17 JUL 2008 General News Rome, Italy

Words from the Meeting Director - Rome 2008

Rome - Luigi D'Onofrio (c)Rome - Luigi D'Onofrio (c) © Copyright

Regular visitors to the Golden Gala meeting in Rome, the third of the six meetings in the ÅF Golden League this year, often joke that Luigi - Gigi as he's usually known around the international athletics circuit - D'Onofrio seems to wear a permanently worried expression in the days before the meeting.

His demeanour is in sharp contrast to the happy-go-lucky expression he adopts at other times of the year, and it's not something that he denies.

"The days leading up to any meeting like this are always stressful and strained. This year is no different. There are always problems to deal with although we do our best to get them fixed.”

"But I'm happy to say that the five remaining athletes in contention for the Golden League Jackpot are here, the athletes in their particular events who have already won in Berlin and Oslo last month."

It's a not inconsiderable achievement getting Bershawn Jackson, Hussein Al-Sabee, Pamela Jelimo, Josephine Onyia and Blanka Vlasic and all the rest of the star-studded cast of the meeting to Rome, considering the fact that last weekend saw many national championships around the world, including the US Olympic Trials, and many of the world's top athletes could be excused for wanting a brief break will be tired in the wake of the emotional and physical exertion of securing their place on the plane to Beijing.

"Just to pick out a few of what I think will be some of the best events on the programme, the 400m Hurdles is probably the best at this meeting for the last 10 or 15 years. We have every single World and Olympic champion since 1999.”

"In the Long Jump, Irving Saladino returns after his recent slight problem but we are a little disappointed, of course, that our big Italian star Andrew Howe has a little injury and can not compete. That's very sad for us but these things happen.”

"It's not a surprise in Olympic year. It's understandable that the athletes are focussed on Beijing and will not compete at a Golden League meeting if they have the slightest muscular problem.”

"The Javelin throwers Pitkämäki and Thorkildsen are here, and with the greatest respect to the other athletes in this event, these are the top two. They have won one Golden League meeting each so far this year," analysed D'Onofrio.

"In the Women's 200m, we have Kerron Stewart, Sherone Simpson and Sanya Richards. It's especially interesting that Richards wants to run over this distance here. For the last three years she won the 400m here but this race fits in with her Olympic preparations”

"However, the 400m is still very strong because instead we have Allyson Felix competing. In fact, we have all the other top women in the world competing."

D'Onofrio also used his powers of persuasion to entice the star of the last ÅF Golden League meeting, in Oslo on 6 June, to come to the Italian capital and Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba will race again over the distance at which she set a stunning World record of 14:11.15 just over a month ago.

"Finally, Tirunesh decided to come. She was not so sure she wanted to come but she's here. It should be a very interesting race as she'll be up against her fellow Ethiopian Meselech Mekamu." added D'Onofrio, the smile returning to his face.

So are plans being put into place for her to make an attack on her own World record or will it just be left for Dibaba to conduct head-to-head - or should that be foot-to-foot - combat with her compatriot without any outside intervention?

"The confirmation that Tirunesh will come here has only so recently been confirmed that I haven't made any plans for the race just yet. In fact, this is one of the things I have to work on in the next few hours," added D'Onofrio politely but showing body language of a man who has more than a pile of pasta on his plate in the 24 hours before his country's biggest athletics meeting of the year.

However, D'Onofrio still had time to give a further update on what the famous American magazine Track and Field News calls its Status Quo page, the Latin reference being appropriate in Rome to the aches and pains department.

"Unfortunately there is also bad news. Australia's Jana Rawlinson is injured and cannot compete in the 400m Hurdles and we are so very sorry that we have lost Susanna Kallur in the 100m Hurdles. I only heard on Tuesday that she will not compete here or in Paris next week.”

"However, for every bit of bad news there is usually something nice and to replace Rawlinson I am very happy that Tiffany Ross-Williams (who won the US Olympic Trials last week) said, at the last minute she was interested."

The last question for D'Onofrio was to put on his pundit's hat and predict which of the five remaining contenders for the  ÅF Golden League Jackpot of $1 million would go to bed tomorrow night still being in a position to dream about what they might spend their money on.

"Naturally, I want all five to be able to carry on to Paris next week and still be jackpot contenders, Every one of them is in fine condition and potentially can win their event here.

"However, realistically, I think only three might win, but I think out of respect for them I'm not going to say any more," smiled D'Onofrio, not wishing to put the finger on which pair out of Jackson, Al-Sabee, Jelimo, Onyia and Vlasic might fall short.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF