As far as Wilfried Meert is concerned, Friday night’s events in the King Badouin Stadium for the Van Damme Memorial Meeting, are unlikely to have an effect on the outcome of the $1 million prize fund - the Golden League Jackpot.
“I can’t see anyone troubling Sanya Richards in the 400 metres,” Meert, the long-standing meeting director of the Brussels leg of the IAAF series. “You saw the form she showed in Zurich last week - there’s no one who can touch her.
“I think the same in the women’s Pole Vault, too, Yelena Isinbayeva is looking good to take the prize,” he says, before adding a slight rider, “though Svetlana Feofanova looks in very good shape, she could upset things.
” Meert, busy in the usual pre-event whirl of announcer meetings and press conferences, has also had to make special arrangements this year for a presentation at the event’s opening ceremony for Belgium’s women’s 4x100m relay squad, bronze medal-winners at the World Championships in Osaka.
“We will celebrate our girls’ success, it will excite and please the crowd early in the meeting,” Meert says.
Kim Gevaert, the double European sprint champion and fifth in the women's 100m final in Osaka, is, according the Meert, responsible for the revival of Belgian athletics. “We had our best World Championships ever is Osaka, with many Belgian athletes getting personal bests or progressing through the rounds,” Meert says. “I think the example of Kim has helped to motivate, to inspire all our other athletes.
” Belgium, of course, has a strong tradition in cross-country and distance running events, and the Van Damme Memorial meeting - named to honour Ivo van Damme, the double Olympic silver medallist from 1976, who was killed in a car crash just a few months after the Montreal Games - helps to maintain such traditions by staging what is probably the strongest programme of distance racing on the European circuit. “Oh, I could not say that,” Meert avers, “we will have to wait until after the events on Friday night, to see what happens.
” What is likely to happen will be some of the finest distance track races seen this year, all backed by live, rhythmic African drumming. “Most of the distances are dominated by Africans these days,” Meerts says, “so it seems appropriate to use the drums. The runners like it, it helps set the rhythm.
“But we are not just about the distances, our track is so fast that we often get excellent results in the sprint races - Tyson Gay ran 19.79 in Brussels last year, but it is as if nobody noticed or remembers.
“But this year we have a men’s 5,000, 10,000 and steeplechase, and a women’s one mile and two miles; we always try to put on strong distance races.
“This year, Kenenisa Bekele is having his first race since winning in Osaka, while at 5,000, his younger brother, Tariku is racing against Silesse Sihine, and Eliud Kipchoge, the silver medallists at 10,000 and 5,000 in Osaka.”
Steven Downes for the IAAF