17 JUL 2014 Preview Madrid, Spain

Sprints take centre stage on Madrid’s new track – IAAF World Challenge

Jamaican 400m hurdler Kaliese Spencer (Getty Images)Jamaican 400m hurdler Kaliese Spencer (Getty Images) © Copyright

The women’s 400m hurdles should be one of the main attractions on Saturday (19) at the Meeting de Madrid, an IAAF World Challenge and IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge meeting and Spain’s most prestigious athletics competition, thanks to the presence of world leader Kaliese Spencer.

The 27-year-old Jamaican is enjoying a fruitful outdoor season with no fewer than three victories so far on the IAAF Diamond League circuit as she took top spots in Eugene, Rome and Oslo, prior to running a world-leading 53.41 in Kingston to win the Jamaican title.

The world indoor 400m silver medallist will face opposition from her compatriot Janeive Russell (54.75) and USA’s Tiffany Williams (54.74).

The men’s hammer event features Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov and Egypt’s Mostafa Hicham Al-Gamal. The in-form Nazarov is a consistent 80-metre thrower who has surpassed that barrier twice this season, topped by a 80.24m best effort not particularly far from his PB of 80.71m.

Al-Gamal produced a huge toss of 81.27m – which ranks third on this year’s list – on home soil in Cairo in March but has not gone beyond 78.07m since then.

The flat 400m also promises to be a Jamaican party as the classy line-up includes Olympic 4x400m bronze medallist Christine Day, Stephenie Ann McPherson and Shericka Williams.

The 28-year-old Day has progressed this season from 50.91 to 50.16 and should be aiming for her first sub-50-seconds clocking in Madrid. McPherson, who has a season’s best of 50.40, captured the world indoor 4x400m silver earlier this year in Sopot while the former world and Olympic silver medallist Williams has still to find her best form this season (51.23).

Trying to deny a Jamaican clean sweep will be USA’s Olympic bronze medallist DeeDee Trotter, who has a season’s best of 50.98.

USA’s Ronnie Ash will be the one of the standout athletes on Saturday following his entrance in the selected sub-13-second club in the 110m hurdles. The 26-year-old managed that feat in the semi-finals of the US Championships, clocking a huge PB of 12.99 but then failed to finish the final.

Aleec Harris, who lowered his PB to 13.18 to take fourth in that race, will also be in Madrid, while Cuba’s Orlando Ortega and Shane Brathwaite of Barbados seem strong enough to challenge them.

The shortest distance of the program also offers an interesting USA-Jamaica battle with 2008 Olympic silver medallist Kerron Stewart defending the Jamaican pride, fresh from a runner-up place at the National Championships in a season’s best of 11.02.

The US pair of Barbara Pierre (11.05) and Lekeisha Lawson (11.07) took silver and bronze respectively at the US Championships held in Sacramento in late June. The fierce rivalry among this trio might produce a sub-11.00 performance.

A quality field is also assembled in the long jump, which will be a wide open contest. South Africa’s Zarck Visser seems to be the man to beat after his 8.18m win in Kourtane last Sunday. USA’s Tyron Stewart kicked off the outdoor in style with a massive PB of 8.39m in April but has failed to approach the eight-metre barrier over his last outings.

France’s Salim Sdiri, the Spanish pair of Eusebio Caceres and Jean Marie Okutu plus Portugal’s Marcos Chuva will be heading the European response.

The US duo of Ryan Whiting and Jordan Clarke will be on show in the shot put. The latter managed a huge PB of 21.37m last month but had to settle for sixth place at the US National Championships while Whiting produced 21.31m in the early stages of the summer season but has not come close to that measure recently.

The big surprise might come from the in-form Spaniard Borja Vivas, who set a career best of 20.80m in mid-June backed by another 20.64m heave on Tuesday.

Former world silver medallist Wallace Spearmon should be tipped as favourite in his specialist 200m event. The 29-year-old came second at the US National Championships in a season’s best of 20.19, just ahead third-placed Maurice Mitchell (20.30), who is also in contention in Madrid. Antoine Adams of St Kitts and Nevis, who set a national record of 20.08 earlier this season, could emerge as Spearmon’s toughest opponent.

The 800m promises to be a close affair. South Africa’s Andre Olivier is the fastest athlete this year after his 1:44.42 run in Paris earlier this month. Kenya’s world youth 1500m champion Robert Biwott has opted this season for the shorter event and has set a 1:44.69 best so far.

Watch out too for Puerto Rico’s Wesley Vazquez who has dipped under 1:45 for the first time this season (1:44.64 for a national record) and Spanish record-holder Kevin Lopez who is still rounding into form.

A three-horse battle is on the cards in the 1500m where the in-form Leonel Manzano of the US faces the Kenyan duo of Bethwel Birgen and Collins Cheboi.

The entrants will enjoy a newly refurbished blue track, which should play in favour of the athletes’ performances.

Weather forecasters predict a partially cloudy day on Saturday. While the thermometer marks 37°C on the eve of the competition, a sharp decrease on the event’s day will leave the temperature about 25°C.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF