The ‘Strawberry Party’ on the eve of the ExxonMobil Bislett Games, the second meet of this year’s ÅF Golden League, is more than just a tradition it is a piece of living sports history.
The party which had its beginnings in the garden of the late meet director Arne Haukvik who started the tradition. Haukvik was manager to Ron Clarke, the multiple distance running World record breaker of the 1960s and when the Australian brought his family over to Europe when he was running there, Haukvik would invite Clark and his family into his home. There he served strawberry with cream - a traditional Norwegian summer dish. And the journalists who came to talk to Clark were of course given the same treatment. Little by little over the years the Strawberry Party became the official press conference for the meeting.
The party was held in Haukvik's garden at Økern in Oslo up until 2001, since when they have been held at the Oslo City Hall which is famous as the home of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony which takes place in December each year. The building's huge colourful murals provide an eye catching back drop for both occasions, and in the daylight of a Scandinavian summer afternoon with the sun shimmering off the water of Oslo harbour in through the City Hall's giant windows its magnificance is hard to adequately describe.
A distance runner might have helped begin the tradition but this year the guests of the Strawberry Party press conference were sprinters, hurdlers and a jumper.
World Indoor 60m Hurdles champion Lolo Jones (USA), was joined on the platform by World Indoor 60m Hurdles record holder Susanna Kallur (SWE), Berlin winner and Jackpot contender Josephine Onyia (ESP), and Norwegian hopeful Christina Vukicevic (NOR).
Kallur was not despondent about losing in Berlin: “Onyia is a nice person and can run fast and this was a big PB for her.”
About her injuries – “yes I am over my problems (which caused her premature departure from World Indoor champs).”
Onyia was adamant that her second place finish in last year’s World Athletics Final provided the inspiration she needed over the winter’s training: “That performance (12.70 secs) showed me what was required to be the best in the world. I knew I had to work even harder.”
About the $1 Million Jackpot:
“Of course I’m dreaming about the prize but it will be very hard, Susanna wants to win each race, Lolo wants to win each race…but for me now I just want to feel relaxed in the same way as before Berlin (national record 12.50 sec).”
Jones who must go through the US Olympic Trials before she knows if she will compete in Beijing confirmed: “I’m envious of Susanna and Josephine as they know that they will be at the Olympics already but I can’t count on my eggs before they hatch. I can’t count on anything until I have qualified. It’s like having to peak for two Olympics.”
“Last year it took so much energy to focus on the trials and the World Champs that when I got to Osaka I felt burnt out. I learnt my lesson last year and so I have prepared for it better mentally.”
Vukicevic was “inspired to be here with these three who are each (Olympic) medal candidates, gold medal candidates, and I just hope to do improve my personal best (13.07 – 2007) tomorrow. I hope for 12.96.”
Next up onto the platform was World High Jump champion Blanka Vlasic (CRO)
On Bislett Games last year being the scene of her last defeat in competition and the cause of her not winning a share of the Jackpot in 2007:
“I’m here to repair some damage from last year!”
“No, I do not regret the loss, you cannot do everything in one year and it’s good to leave something to achieve (referring to the Jackpot).”
What is the difference between the Blanka Vlasic of 2006 and now?
“Experience is the main difference.”
The Jackpot, do you think about the $1 Million?
“It crosses my mind but nothing is for sure. You have to be good all year and free from injuries. Its not an easy job, I’ve started (Golden League) well with a victory (Berlin) and of course I’ll try in every competition and its always a fight whatever…its still early in the season.”
Does she miss Kajsa Bergqvist not being around?
“Yes I miss her presence in general, she is a lovely person.”
The final two guests were World and Olympic 400m champion Jeremy Wariner (USA) and Johan Wissman (SWE), the World Indoor 400m silver medallist.
“My first goal this season is to defend my title at the Olympics but first I have got to make the team at the trials. Secondly I want to run the first ever 42 second quarter mile!”
How does he stay motivated?
“Even if I do become the first under 43, then I will want to break that PR again and get even faster.”
“Tomorrow I just want to go out there and run a season’s best.”
On the defeat in Berlin to LaShawn Merritt:
After the race, by about 30 minutes to an hour, I had talked to my manager Deon (Minor), my agent Michael Johnson, and my coach, Michael Ford. After that I was over it. I looked past it, learned from what I did in that race, and started looking ahead to this race.”
I can’t look back and be disappointed, I ran a season’s best, 44.07, so I can’t complain.”
Can we count on something very fast tomorrow?
“Yes, you can count on that!”
Wissman felt that the European record (44.33, Thomas Schönlebe 1987) is within his reach:
“I know I can do it.”
“I have been training hard and so I’m not in the best (racing) shape at the moment. It’s a long season and right now I’m capable of about 45 flat.”
“The winter’s training has gone really well, better even than last year so I am very hopeful for this summer.”
“My main focus is definitely in the 400m. I see a brighter future for me in the 400 than the 200, though I will still keep up with them and will run a couple this season.”
Chris Turner for the IAAF