03 FEB 2011 Preview 3 February 2011 – Stuttgart, Germany

Lavillenie, Oliver and Robles lead cast of stars to celebrate Stuttgart’s 25th edition - PREVIEW

Renaud Lavillenie topped 5.85m to win in Lausanne (Deca Text&Bild)Renaud Lavillenie topped 5.85m to win in Lausanne (Deca Text&Bild) © Copyright

Stuttgart, GermanyOne of the mainstays of international indoor athletics, the Sparkassen Cup in Stuttgart, the second stop on the 2011 IAAF Indoor Meeting series, reaches its 25th edition on Saturday (5), as the annual winter fixture continues to enjoy the longest continued single sponsorship of any indoor athletics event in the world. 

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Although such a milestone of longevity usually carries a traditional ‘silver’ cachet, the event will be populated by athletes more accustomed to seeing gold. 

Standing out among the luminaries converging on the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle are two young Frenchmen who have been solidly in the athletics limelight over the past several years.

Lemaitre vs Rogers in the 60m

Christophe Lemaitre, honoured in the late autumn as the European Athletics Association’s male athlete-of-the-year after his wins in both the 100m and 200m at last summer’s European Championships in Barcelona, will make his season debut and will also take part in a special ‘Germany vs France’ sprint relay at the end of the evening’s programme.   Although Lemaitre distinguished himself last year as the first sprinter not of African descent to run under ten seconds for the 100m, he will not be the fastest runner on the sprint apron Saturday. 

That accolade goes to American Mike Rodgers, the silver winner at last winter’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha, who sports a best of 9.94 in the 100m against his French rival’s 9.97.  Rodgers also holds an advantage in the indoor event, 6.51 to 6.55, but Lemaitre may be sufficiently encouraged to bolster his indoor resumé with a push under 6.50.  Rodgers will be coming fresh from his 6.56 runner-up finish last weekend at the Millrose Games in New York City.   

Others going to the line in the 60m will be Barcelona 100 metres runner-up Mark Lewis-Francis from Great Britain, freshly-crowned Commonwealth Games 100 champion Lerone Clarke of Jamaica, and former European indoor bronze winner Craig Pickering of Great Britain.  A late addition brings 2009 European indoor bronze medallist Emanuele DiGregorio of Italy into the field. 

In-form Lavillenie, Mohr and Murer top the vault fields

The other half of the Gallic star duo in Stuttgart, Barcelona Pole vault champion and season leader at 5.92m, Renaud Lavillenie, will resume his attack on the event’s benchmark six-metre barrier after several close attempts in Chemnitz last week.   The event unites the season’s current top five pole vaulters in a superb matchup. 

Lavillenie will be challenged by his end-of-season nemesis last year, Germany’s Malte Mohr, who was the Doha silver medallist last winter and who pipped Lavillenie in the Samsung Diamond League final in Brussels. More recently, Mohr displayed solid form with a 5.83m clearance to equal his PB in Dessau on Tuesday, and went on challenge the 6.01m German record. Other vaulters include fellow Frenchman and Beijing finalist Jérôme Clavier, Berlin fourth placer Maksym Mazuryk of Ukraine, plus Germans Alexander Straub, the Doha bronze winner, and Barcelona finalist Fabian Schulze. 

The women’s vault brings together Doha champion and indoor season leader (4.74m), Fabiana Murer of Brazil, and Barcelona silver winner Silke Spiegelburg of Germany, the top two vaulters in the young season at the moment.  Beijing sixth placer Carolin Hingst of Germany and her countrywoman, Berlin finalist Kristina Gadschiew, form the remainder of the compact list of jumpers.

Oliver and Robles, 2011 round 1!

Probably the most hotly contested dual on the programme will come in the men’s 60m Hurdles, as David Oliver of the US goes against Cuba’s Dayron Robles, the winner in Doha last winter.   An early-July injury to outdoor World record holder Robles cut his season short in 2010, but one can expect these two to mount an intense rivalry over the coming months in the run-up to the Daegu World Championships as the Cuban attempts to extend his 5-0 career indoor advantage over the broad-shouldered American.   Also in the mix on Saturday will be reigning European champion Andy Turner of Great Britain and Barcelona runner-up Garfield Darien of France. 

The winner of the last two women’s world indoor hurdles crowns, Lolo Jones makes her seventh consecutive appearance in the Schleyer-Halle.  The Doha silver winner, Canada’s Perdita Felicien, will challenge the American, as will Barcelona bronze medallist Carolin Nytra of Germany and Doha sixth placer Vonette Dixon of Jamaica.  Yvette Lewis of the US, on the brink of a major breakthrough last indoor season before sustaining an injury in Stuttgart, returns to continue her ascent, with fast-improving Lisa Urech of Switzerland, a Barcelona finalist, having the same game plan. 

The women’s 60m should be an opportunity to showcase Germany’s sprint star, Verena Sailer, but the newly-crowned European 100 metres champion has been suffering lately with lower back pains and reluctantly withdrew late in the week.  The event will still feature a new and equally surprising European champion in the person of France’s Myriam Soumaré, who captured the 200 metres crown in Barcelona.  Also in the field will be two members of the Ukrainian gold-medal 4x100 relay team in Barcelona, Olesya Povh and Mariya Ryemyen, plus the European 200 metres bronze winner, Aleksandra Fedoriva. 

