Zagreb sports fans are bracing themselves for one more magnificent night of track and field. On 3 September, the IAAF World Challenge Zagreb 2013 will bring four fresh World champions from Moscow and the same number of reigning Olympic winners from London to the Croatian capital.
In total, 26 athletes who won 28 medals at two recent major global competitions will battle in front of the expected capacity crowd who usually creates an unforgettable atmosphere at the stadium near the river Sava.
However, one person will have special treatment. Last year Zagreb welcomed its own Sandra Perkovic as an Olympic winner, and this week they will greet her as a World champion. The ruler of the Discus plans to surpass 70 metres, the first such result in 14 years.
It goes without saying that the meeting record of 65.79m is in serious danger, and Perkovic is not the only athlete capable of bettering that mark. World finalists Nadine Muller of Germany, Gia Lewis-Smallwood of the USA and Zaneta Glanc of Poland should provide good competition.
The men’s 110m Hurdles is always one of the highlights of the meeting, and this year’s memorial race of Boris Hanzekovic will be a re-run of the Moscow final. All three medallists compete and the organisers hope that champion David Oliver will put the name of Zagreb on the world lead map with the first sub-13 race of the year.
His compatriot Ryan Wilson, who finished second in Moscow, and Russian Sergey Shubenkov, third in Moscow, with the help of Cuba’s Dayron Robles, who didn’t race in Moscow, will be aiming for a great victory.
If the men’s high hurdles can brag about having all medallists from 2013 World Championships then the women’s 100m Hurdles has the honour of offering the complete podium from the 2012 Olympic Games. Australia’s Olympic gold medallist Sally Pearson and the US silver and bronze medallists Dawn Harper-Nelson and Kelli Wells will light up the crowd.
The only man who beat Usain Bolt in 2013 will spend Tuesday night competing in Sportski park Mladost. Diamond Race winner and a silver medallist from Moscow, USA’s Justin Gatlin is enjoying his best season in many years. The other sub-10 racers are Jamaica’s Kemar Bailey-Cole, USA’s Mike Rodgers and veteran Kim Collins from Saint Kitts and Nevis.
With five of the top 10 men on this year’s world season list, Zagreb boasts a quality line-up for the Javelin. World leader Tero Pitkamaki from Finland and Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen will resume their year-long rivalry for the first time on Croatian soil. The Olympic bronze medallist Antii Ruuskanen and Julius Yego, Kenya’s fourth-place finisher in Moscow, are the other contenders.
During nine minutes of the women’s 3000m steeplechase, the Zagreb audience will sample a taste of the IAAF Diamond League. Milcah Chemos of Kenya, her counterpart Lidya Chepkurui and Ethiopian Hiwot Ayalew have six wins between them from this year’s Diamond League circuit.
The woman to beat will be, of course, World champion and Diamond Race winner Chemos, who has won three Diamond League meetings this year.
The meeting known in its home country as “Hanzek” traditionally displays a strong competition in the men’s Shot Put; it is almost a rule for the organisers. Can Ryan Whiting continue to improve his World lead? Or is there a chance that Canadian Dylan Armstrong can gain revenge on the US thrower who beat him to the silver medal in Moscow? Two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski from Poland and 2009 World champion Christian Cantwell could make it a tough competition.
An intriguing one-lap race sees the World champion take on the European champion, a former World champion in the hurdles. USA’s LaShawn Merritt will line up against Czech Republic’s Pavel Maslak and Kerron Clement of the USA.
The penultimate meeting of IAAF World Challenge Series will offer a rare opportunity to see the Olympic Triple Jump winner Christian Taylor of the USA competing in the Long Jump against the likes of Dutch World silver medallist Ignisious Gaisah and Zurich Diamond League winner Zarck Visser of South Africa.
Ukrainian Olha Saladuha leads the competition in the women’s Triple Jump.
Organisers have gathered a group of medallists from different events and put them together in the men’s 3000m. Kenyans Augustine Choge and John Kipkoech, Ethiopian Mekonnen Gebremehdin and Frenchman Bouabdellah Tahri will take on high-ranked middle and long-distance runners Albert Rop of Bahrain and Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku of Kenya.
After missing almost the whole season, including the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, 2009 World champion Caster Semenya of South Africa will have in Zagreb her fifth race of the season. Moroccan Malika Akkaoui and Russia’s Olympic bronze medallist Ekaterina Poistogova are the favourites.
Hrvoje Slišković (Jutarnji list) for the IAAF