31 JAN 2008 Preview 31 January 2008 – Stuttgart, Germany

Defar within striking range of her World record in Stuttgart - PREVIEW

Meseret Defar with fans after her World best in Boston (Victah Sailer)Meseret Defar with fans after her World best in Boston (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Stuttgart, GermanyEven those with short memories will have difficulty forgetting the exciting women’s 3000 metres race at last year’s Sparkassen Cup competition in Stuttgart.

Twelve-months ago Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar not only demolished the previous World record by more than four seconds with an 8:23.72 performance, she also kept the capacity crowd on its feet with a nail-biting finish, denying her compatriot (and an indoor debutante) Meselech Melkamu the record with a victory margin of only 0.02 seconds.  For veteran observers of athletics, it was reminiscent of a similarly epic battle in the 1500 between Steve Cram and Saïd Aouita in Nice in 1985 as the 3:30 barrier was pierced for the first time.

Defar will be back again this year as one of the marquee athletes in the 22nd edition of the Sparkassen Cup - IAAF Indoor Permit - meeting on Saturday afternoon (2 Feb), a competition which enjoys the longest continuous single sponsorship of any fixture in Europe.

Although it would be easy to downplay Defar’s chances of yet another record after such a powerful race last year, the Ethiopian showed that this is a distinct possibility with a world-best performance of 9:10.50 in the Two Miles run in Boston last Saturday as she took almost 13 seconds off the previous best.  That time has been equated to an 8:29.8 performance in the 3000, certainly placing her within striking range of another global mark at the distance. 

The Athens and Osaka champion in the 5000 and also the reigning double World Indoor 3000m champion, Defar also is cautious about making any promises. "My main aim in the next few months is Valencia," she said recently. "I am not in top condition, but I will try the world record in Stuttgart. I am not planning to run lots of races this year, but I want to give my best in every race."

Aside from being the main protagonist in the Stuttgart race, she will also be a mentor to her younger sister Almenesh, aged 15, who will be seeing an indoor track for the first time.  

Serious challengers to Defar on Saturday, if they exist, should include Osaka fourth placer Sylvia Kibet of Kenya, European indoor bronze medallist Silvia Weissteiner of Italy, and Russia’s Regina Rakhimkulova, who was a finalist in both the European indoor and outdoor championships.  Competitors normally seen in the 1500 metres but moving to the longer distance this weekend include Britain’s Helen Clitheroe, Nataliya Tobias of Ukraine, Anna Alminova of Russia, and Slovenia’s Sonja Roman.

Another sparkling performance to come from Robles?

Hurdler Dayron Robles of Cuba, the silver medallist at the last World Indoor Championships, sailed to the top of the yearly world list in the 60m Hurdles with a sparkling 7.45 performance Tuesday night (29) in Gothenburg.  He will return to the Schleyer-Halle sprint apron where he won last year in a spectacular 7.38.  Among those the Cuban will face is the man he replaced as world leader, Allan Scott of Great Britain, who posted a early-season 7.52 to head the hurdle event for more than two weeks. 

Others in the hurdle event include Robles’ countryman, three-time world indoor finalist Yoel Hernández, the reigning European outdoor champion Stanislav Olijar of Latvia, four-time world outdoor champion Allen Johnson of the US, European indoor silver winner Marcel van der Westen of the Netherlands, and current European outdoor silver medallist Thomas Blaschek of Germany.

Mutola says farewell; ‘Borza’ faces top opposition

Saturday will mark the beginning of Maria Mutola’s farewell tour as the Olympic and three-time world champion in the 800 Metres has previously announced her retirement at the end of this year.  Pushing the 35-year-old from Mozambique will be Ukrainian Tetiana Petlyuk, last year’s Sparkassen winner and the current European indoor silver medallist, as well as former European indoor 400 silver winner Sviatlana Usovich of Belarus and Russia’s Yekaterina Kostetsksya. 

In the men’s 800 metres, Athens gold medallist Yuriy Borzakovskiy sits atop the world list after his 1:46.78 win in Moscow last weekend.  In what should be one of the afternoon’s most competitive races, the Russian will tangle with defending Sparkassen champion and reigning World Indoor champion Wilfred Bungei of Kenya, Osaka fourth-placer Abraham Chepkirwok, and Moscow World Indoor fourth-placer Dmitrijs Milkevics of Latvia.  Borzakovskiy’s longtime training partner, Dmitriy Bogdanov, the former European indoor champion, is also in the field.

‘Silver Sihine’ the favourite

Sileshi Sihine, Ethiopia’s “silver-plated runner”- with four global runner-up prizes in the 5000 and 10,000 from Athens, Helsinki and Osaka, as well as another from the World Cross Country - leads a very deep field in the men’s 3000m. 

Shadrack Korir, the 2007 Sparkassen victor and the Osaka 1500 bronze winner, will be ready to inject speed into the event’s final stages.  Reigning European 10,000m champion Jan Fitschen of Germany, former World Indoor bronze medallist Markos Geneti of Ethiopia, current World Junior 5000m champion Tariku Bekele, and ex-World Cross silver medallist Abraham Chebii of Kenya will also joust for top finishes. 

Of added interest will be the participation of 18-year-old Abraham Feleke of Ethiopia, a past medallist in the World Youth (3000m gold) and World Junior (5000m silver) championships. 

Hot Swedish property - Klüft and Kallur

Carolina Klüft is the reigning combined events champion at four of the five international fixtures of athletics.  Only the World Indoor title, which she last won in 2003, is missing from her list of current crowns, a lacuna which she presumably intends to fill next month in Valencia.  

The Swede will compete in two events Saturday.  In the 60m Hurdles, she will be up against a strong compatriot, current European indoor and outdoor champion Susanna Kallur, the winner here last year, whose hot season has already produced a spectacular 7.75 clocking earlier this week.  Only five other hurdlers have ever run as fast, and none for the past ten years. 

Others racing over the five barriers will be Osaka finalist LoLo Jones of the US, three-time world championships finalist Vonette Dixon of Jamaica, Moscow World Indoor finalist Danielle Carruthers of the USA, and the current World Indoor champion, Ireland’s Derval O’Rourke.

The women’s Long Jump, in which Klüft took the bronze at the World Indoors in 2004, will also include Osaka fifth placer Bianca Kappler of Germany, current World Indoor champion Tatyana Kotova of Russia, and former World Indoor bronze winner Maurren Higa Maggi of Brazil.  Also, competing in the Long Jump will be Osaka Triple Jump champion Yargelis Savigne of Cuba, whose 14.56 in her season opener at Gothenburg Tuesday night put her into the world lead. 

Parade of German vaulting talent

The men’s Pole Vault field is led by Osaka bronze winner Danny Ecker, European indoor bronze medallist Björn Otto, and two-time European indoor champion Tim Lobinger—three of eight German jumpers in the slate of thirteen.  Athens gold medallist Tim Mack, as well as fellow American Jeff Hartwig (who Wednesday set a world masters’ best of 5.65), are among the few invited non-German guests, as are former World Indoor champion Igor Pavlov and Osaka sixth placer Yevgeniy Lukyaneno, both of Russia, and two-time European gold medallist Alex Averbukh of Israel. 

Without a truly standout entrant, the men’s 1500 metres should nevertheless see a new world season leading mark, currently lodged at 3:40.75. Notables in the competition include former European Indoor silver winner James Nolan of Ireland, two-time European Championships finalist Christian Obrist of Italy, former Commonwealth champion Michael East of Great Britain, and past World Junior champion Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco.

If he can handle the conditions of closely-packed bodies in his first-ever indoor track race, 18-year-old Asbel Kiprop of Kenya, the current World Junior Cross Country champion, could be a factor. 

Germany’s Peter Rapp has the distinction of being a co-world season leader in the men’s Long Jump at 8.03, but it is expected that both Athens finalist Chris Tomlinson of Great Britain and two-time European Championships medallist Olexiy Lukashevych will move their seasons into high gear in the Schleyer-Halle to challenge the German’s hold.  The presence of long jumping’s éminence grise, Atlanta silver medallist James Beckford of Jamaica, who has a remarkable string of 14 consecutive seasons of 8m jumping, ensures that it will take a quality mark to win. 

Hurtis, Fasuba and Wissman, the sprint standouts

The winner of an unusual 60m-400m double here last year, LaVerne Jones of the US Virgin Islands will limit her activity to the short race on Saturday.  She will be challenged by former World Indoor 200 champion Muriel Hurtis-Houairi of France, and Central American Games champion Tahesia Harrigan of Jamaica, and sprinter-jumper Brianna Glenn of the US.  A late entry, 18-year-old Elizaveta Bryzgina of Ukraine who won the European Junior 200 silver medal last summer, sports an impressive pedigree as the daughter of standout sprinter Viktor Bryzgin and Olga Bryzgina, a World and Olympic 400 gold medallist. 

Leading entries in the men’s 60 metres include two-time African champion Olusoji Fasuba of Nigeria, the winner here last year in 6.49, Britain’s Craig Pickering, the silver medallist at last year’s European indoor championships, Osaka finalist Matic Osovnikar of Slovenia, and Simeon Williamson of Great Britain, the current European under-23 champion.  Ostensibly looking towards Beijing after several lacklustre season will be 2001 World 100 metres champion Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis. 

Johan Wissman of Sweden returns to defend his title in the men’s 200 metres, with German one-lap specialists Tobias Unger, Till Helmke, and Sebastian Ernst providing strong competition.  One additional German sprinter, former European 400 champion Ingo Schultz, will bring his lanky frame back to the same track which saw his indoor PB six seasons ago.

Athens 400 Hurdles silver medallist Ionela Tirlea of Romania heads the field in the Women’s 400 Metres. 

Ed Gordon for the IAAF