Ejigu at the helm in the women’s 5000m..

Women’s distance races have figured prominently among the Sparkassen Cup’s 11 World records during its quarter century with three coming in the 3000m in the last decade alone.  The most recent record, Meseret Defar’s 8:23.72 from 2007, is a solid one, however, and even Defar herself in the meeting’s last three editions could not mount a successful attack. This year’s competition is led by Defar’s Ethiopian countrywoman, Doha bronze winner Sentayehu Ejigu, who will make a race-day check of her condition to know whether a record try is prudent. 

Steeplechasers Mercy Njoroge of Kenya, the new Commonwealth champion, and Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton, a finalist in Osaka, plus Beijing 1500m finalist Anna Mishchenko of Ukraine, are among those who will accompany Ejigu during the 15 laps in the Schleyer-Halle.

.. Kipchoge the man to watch in the 3000m

The field in the men’s 3000m includes Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, a resilient runner who has reached six consecutive global championship finals in the 5000m, never finishing worse than fifth and winning in Paris in 2003.  His compatriots Augustine Choge, the Commonwealth 5000m champion, and Doha bronze winner Sammy Mutahi, will be part of the fray, as will 20-year-old indoor debutant Yenew Alamirew of Ethiopia who posted a late-season 7:28.82 in Milan in 2010.  Others include Spain’s Jesus España, the Barcelona 5000 silver medallist, and Daniele Meucci of Italy, who took the 10000 bronze at last summer’s European Championships. 

Kiplagat’s indoor 1500m debut

Middle-distance races have also figured prominently in the Sparkassen Cup’s history with the current men’s 1500m World record of 3:31.18 by Hicham El Guerrouj now 14 years old.   Enter 21-year-old Silas Kiplagat fresh from a Commonwealth title in the 1500 and the world leader (3:29.27) at that event last year.   Although the Kenyan has never before run indoors, the incentive to make a bold statement is still there. 

Countrymen William Biwott, who set the current World junior 1500m record two seasons ago and who clocked a splendid 3:36.02 last week in Chemnitz, and Commonwealth finalist Gideon Gathimba will escort Kiplagat, along with Barcelona silver winner Carsten Schlangen of Germany, plus Spain’s Diego Ruiz and Yoann Kowal of France, respectively the silver and bronze medallists two years ago in Torino.  Adding further strength to the lineup is Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremehdin who was fourth in Doha.   

Kenya’s Irene Jelagat, fifth in Doha last year, and Liliana Popescu of Romania, fourth in Valencia in 2008, lead the list in the women’s 1500m.  Among those joining this pair are three-time European gold medallist Lidia Chojecka of Poland and Barcelona finalist Fanjanteino Félix of France.  Adding further interest is the indoor debut of 17-year-old Tizita Bogale of Ethiopia, the current World junior champion. 

The men’s 800m will feature the winner of the last two world indoor titles, Abubaker Kaki of Sudan, jousting with European champion Marcin Lewandowski of Poland and two other European championship finalists, Holland’s Arnoud Okken and Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic, respectively fourth and fifth in Barcelona.  Adding further quality to the field will be the German pair of Robin Schembera and Sebastian Keiner, plus Doha finalist Luis Alberto Marco of Spain.

Locals Spank and Bayer the centre of attention in the jumps

Raul Spank of host country Germany, the bronze medal winner in Berlin two years ago, leads a men’s High Jump list which includes Doha bronze winner Dusty Jonas of the US, Osaka champion Donald Thomas of Bahamas, current European Junior champion Sergey Mudrov of Russia, plus Greece’s Konstantinos Baniotis, a finalist the last two years in Barcelona and Torino. 

Sensational European indoor Long Jump champion Sebastian Bayer of Germany, whose winning 8.71 in Torino is the second-longest under-the-roof leap in athletics history, seems to be back in full action after more than a year of down time owing to foot problems which eventually required surgery. His adversaries include current indoor and outdoor World silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena of South Africa, as well as the formidable French pair of Kafétien Gomis and Salim Sdiri and Germany’s Nils Winter, who took silver behind Bayer’s big leap.  Former World indoor champion Ignisious Gaisah of Ghana and ex-European silver winner Louis Tsatoumas of Greece are also part of this elite field.

The men’s 200m features former European indoor champion Tobias Unger of Germany against American Calvin Smith, son of the eponymous former World record holder in the 100m. The younger Smith has solid credentials in both the 200 (20.67 indoors, 20.68 outdoors) and the 400 (45.61 indoors, 44.81 outdoors).  More intriguing perhaps is the participation of another American, Johnny Dutch, the 400m Hurdles runner-up in last summer’s US Championships. This would appear to be his first-ever career race over 200m.  Others competing in the series of timed one-lap sections are ubiquitous Germans Sebastian Ernst and Alexander Kosenkow, plus the current Russian indoor champion, Roman Smirnov.

Ed Gordon for the IAAF