London, UKSix athletes sat in a line at the Croydon Park hotel here today and, just like specialist drivers, managed to address the Samsung Diamond League meeting fast approaching in London on Friday and Saturday while focusing their attentions on the IAAF World Championships waiting a little further down the road.
For two of those six – former World 100m record holder Asafa Powell and current World 800m record holder David Rudisha – the imperative of Daegu is to add a global title to their global times.
Rudisha has suffered only one major disappointment at a global championship, having underperformed at the last Worlds in Berlin, where he failed to reach the final.
Powell – ‘Really confident’ ahead of Daegu
For Powell, the list of disappointments is longer. Other than winning the Commonwealth title in 2006, this great sprinter has not earned any international championship gold since setting his first World record of 9.77sec in 2005, finishing fifth at the Olympics and earning bronze medals at the last two World Championships.
At what may be a damp Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon this amiable resident of Kingston will have his final major warm-up over 100m at the Aviva London Grand Prix – exactly a year before the 100m final at the London 2012 Games - before contesting the world title in Daegu against a field that will include his friend and rival Usain Bolt, current owner of the World record with a time of 9.58.
Powell, who will turn 29 in November, hinted that he felt he only had a limited opportunity to create a happy ending for that narrative of frustration, a narrative that continued last year as he began in scintillating form only to have to drop out early with hamstring and back problems.
“First I’m glad that I am healthy and able to finish my season,” he said. “I’ve been running well so far and I have posted some great times.”
He added, with one of his wide smiles: “Great for me – not 9.58, but – it’s good. And I’m really confident. I’ve really been thinking about the World Championships. I don’t have much time, and I don’t want to miss my chances again.”
Spectators at Crystal Palace are likely to witness another swift performance from Powell, who believes he is in his best shape since 2005.
But Powell also sounded a warning note that held true for the five other athletes sitting alongside him when he pointed out: “It’s the last competition before the World Championships so everyone is being very cautious. We all want to get out of this being healthy.”
Certainly his visit to London is looking like good news on the nutritional front. “I always enjoy competing in London,” he said. “There are always a lot of Jamaicans who support us – it’s like a mini-Jamaica here. And it’s easy to find food – you don’t have to go to McDonalds...”
Rudisha – ‘I’m really focused to make sure I get that (World) title’
For Rudisha tomorrow’s 800m will be his first race in the capital, and it will pit him against the runner from the Sudan who has been the only man in the world capable of really pushing him in the last couple of years, double World Indoor champion Abubaker Kaki.
“I am looking forward to competing with my friend Abubaker Kaki,” said the quietly spoken Kenyan. “This will be our first meeting this season and we always give each other stiff opposition.”
It will be an invaluable preparation for both men ahead of the Worlds, which hold unhappy memories for the man who twice broke the world record last year, reducing it to 1:41.01.
“At the 2009 World Championships I think the weather really affected me,” he said. “Before we started our warm-up it started raining heavily. Things didn’t go well for me because I felt like I had not done a good warm-up and when I got to the race I was not really happy in the last 200 metres.
“This year I’m happy I’ve done good training and I’m confident. I’m really focused to make sure I get that title. Because so far although I have got times I have still don’t have any titles.
“At the moment I am focusing on winning the world title in Daegu, but maybe in the future I am trying to run under 1:41. I’m feeling my shape is coming together well, and maybe after the World Championships I might decide to do one or two races to see if I can perform like last year, or faster.”
Even if Rudisha is concentrating on racing rather than the clock tomorrow, the fastest 800m time run in Britain – the 1:43.22 set by Steve Cram in winning the 1986 Commonwealth title in Edinburgh in 1986 – looks likely to be bettered.
“Yes,” Rudisha said. “My shape really is there now – I am almost back to my best after having an injury earlier this season. I expect maybe to be running around 1:42 here if things go well.”
Things are also going well for the four other athletes assembled – Sally Pearson, Mo Farah and 110m Hurdles rivals Dayron Robles and David Oliver.
Pearson goes into London in what she describes as “really good shape” and with happy recollections of her last competition on English soil, when she lowered her 100m Hurdles personal best of 12.48sec, the fastest time posted this year.
“I’m looking forward to competing in London,” she said. “A lot of my family are in England – my mother is English and her sisters and my cousins live in Kent.”
When a bright spark then suggested that she consider running for Britain if a passport could be sorted out, she responded very smartly: “I’m not English – I’m Australian!”
Robles and Oliver relish ongoing rivalry
Robles, Cuba’s 110m Hurdles Olympic champion and World record holder, spoke warmly of the struggle he was currently waging at the top of his event with China’s former World and Olympic champion Liu Xiang and the powerful figure sitting one place to his left, David Oliver.
Although Oliver has the fastest time in the world this year, Robles beat him in their only race so far, at the Paris Samsung Diamond League meeting last month.
“I’ve had a great rivalry over a few years now with David, and there is also a great rivalry with Liu Xiang. I feel like it is continuing the tradition of hurdlers in the past like Allen Johnson, Roger Kingdom and Colin Jackson,” the Cuban said.
Oliver, grinning, denied that he might wish for an easier life minus Liu and Robles. “No,” he said. “Americans really like to go against the best always, no short cuts.”
Farah keeping Daegu double option open
Farah, meanwhile, who heads this year’s world rankings at both 10,000 and 5,000 metres, insisted that, despite some reports saying he would only run the the longer distance in Daegu, he would be keeping his options open to double up over the 5,000m, as he did in winning two titles at last year’s European Championships.
“I want to give the 10,000 metres 110 per cent and then see how my legs feel afterwards. But if I feel good I can still do the 5000 metres.”
The former Londoner, now based in Portland, Oregon under the direction of coach Alberto Salazar, admitted that after his recent exertions it would be a nice change for him to be running the relatively short distance of 3000m tomorrow.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF