05 JUN 2008 Preview Oslo, Norway

Distance races naturally take centre stage in Oslo - PREVIEW - ÅF Golden League

Tirunesh Dibaba wins the women's 5000m in Oslo (Getty Images)Tirunesh Dibaba wins the women's 5000m in Oslo (Getty Images) © Copyright

Proclaimed World record bids in the women’s 5000m and 3000m Steeplechase along with the second stage of the season long hunt for the $1 Million ÅF Golden League Jackpot, provide the core of the tomorrow evening’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games (6 June), the second meet of the ÅF Golden League 2008.

>>Editor’s Note: this preview is based upon entry lists as of the morning of 5 June, and some fields might change by the time that the final start list is confirmed this evening. We will advise of any changes by updating this preview as and when they occur<<

Favourable weather, perhaps too hot

After two or three European summers when the weather gods have not always looked favourably on the international athletics circuit, Northern Europe is currently basking in sunshine and warm weather and after the sizzling conditions in Berlin last weekend the ÅF Golden League looks like it will again be the beneficiary here in Oslo.

On the eve of the ExxonMobil Bislett Games, the second of the six fixture ÅF Golden League, the temperature is currently 32°C. The warmth and the sunshine which continues late into the northern summer nights here in Norway should provide superb conditions for tomorrow evening's programme.

Ironically if there is a slight concern it is that it might actually be too hot for distance running. The temperature of the Norwegian capital last night at 9pm was still over 20°C. The women’s 5000m takes place at 20:50hrs, and the women’s Steeplechase 50mins earlier in the evening on Friday.

Usually Scandinavian summers cool considerably as each day turns to night, and in combination with habitually windless conditions this type of weather has over the decades produced an ideal environment for middle and long distance running. With bright, light blue skies lingering long into the night, evenings in these lands of the midnight sun have produced the quintessential canvas for distance running feats from legends such as Nurmi, Zatopek, Elliott, Clarke, Rono, Coe, Ovett, Waitz, Kristiansen, Gebrselassie to name but a few of those who have broken World records in the Nordic lands.

Dibaba’s personal best at very least should go

Last year in Oslo, World and Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar came away with a spectacular revision of the World record for the women’s 5000m (14:16.63) demolishing her own global best of 14:24.53 which she had established in New York in 2006.

This year it is Defar’s friend and compatriot but also arch rival on the track, the reigning two-time World 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba, who is the principal lead in tomorrow night’s distance running talent show.

Dibaba, is the reigning World record holder for 5000m indoors (14:27.42 - 2007), and has an outdoor PB set here in Oslo of 14:30.40 (2006) which is surely set for a major revision.

The former double World champion at 5000m (2003 and 2005) has for company much of the rest of her family, with her sisters Ejegayehu, the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist, and Genzebe, the World Junior XC champion also taking part in the race. The main pace maker is to be Russia’s 23-year-old Anna Alminova, a former World Junior silver medallist at 1500m who at her best is 4:03 1500m runner.

Russians to the fore

The women’s 3000m Steeplechase should turn the usual pacing / record breaking scenario on its head, as here it should be the Russians as the protagonists with a Kenyan rabbit (Mercy Njoroge) leading the way. We have already covered this race in depth earlier this week – click here for story – but suffice it to say that the World Champion Yekaterina Volkova and World record holder Gulnara Gulkina-Samitova will be take to their marks serious about this bid to break the latter’s 9:01.59 mark.

It will be both Russians’ first steeple of the year but then Gulkina only raced once in 2004 before setting the existing record, and this year she has so far raced at the flat 3000m with 8:42.96 (24 May) taking nearly five seconds off her PB. So a record bid here is anything but ideal gossip!

As well as the heat in Oslo, the other danger to the record attempt is the overall weight of talent which might cause a mood of caution to creep into their minds. Anyone who takes on the World record gambit risks exposing themselves to defeat from a line up with includes nearly every major global name of this young event which will be contested at the Olympic Games for the first time this summer.

Jackpot contenders

Last Sunday’s meeting in Berlin proved to be the graveyard for the $1 Million Jackpot hopes of a wave of global champions, with many a great name including World champions Jeremy Wariner, Irving Saladino and Janeth Jepkosgei falling foul of their opponents in front of the 67,000 strong crowd of spectators in Berlin’s 1936 Olympic stadium

The current Jackpot contenders who must win at all six meetings of the ÅF Golden League 2008 to claim at least a share of the $1 Million prize are:

Men
100m - Nesta Carter (JAM)
400m - LaShawn Merritt (USA)
1500m - Augustine Choge (KEN)
400m Hurdles - Bershawn Jackson (USA)
Long Jump - Hussein Al-Sabee (KSA)
Javelin Throw - Tero Pitkämäki (FIN)

Women
200m - Sherone Simpson (JAM)
800m - Pamela Jelimo (KEN)
100m Hurdles - Josephine Onyia (ESP)
High Jump - Blanka Vlasic (CRO)


However, from that line-up we can immediately scratch three names, Carter (100m), Merritt (400m), Simpson (200m), who do not start in Oslo, so the chances of the remaining seven contenders sharing a greater portion of the $1 Million pie have already increased before anyone has even set foot into the Bislett stadium.

Mile and not 1500m is the Golden League event in Oslo

In Oslo, as it traditional the ExxonMobil Dream Mile will replace the 1500m as the Jackpot event. In this race which closes the meeting programme Augustine Choge showed an impressive turn of speed in the last 100m in Berlin to beat Kenyan compatriot Daniel Kipchirchir Komen.

Komen is not here but the fleet feet of 24-year-old Isaac Songok, who in Bislett in 2006 so famously did for Kenenisa Bekele’s $1 Million hopes, has what it takes to defeat the 21-year-old Commonwealth 5000m champion.

Jelimo!

It is Kenya all the way in the women’s 800m too. Pamela Jelimo is the find of the year, who knows, perhaps even the revelation of this decade if her three month foray into this event is anything to go by. The until recently unknown 18-year-old is already senior African champion, senior Area and World Junior record holder, and last Sunday in Berlin was 4 seconds clear of the previously best runners in the world when running the fastest time in the world for over a decade (1:54.99). It would be a surprise if Jelimo didn’t again show a clean pair of heels to World champion Janeth Jepkosgei who was beaten into third last weekend (1:59.13). Berlin runner-up Yuliya Krevsun (1:58.98) is also entered.

Vlasic is supreme

Arguably the current most likely athlete to accomplish the Jackpot this season is World indoor and outdoor High Jump champion Blanka Vlasic of Croatia. Her 2.03m leap in Berlin seemed effortless and she was very close to 2.06m on her first attempt. The nearest to her was Germany’s Ariane Freidrich on 2.00m, and unless Belgium’s European champion Tia Hellebaut or Spanish record holder Ruth Beita, for example, up their game in Oslo, then the Croatian’s path to the prize is a relatively clear one based upon her present vein of rich form.

Injury in Berlin, just a scare?

The other reigning World champion still in pursuit of the Jackpot is Finland’s javelin man Tero Pitkämäki. His injury scare which saw him only throw once in Berlin, albeit the winning release, seems to have been just that, a scare, the cause of his discomfort being a spasm to a back muscle. But even if fit, he must look out for Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen who was just one centimetre short of the Finns’ best last Sunday. The Olympic champion on home territory will want to show Pitkämäki who is boss.

Do not discount another Finn Tero Järvenpää, who was 8th in the World Champs final, and has set a PB of 85.89m this summer and was third in Berlin (84.07).

Of the other Jackpot events for men in which the Berlin winners compete, 2005 World champion Bershawn Jackson had the mark of the opposition in Germany with his 48.73 sec run, and should build on that time here, whereas in the Long Jump, Saudi Hussein Taher Al-Sabee (8.21m) was the best of a generally below par competition in Berlin.

Both 400m Hurdles and Long Jump are without their reigning World champions here. Irving Saladino, who promised so much in Berlin after his 8.73m leap in Hengelo (24 May) but produced only 7.92m for seventh place, is confirmed by the Oslo organisers to have injured his take-off leg in last Sunday’s competition and will not start here in Norway. In the one lap Hurdles, Kerron Clement will instead be in Eugene competing on Sunday in we are told a flat 400m race.

‘Long Live the King!’

Two of the biggest stars to fall out of the Jackpot hunt in Berlin were Jeremy Wariner in the 400m and Susanna Kallur in the women’s 100m Hurdles.

Wariner was matched down the home straight in Berlin by compatriot LaShawn Merritt and in the last 20 metres finally overtaken. The World silver medallist is not on the start list here, and it will be interesting to watch how the double World and 2004 Olympic 400 champion reacts to his defeat.

Will the third fastest man of all-time show the character of the great champion that he is and put on a special show?

A time below 44 secs from Wariner would of course restore beyond any doubt our confidence in the power of the king of one lap running.

But whatever performance he unveils in Oslo it’s easy to over emphasise any race and perhaps by the time Beijing comes around we will have been fools to ever have doubted him.

Of the other jackpot events whose Berlin winners do not start here the marginal standouts are World silver medallist Derrick Atkins in the men’s 100m and Russia’s Yulia Gushchina, second last weekend in 22.58 secs, in the women’s 200m.

Kallur, a good start to her comeback

Kallur, as an ÅF employee and their sponsored athlete, lost out in Berlin over 100m Hurdles to the Spanish record of Josephine Onyia – 12.50 to 12.54 – but as the World Indoor record holder for 60m was setting foot into competition for the first time since injury ruined her World Indoor title hopes in Valencia we should not be too critical. In Oslo, the Swedish star will come up against Onyia again, as well as World Indoor champion Lolo Jones in a weighty start list, and we can expect a fascinating battle.

Rudisha vs Kaki

One of the most anticipated encounters of tomorrow evening should be in the men’s 800m. Here two of the brightest young stars of 800m who might one day inherit World record holder Wilson Kipketer’s mantle of dominance, David Rudisha of Kenya, 19, and Abubaker Kaki Khamis of Sudan, 18 (turns 19 on 21 June) will provide the centre piece of the race. Their career bests are evenly matched 1:43.90 / indoors 1:44.81 for the Sudanese World Indoor champion, and 1:44.15 for the Kenyan.

The women’s 100m features the international return of reigning Olympic champion Yuliya Nestarenko of Belarus, and the sprint legend that is Slovenia’s Merlene Ottey, while the sixth fastest runner of the season Brendan Christian of The Netherlands’ Antilles’ (20.12 secs) is the man to watch in the men’s 200m.

Chris Turner for the IAAF