With the competition areas of the Velódromo Luis Puig” especially resurfaced for the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships, Valencia, Spain (7 – 9 March), with the same covering as will be used for 2008 Olympic Games, and many of the world’s top athletes breaking their winter training schedule to compete, the athletics world is preparing for three days of exciting action in the venue which hosted the 1998 European Indoor Championships.
We begin by examining the expected highlights of the men’s events. The Combined Events and Women's competitions are analysed in separate previews.
Click here for PROVISIONAL ENTRY LIST
NB. Official Start Lists will only become available after the Technical meeting which takes place at 16:00hrs on Thursday 6 March, therefore previews are correct as of date of writing (3 March)
60m: With no one sprinter displaying dominance in the short dash this year, the only certainty in the men’s 60m is that a new World champion will emerge. With reigning champion Leonard Scott (USA) missing a chance to defend after pulling up with an injury at the U.S. Championships, the way was paved for newcomer Mike Rodgers to make his mark.
A graduate of tiny Oklahoma Baptist College, the 22-year-old Rodgers has kept busy in the first indoor season of his professional career. Entering the season with a 6.64 PB, he’s improved all the way to 6.54, picking up victories in Linz, Karlsruhe and Athens before taking the U.S. title.
While Rodgers has been steadily building momentum, Nigerian Olusoji Fasuba (6.51) has been perhaps the most consistent this winter, the only man to have run 6.58 or faster on five occasions. Perhaps boding well for this weekend, the 23-year-old’s world-pacing 6.51 came in Valencia on 9 February. With no solo international medals to his credit, the African 100m record holder will be focusing stiffly on improving on his fifth place finish from 2006.
Others in the mix include U.S. champs runner-up Leroy Dixon who improved his career best to 6.56, Italian Simone Collio who surprised with a 6.55 national record behind Fasuba in Valencia, UK champion Dwain Chambers (6.56), and Kim Collins, the 2003 World 100m champion. In his first indoor campaign since 2005, the 31-year-old Collins has been busy, running at seven meets since 31 January. In his last outing, he won in Paris clocking 6.56, his fastest performance since a 6.53 performance brought him World Indoor silver in Birmingham five years ago.
400m: Tyler Christopher, the 2005 bronze medallist outdoors, cruised to a 45.80 Canadian national record in Birmingham, the lone sub-46 performance this season. But his goal of becoming Canada’s first 400m gold medallist will prove a difficult chore.
In his only other 400m outing, Christopher was beaten by both Johann Wissman of Sweden and Bahamian Chris Brown. The Swede has made a notable switch to the long dash in recent years, and this year has won three races in as many outings, with a seasonal best of 46.30. Brown, who has clocked 46.31, returns with hopes of improving upon his bronze medal performance two years ago when he set a national record 45.78.
Americans have been kept off the podium in the event just three times ever. This year, it's professional newcomer David Neville, the US champion, looking to make his first international splash. The 23-year-old clocked 46.34 in Boston, but has a 45.58 indoor best to his credit.
Not to be discounted is twice-defending champion Alleyne Francique (46.82) of Grenada who is aiming to become the event’s first three-time winner.
800m: Kenyan ace and perennial speedster Wilfred Bungei returns to defend the title he won in Moscow two years ago; if he succeeds, he’ll match the feat of compatriot Paul Ereng, who won in 1989 and 1991.
Bungei has raced three times this season, and in his last prepped nicely for a title defence with a victory over Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy in Stockholm. Borzakovskiy won't be in Valencia, but plenty of others, both established and newer names, will be.
>> 4 March UPDATE: Bungei is injured and has withdrawn - click here <<
Along with Bungei, South African Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, the 2004 champion, represents the ‘Old Guard’. The next generation is perhaps best personified by Sudanese 18-year-old Abubaker Kaki, who produced the fifth fastest 1000m performance of all-time in Stockholm on 21 February, running 2:15.77. In the 800, he's run 1:46.40 in his only indoor outing over the distance.
Showing solid form is Latvian Dmitrijs Milkevics. Fourth two years ago, the 26-year-old arrives on the heels of a 1:46.09 PB in a solo effort in Stockholm.
