04 FEB 2005 Preview Friday 4 February 2005

Capacity crowd to cheer local sprint star Kim Gevaert in Gent - PREVIEW

Kim Gevaert of Belgium winning her 60m heat (Getty Images)Kim Gevaert of Belgium winning her 60m heat (Getty Images) © Copyright

Kim Gevaert was hardly 16 years old when she made her first international appearance at the Flanders Indoor meeting in Gent, lining up against all time sprint legends such as Merlene Ottey and 60m World record holder Irina Privalova.

Ten years later the Belgian champion has become a class sprint act of her own. Although Gevaert is due to defend her European 60m title in Madrid, that is not influencing her indoor campaign at all.

"Kim doesn't like to compete on many indoor occasions, nor does she require it to reach her best form," explains her coach Rudi Diels.

"At this stage, only Gent, Karlsruhe and Birmingham are confirmed on her winter agenda. The European Championships in Madrid are not even a definite option unless Kim shows convincing performances in the next weeks. Her sights for 2005 are set on the Helsinki World Championships in August, where she's making her bid to reach finals in all three sprint events: 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay."

Christine Arron set for a fascinating sprint clash

The Belgian World indoor silver medallist and two-time Olympic finalist was buried with awards in her home country, both for her performances on the track and for her charming and remarkable personality off the track.

"To be true, it felt hard to pick up training after a season in which all my expectations were fulfilled. A nearly four week training camp in South Africa with my training group gave me lots of energy. I loved it to train on outdoor tracks in sunny conditions, freed from daily routines such as washing, cleaning and cooking," admits desperate housewive Gevaert.

"I'm not sure what to expect from my first race, but I like the 60m dash and I'm confident about my training work so far. I used to be the underdog, now everybody looks at me as a favourite. But that doesn't bother me, I've become very strong at handling the pressure. That 2002 Vienna winning experience tasted sweet, contenders for the European title will find me on their way."

European 100m record holder Christine Arron from France challenges Gevaert in a fascinating duel in Gent. The Belgian is guaranteed massive support from her local fans.

High quality middle distance races featuring Okken, Korir, Jawher and Sacramento

Meeting organisers Wilfried Meert and Christophe Impens try to offer Belgian athletes an occasion to shine in front of their home crowd. With his strong stamina and fluent style 800m specialist Joeri Jansen has always been considered a potential high class 1500m athlete.

The 25-year old has now decided to make that move. In his debut on the distance Jansen doesn't want to be burned by the early pace that Kenyan World champion Paul Korir and rising talent Mulugeta Wendimu will impose.

Last summer the Ethiopian posted a national record of 3:31.13 on Belgian soil at the Heusden-Zolder Grand Prix. At the age of 19, you can hardly run more impressively than he did in 2004.

Traditionally Spanish middle distance running proves strong on indoor tracks and there is little doubt it also will this year with European Championships to be held in Madrid. Jose Redolat and Roberto Parra are ready to make it a test for the African armada.

Watch out for this 1500m, it surely is Sunday’s top of the bill race.

Surprising World leading performer Arnout Okken heads the 800m field. Mbuluani Mulaudzi has the credentials and the experience to take victory away from the Dutch if only Kenyans Timothy Kiptanui or Michael Rotich don't spoil the South Africans game.

In the 3000m Mushir Jawher from Bahrain is expected to hold off the challenges from Juan Carlos Higuero and Antonio Jimenez from Spain.

Agnes Samaria wants to repeat her 800m Stuttgart win, if she gets her tactics right against French athletes Fouquet and Valdonado, Moroccan Ait-Hammou and Ukrainian Petlyuk. Sandra Stals sharpened her speed this week and adds local flavour to the race.

Carla Sacramento has gone through many battles on both indoor and outdoor tracks and she's the real threat on the 3000m that includes Lidia Chojecka from Poland and Iris Fuentes-Pila from Spain. Belgian 1500m runner Veerle Dejaeghere will move up to 5000m on the summer tracks. If she wants to be on schedule for that, she has to easily break the 9 minutes barrier in this race. A little help from Maria Martins or Bouchra Ghezielle would be appreciated by Dejaeghere.

Cubans head strong field in the triple jump

Tia Hellebaut was fifth at the Pentathlon at the World indoors, failed to qualify for the Olympic heptathlon, but amazingly reached the Olympic High Jump final instead.

"My 2005 ambitions lie with the Heptathlon again. I don't want to narrow down my attention to high jumping, I would find it mentally difficult and the training loads can be damaging. I'm suffering from an awkward calf injury on my take off leg. It's even uncertain if I will compete Sunday."

No Russian interest in the women's High Jump and that leaves Deirdre Ryan, Martha Mendia and Daniela Rath with the best chances to win.

World leading triple jumper Yoandri Betanzos faces tough opposition from Jadel Gregorio, Philips Idowu and his Cuban team mate Yoelbi Quesada. Young Belgian Michael Velter improved on the national record last week when he jumped 16.90m and will enjoy strong local support.

Freddy Mayola, Simone Collio and Ronald Pognon are amongst the early season leaders in the sprint dash and confront each other in Gent. Will they match the USA speed machines that show up at the Millrose Games on Friday? Johan Wissman and Chris Lambert are the favourites for the 200m.

The Flanders Indoor meeting in Gent will be sponsored by KBC at least until 2008. The Flemish bank and insurance company reinforces its strong partnership with Belgian athletics. The Topsporthal in Gent is completely sold out but national television provides live coverage of the event.

For more meeting information www.sport.be/flandersindoor/2005/eng

Ivo Hendrix for the IAAF