After two years off due to building works, action comes back in the Stade Couvert Régional in Liévin for the 20th edition of “Meeting IAAF du Pas-de-Calais”.
The brand new blue track will play host to Dayron Robles who is due to make his season debut, which has been delayed by a thigh injury.
The Cuban, World record holder at 110m Hurdles, is only 0.03 off the World Indoor Record (7.30) held by Colin Jackson since 1994. Without global championships this indoor season, the record will be the main target for the Olympic champion. Indeed, his coach Santiago Antunez estimates that his 22-year-old pupil will reach the optimal age for performance in the coming Olympic cycle.
For his opening race, Robles will face a tough opposition from hurdlers who are in their sharpest shape already. Yevgeniy Borisov ran a World season leading mark of 7.45 in Stuttgart on Friday (7), approaching by 0.01 his Russian record for his 8th race in 2009 so far. Also in excellent shape this season is the unstoppable Gregory Sedoc who set four Netherland records in four races, with a best of 7.52.
Lagat takes on local favourite Baala at Mile
At 30 years of age, Mehdi Baala, double European champion at 1500m (2002 and 2006) will make his debut at the Mile. As surprisingly as it seems, the French never lined up at the distance. The 15-year-old National record held by Eric Dubus in 3:54.16 might not last as Baala showed a good form in Stuttgart, ending a three-year absence in the indoor circuit, missing his own 1000m French record (2:17.01) by only 0.28.
Having already announced that he won’t take part in the European Indoor Championships (6-8 March in Turin), the Liévin outing will be a strong test as he will be opposed to double World champion (1500m and 5000m in 2007) Bernard Lagat. The Kenyan-born American won the 3000m in Stuttgart and the Mile in New York on 30 January during a tactical 3:58.44.
The 300m will offer another duel between Frenchman Leslie Djhone and Swede Johan Wissman. This will be the remake of Liévin’s 2006 edition where Wissman broke the European best in 32.61, 0.20 from Djhone. Wissman has two races and two wins at 200m under his belt in January (20.93 and 21.05), while Djhone is yet to make his indoor debut.
Top class Women's Triple Jump
The Triple Jump competition will be wide open, with five women having jumped over 15m in their careers: Yargelis Savigne (CUB, World champion outdoors in 2007 and indoors in 2008), Marija Sestak (SLO), Anna Pyatykh (UKR), Yamile Aldama (SUD) and Megdelin Martinez (ITA). Other contenders will include Teresa Nzola Meso Ba (FRA) and Oksana Udmurtova (UKR), second in the World season list with 14.62.
The 60m Hurdles will also be very competitive as three names seem to come out as possible winners with similar season bests: Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (CAN), Olympic bronze medallist in Beijing, is unbeaten in five races over 50m or 60m Hurdles including a 7.95 win in New York and a successful arrival in Europe with 8.06 in Ghent on Saturday (8). The previous day (7), Cuba’s Anay Tejada ran 7.96 in Stuttgart and Spanish Josephine Onyia ran 7.97 in Zaragoza.
At 60m, Simone Collio is showing increasing form starting with 6.66 in Leipzig but dropping out in the final due to cramps, and 6.63 followed by 6.60 in Stuttgart.
The Italian’s preparation is geared towards Turin, and Liévin will give him the opportunity to face European Record Holder (6.45) Ronald Pognon of France, and the bullet-starter Andrey Yepishin of Russia. American Kendall Stevens (6.57 in Ghent) and South America record holder (6.58) Vicente de Lima of Brazil and former 100m World champion Kim Collins (SKN) will contest the victory to the Europeans.
In the female race, former World Indoor champion Chandra Sturrup (BAH) will line-up against Muriel Hurtis-Houairi (FRA) and Tahesia Harrigan (BVI).
The Cuban contingent will have strong representatives in the men’s Long Jump with Ibrahim Camejo (Olympic Bronze medallist in Beijing) and Wilfredo Martinez (5th in Beijing). In this competition, Czech Roman Novotny (8th in Beijing), Germany’s Nils Winter and Frenchman Salim Sdiri will check their form less than one month before the European Indoor Championships.
Pierre-Jean Vazel for the IAAF