1500m: Kenyan Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, in recent years among the quickest metric milers and this season's world leader at 3:34.80, leads the Kenyan squad in the 1500m where he’s looking to move up a spot from his silver medal position of two years ago. But like other contenders, he’s got just three races under his belt this winter, leaving this one of the more wide open races on the programme. The Kenyan No. 2 is Suleiman Simotwo, whose 3:35.46 is the year’s third fastest clocking.
Also bringing a formidable duo to Valencia is Bahrain, led by Belal Mansour Ali (3:36.38) and the enigmatic Rashid Ramzi, the 2005 800/1500 World champion, who’s raced just once since following up his Helsinki double with 1500m silver in Osaka. It’s safe to say that the 27-year-old wouldn’t be making the trip if he wasn’t ready.
After a podium sweep at the European Indoor Championships last winter, Spanish hopes are high in this event, with reigning continental indoor champion Juan Carlos Higuero (3:36.74) and Arturo Casado (3:38.13) carrying the host flag.
3000m: With defending champion Kenenisa Bekele choosing to focus his winter attention on regaining the World Cross Country title, the weight of Ethiopia’s expectations in the 3000m will rest on the shoulders of his younger brother, Tariku, who this season was actually the faster of the Bekele brothers. Indeed with his 7:31.09 he’s the fastest in the world. Now 21, Tariku has matured notably since he finished sixth behind his brother in Moscow two years ago and arrives in Valencia as a solid podium favourite.
Among the chief challengers aiming to keep the title out of the Bekele family clutches is Australian Craig Mottram, the two-time World Cup champion. Mottram proved his mettle this season with an Area record 7:34.50 in Boston in January, and warmed up over the weekend by taking the Australian title over the distance outdoors.
Leading the Kenyan challenge is Steeplechase specialist Paul Kipsiele Koech, who has performed admirably indoors over the distance minus the barriers and water jump. Last month in Birmingham he chased (or perhaps even pushed a little?) Kenenisa Bekele to a World best over Two Miles and was rewarded with a national mark of 8:06.48 of his own. Edwin Soi, who celebrated his 22nd birthday this week, is the Kenyan No. 2, with a 7:36.70 PB to his credit this season set on the Valencia track.
Others in the mix include Bekele’s back-up, teenager Abraham Feleke, who cruised to a World junior best 7:38.03 in Stuttgart behind the younger Bekele.
If anyone can be considered a solid favourite this weekend in Valencia, it’s Cuban prodigy Dayron Robles. The 21-year-old has collected dominating victories in eight races this winter, even threatening Colin Jackson’s 14-year-old World record of 7.30.
10 men have run 7.54 or faster this season; Robles has rendered that barrier a chore this winter, producing 10 of his own sub-7.54 performances. Underscoring his current dominance, he's produced nine of the year's 11 quickest performances, including the fastest four while his 7.33 Area record in Dusseldorf last month elevated him to No. 2 all-time. His superlatives this year are seemingly endless, but most telling of his current form is that his four races at 7.40 or better is a single season feat that only Jackson has thus far managed. Robles is clearly poised to move up a notch from his runner-up finish in Moscow two years ago.
Robles stumbled just once this season, and his challengers will be hoping that a glitch similar to the one which occurred in Paris a few weeks ago will rear its ugly head here. Local hopes ride on Jackson Quiñónez (7.52) and Felipe Vivancos (7.63), while Russian Yevgeniy Borisov will look to duplicate the form that brought him a 7.44 national record.
Three-time gold medallist Allen Johnson will also arrive prepared, while China’s Olympic champion Liu Xiang, who took bronze in 2003 and silver in 2004 at these championships, is expected to make his sole indoor appearance this weekend.
High Jump: Before a home crowd in Moscow two years ago, Yaroslav Rybakov finally captured the World Indoor crown after a pair of successive runner-up finishes. The 27-year-old returns to defend after taking the notoriously difficult Russian title last month, clearing a world-leading 2.38m. He followed up with a victory in his last outing – 2.34 in Bydgoszcz – so has some momentum on his side. He’ll be joined by compatriot Andrey Tereshin who took silver two years ago, who peaked perfectly at the Russian championships (2.36) to earn a return trip.
