MONTE CARLO - Monaco - Just a month from today, the 6th IAAF World Indoor Championships will open in the magnificent Bercy Stadium in Paris. This will be the first act in a magnificent year for athletics which, will witness the 25th World Cross Country Championships on 23 March in Turins Parco del Valentino followed by the World Race Walking Cup in Podebrady/Prague on 19-20 April and will culminate in the celebration in August of the World Championships in Athens.
In the meantime, the athletics world is heightening attention for Paris. Numerous stars have pushed forward their training programmes so as to be in shape to chase not only athletics glory but also the substantial economic rewards up for grabs at the Palais Omnisports de Bercy. For the first time in the history of athletics the winners - men and women - of a world indoor title will win $50,000, 2nd and 3rd pl, respectively $20,000 and $10,0000. For the relays, the awards will be: $60,000; $30,000 and $16,000.
As amply demonstrated in the recent indoor meetings in Stuttgart, Erfurt and Madrid, the competitive condition of the athletes continues to improve, despite the fact that most of them had a particularly gruelling Olympic year. The most outstanding example came in Stuttgart from Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR) and Haile Gebrselassie (ETH): their 1500m race ended in a new world record for the Moroccan (3:31.18) and a personal best for the Ethiopian (3:32.39). El Guerroujs talent as a fast middle distance runner is unquestionable and his duel with Noureddine Morceli (ALG) will be one of the highlights of the coming outdoor season. The Olympic 10,000m champions improvement in this event cannot fail to astound.
Before his race on the Stuttgart indoor track, Gebrselassie had a best performance over 1500m of 3:34.64, outdoors at Chemnitz in 1996. The fact that he has been able to cut this time by more than two seconds on a track which - because of its length and the consequent increase in the curves - is still more difficult to run on as the pace increases, means that Gebrselassie should go under 3:30 outdoors.
Haile Gebrselassie - who has run the 800 in 1:46 in training - is a revolutionary: he has created a new era in resistance running. On the same road, and at his heels, runs Daniel Komen (KEN), presaging 1997 as a year of great challenges and perhaps new sensational records in the 3000, 5000 and 10,000m. Some vision of which of the two will lead the race for records should come in Paris.
Haile Gebrselassie will run in the 3000m in Bercy, at which distance he currently holds the world indoor record (7:30.72). A record which is likely to crumble at the next world championships.
But not only the distance runners are progressing. The womens Olympic long jump gold medallist Chioma Ajunwa (NGR) is showing constant improvement in this event and in the sprints. Together with Irina Privalova (RUS) and Merlene Ottey (JAM) she will make the 60m final a real thriller.
The heptathlon (men) and pentathlon (women) will also be interesting in Paris. All of the worlds greatest specialists of these events invited by the IAAF have confirmed their participation, other than Dan OBrien (USA) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA). The USA will be represented by Steve Fritz, placed 4th in Atlanta, and Chris Huffins in the heptathlon; Kelly Blair - 8th in the Olympics - and Kym Carter will compete in the womens event. Denise Lewis (GBR), another rising star of British athletics will start strong favourite to win the $50,000 womens first prize.
But the first world record of the World Indoor Championships has been won by a particularly athletic category: the journalists. 535 have already received accreditation, a number which is destined to increase before the Championships and which demonstrates the excitement around this major event.
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