at the Plaza de Ayuntamiento.

Among the dignitaries in attendance were IAAF President Lamine Diack; Rita Barbera, the Major of Valencia; Trinidad Miro, the Minister of Culture, Education and Sports for the Regional Government of Valencia; Alfonso Rus, the president of the provincial council of Valencia; and government representative Antonio Bernabe.

Trio of Robles, Liu and Quinonez promise thrilling 60m Hurdles showdown

Three of the five elite athletes present at the press conference are set to compete in the men’s 60m Hurdles – Dayron Robles (CUB), Liu Xiang (CHN) and Jackson Quinonez (ESP) - one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the three-day programme which takes place from Mar 7-9.

Robles, the world No.1 from Cuba, has been in sensational form this indoor season, clocking nine of the 11 quickest times this winter including a scintillating 7.33 in Dusseldorf to come within 0.03 of Colin Jackson’s 14-year-old World record.

However, Robles will face among others Liu Xiang, the Olympic and IAAF World 110m hurdles champion of China, who is making his first indoor appearance of the season in Valencia.

And despite Robles’ stunning form this season the Cuban was taking nothing for granted.

“Liu Xiang is always very professional in whatever he does and I’m sure we’ll see the best of him,” said Robles. “Liu is an athlete with the respect of all the other athletes from around the world and what he has achieved – Olympic gold, World Championship gold and the World 110m Hurdles record, that is like a dream for any other athlete.”
 
Robles made his international senior breakthrough winning the silver medal at the 2006 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Moscow but then he faced relatively little expectation. In Valencia he starts a clear favourite, however, it is burden he is happy to carry.

“I don’t feel any extra pressure,” said Robles. “I’ve succeeded and trained every day to get the best out of myself and I’ve got very good results. But Liu Xiang has all the titles and I’ve still got to prove I can win this title.”

Liu, who sat alongside Robles at the press conference, was a surprising competitor in Valencia having yet to compete indoors this season. But while he was aiming for gold, even he admitted Robles was a worthy pre-event favourite.

“This is my first competition of the season, I’ve not raced before, so I’ll be very relaxed,” explained Liu. “My aims are the same to win a medal but I think Dayron Robles will be champion and I’m using the World Indoor Championships to prepare for the outdoor season.”

“I won the bronze medal in Birmingham (2003 World Indoors) and the silver medal in Budapest (2004 World Indoors), so for me it is great achievement to be in the top three. I need to work on my first five hurdles and try to break my personal best of 7.42.”

Liu also had enormous respect for Robles’ accomplishments during the indoor campaign and admitted he first marked out the Cuban as a potential danger after winning a silver medal in the 60m hurdles at the 2006 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Moscow.

The Chinese superstar has been hugely impressed by Robles’ progression since and said of him: “After setting a personal best of 12.92 (for the 110m hurdles) in Stuttgart last year that was very much a surprise for me. He is an athlete who is fast improving physically and if he can maintain the 7.33 time for 60m hurdles over the 110m hurdles I’m sure he can break my world record.”

However, despite the high calibre of Robles and Liu a third 60m hurdler in attendance at the pre-event press conference – Jackson Quinonez of Spain - also hoped to make an impact.

The 2007 European Indoor bronze medallist set a 7.52 personal best last month at the same Velodromo Luis Puig which hosts the IAAF World Indoor Championships, and he hopes his experience of the venue could act as an inspiration.

“I’ve got a very good feeling here and I’ve ran three times at the facilities,” said Quinonez. “It is something which is in my favour. To run at this track gives me a good feeling and a good rhythm.”

Spain have several medal hopes competing on home ground in Valencia and high jumper Ruth Beitia, the 2006 IAAF World Indoor bronze medallist, believes she needs to clear at least 2.00m to secure a medal.

High jumper Beitia another Spanish medal prospect

Beitia, who has a lifetime best of 2.02m and a season’s best of 1.98m said: “I think I can win a medal if I have a good competition. The three medals are going to be won over two metres. I’m very eager to be here at this competition as last summer I did not compete as much I wanted. So I think they can go together to jump two metres and win a medal.”

She also refused to concede that the competition will be a foregone conclusion, despite the outstanding form of Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic, the World No.1 with a best of 2.05m this season.

“She’s the leader, a very tough competitor and is always very motivated,” said Beitia of Vlasic. “But I don’t think the medals are already set. We shall just have to see how it goes.”

Defar aiming for threepeat

The fifth and final athlete speaking to the media at the Valencia Town Hall was 2007 IAAF Female Athlete of the Year Meseret Defar. The Ethiopian Olympic and World 5000m gold medallist is seeking to match the achievements of Gabriela Szabo and secure a hat-trick of gold medals in the 3000m and she spoke of her strong affinity with the IAAF World Indoor Championships.

“This event is special to me,” said Defar. “In Budapest (at the 2004 World Indoor Championships) I won my first gold medal and after that I had confidence for the Olympics.”

Defar is the fastest in the world this year over 3000m and viewed her Ethiopian team-mate Meselech Melkamu as her chief danger.

“My biggest rival is Meselech Melkamu, she is a good athlete,” added Defar. “She ran well in Valencia earlier this year.”

Steve Landells for the IAAF