But the Russian duo can’t afford to underestimate Olympic champion Stefan Holm, who has already captured three World indoor titles; a fourth in Valencia would equal the feat of World record holder Javier Sotomayor. The 31-year-old Swede has pieced together the most impressive season of any jumper this winter with seven wins in eight starts, topped with a 2.37 clearance at his national championships. He’ll be joined by teammate Linus Thornblad (2.35), the surprise bronze medallist two years ago when he was just 20.
Other contenders include American Jesse Williams and Cypriot Kyriakos Ioannou, the Osaka silver medallist. Both have 2.32 clearances to their credit this winter.
Pole Vault: While he’s only won one competition in his four starts his four starts, American Brad Walker has the credentials on his side for a big performance, arriving in the Spanish seaport as the reigning World champion indoors and out. He topped out at 5.70 to take the US title, a height with which he won in both Moscow two years ago and in Osaka last August. History though is not on the American’s side. Only one vaulter has ever defended the world title indoors: legendary Sergey Bubka 21-years-ago.
But on paper, the favourite appears to be 23-year-old Russian champion Yevgeniy Lukyanenko, the world leader at 5.85. The 23-year-old began the season on a tear, winning his first five competitions. He’s cleared 5.81 or better four times this season, more than anybody else. Tim Lobinger, the 2003 champion, remains on top of his game, arriving in Valencia with three straight clearances at 5.80 or better and five consecutive victories.
Long Jump: Injury forced current World No. 1 Irving Saladino out late last week, leaving another wide open battle. Briton Chris Tomlinson extended his own national record to 8.18 in Stuttgart and won three of his four starts to find himself among the medal favourites. Among the other 8m men expected in the field include Mohamed Salman Al-Khuwalidi of Saudi Arabia, who leaped 8.24 to take the Asian title, and Cuban Wilfredo Martinez (8.10).
Triple Jump: The year’s five best jumpers are on the slate in the Triple Jump, promising an electrifying battle, with Osaka champion Nelson Evora of Portugal leads the charge. The Portuguese has produced the two furthest jumps of the year – 17.33m and 17.32 – but his margin this year is anything but dominant. Randy Lewis has been impressive, reaching a 17.27 national record for Grenada, backing that up with a 17.10 effort. British hopes ride with national champion Philips Idowu, who’s gone beyond 17m three times, topped by a 17.21 leap. The solid Cuban tradition in the event will be continued by Yoandri Betanzos (17.11), the bronze medallist in 2004 and 2006.
In the Shot Put, the American duo of Reese Hoffa and Christian Cantwell are head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Hoffa is the defending champion – as well as the reigning champion outdoors – while Cantwell won the title four years ago in Budapest, where Hoffa took silver.
Cantwell arrives on the heels of his 21.51m victory at the U.S. championships, with four wins in six competitions under his hefty belt this season. The 27-year-old put beyond 22m (22.18) for the first time indoors, and has produced four of the year’s seven farthest efforts. Conversely, Hoffa has won just once in five starts, but has been consistent, throwing beyond 21m in all but one outing.
While he has produced many big throws over the past five years, a major negative Cantwell is hoping to put behind him is his performances when it most counts. Since his 2004 World indoor title, he’s finished out of the medals in every major competition.
Looking for an upset will be Dutchman Rutger Smith (20.89 NR), German Peter Sack (20.88), and Slovenia’s Miran Vodovnik (20.68 NR).
The USA have won this title on six occasions, and a dozen or so American collegiate squads head-up the world season's list but that doesn't mean that a surprise cannot be sprung as occured in 1991, 2001 and 2004 when Germany, Poland and Jamaica were the respective victors. On tight indoor curves where passing is difficult some argue that the event is lottery but whatever your opinion there is no doubting that this event has offered up some memorable excitement over the years, topped of course by the existing World record set by the USA in Maebashi 1999.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF