Daegu, KoreaAfter more than 30,000 gathered in Daegu’s Duryu Park to celebrate the city’s ‘Welcome Night’ festivities on Thursday (26), the IAAF World Championships begin in earnest on Friday morning, when tens of thousands more are expected to line the streets of the city’s centre to catch a glimpse of some of the world’s finest marathoners.
It will be a women’s distance celebration throughout the day, as World champions will be decided in the two longest races for women - the Marathon which kicks off the Championships at 9:00 a.m., and in the 10,000m, contested 12 hours later. And Kenya and Ethiopia are expected to figure prominently in both.
Women’s Marathon - Kenya vs Ethiopia, Round 1..
In Berlin two years ago, the women marathoners had to wait until the final day of the Championships before embarking on their self-propelled tour of the German capital. This year, the winner of the Daegu three-loop race through the heart of Korea’s third largest city – two 15km circuits and one at 12.195km – will hold the distinction of being crowned the first gold medallist at the 13th edition of these Championships.
Edna Kiplagat, the surprise winner at last November’s ING New York City Marathon, is the fastest among the entrants, with a sizzling 2:20:46 to her credit, and leads the Kenyan contingent. She’ll be backed up by Sharon Cherop (2:22:55) and Priscah Jeptoo (2:22:43) who’ll take on a formidable Ethiopian squad led by Aselefech Mergia, the 2009 bronze medallist whose most recent outing was a 2:22:45 victory in Dubai in January. Weighing on her mind will be the fact that an Ethiopian woman has never won the World title.
Japan always fields a strong team, and this year is led by Yoshimi Ozaki, the silver medallist two years ago who won February’s Yokohama Marathon in 2:23:56. Japan has never finished off the podium in the concurrent IAAF World Marathon Cup since it became part of the Championships in 1997.
Conditions are always pivotal in the Marathon; the forecast for Saturday morning – humidity pushing 80 percent with a start time temperature of 24 C. – won’t win too many fans among the 55 starters.
.. and Round 2 – women’s 10,000m
In the evening’s 10,000m, the focus will be on two women who’ll begin the first half of their Daegu double ambitions. Vivian Cheruiyot, the reigning World 5000m champion, adds the longer distance to her repertoire, and arrives as the season’s fifth fastest. That stat is a bit deceiving, however; the ambitious 27-year-old is unbeaten in six races this summer over three distances and took the notoriously difficult Kenyan title in the long race.
Her arch rival here will be Ethiopian Meseret Defar, the 2004 Olympic and 2007 World 5000m champion, who’ll be looking to improve at least a few notches upon her double in Berlin where she was fifth in the 10,000m and took bronze in the 5000m. If it comes down to a last lap sprint between these two, look out for unscheduled fireworks.
But don’t discount Linet Masai, the tall Kenyan who snuck by an early-celebrating Meselech Melkamu at the line to take the title two years ago. Melkamu, the African record holder, is back as well.
Bolt’s Berlin follow-up begins
While the world’s finest distance runners will be settling their scores, the World’s fastest man will be setting his starting blocks in his eagerly anticipated follow-up to a double feat in Berlin that is already considered legendary.
Usain Bolt has already indicated that an assault on the mythical World records of 9.59 and 19.19 which he set two years ago won’t be in the cards, but he nonetheless wants to prove to any detractors that he is taking his world title ambitions seriously. Yet even the late hour withdrawal of his No. 1 rival and compatriot Asafa Powell won’t make his task that much ‘easier’. He’ll still be taking on two men – Trinidad & Tobago national record holder Richard Thompson and compatriot Michael Frater – who have gone as fast or faster than Bolt’s 9.88 season’s best, along with another Jamaican, Nesta Carter, who came within inches of beating him in their last meeting in Monaco.
Bolt and his faster company won’t be opening their competition until the early evening heats, whose start lists won’t be finalised until after the qualifiers from the morning’s preliminary round – heats for entrants who haven’t achieved the minimum qualifying standards – are known.
Rudisha ready to roll
Another one of the world’s fastest men, 800m World record David Rudisha, will begin his chase for his first World title. Already among the world’s finest 800m runners at the last World championships, he surprisingly didn’t advance from the semi-finals after finishing third. The 22-year-old Kenyan hasn’t lost a race since.
Rudisha brings a 22-race win streak to Daegu – 29 including rounds – and will go in the fourth of six heats. His arch rival, two-time World indoor champion Abubaker Kaki, starts in heat three.
The Hardee and Eaton Show? Men’s Decathlon begins
The battle for bragging rights to hold the title of the World's Best Athlete' also gets underway, with a fierce two-day battle expected between Americans Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton.
Hardee is the reigning champion and the winner in the season's premiere Decathlon to date, in Gotzis, Austria, where he tallied 8689 points in late May. Eaton meanwhile is the talented rising star who at just 23 arrives as the world leader thanks to an 8729 point tally at the U.S. Championships. Boosted by his 10.26 100m speed at his best, expect Eaton to have a hefty lead after the first day.
Also on the track, competition begins in the women’s 400m and 3000m Steeplechase. In the former, defending champion Sanya Richards-Ross faces a two-pronged assault from Samsung Diamond League leader Amantle Montsho of Botswana and compatriot Allyson Felix, the three-time World 200m champion who’s looking to expand her already hefty CV.
In the Steeplechase, Milcah Chemos is the heavy favourite, looking strong to claim Kenya’s first title in the event.
On the infield, qualifying begins in the men’s Pole Vault and Hammer Throw, and in the women’s Long Jump and Discus Throw. In the Long Jump, the focus will be on defending champion Brittney Reese of the U.S. and rising Russian star Darya Klishina while in the discus, Germany’s Nadine Muller will be looking to set the mark that will elevate her from a crowded and fairly evenly-matched field.
In the Pole Vault, 5.70m is the magic number cum automatic qualifier, a height that should be a relatively easy day’s work for favourite Renaud Lavillenie of France and defending champion Steven Hooker of Australia, although the latter hasn’t managed the height yet this season. Stay tuned.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF