With an assault on the 300m World best and strong line-ups in the men's and women's dashes, the primary spotlight will shine on the sprints at Friday's (10 February) Powered by Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the third stop of USA Track & Field's 2006 Visa Championship Series.
300m assault - 32.19 is the target
The track at the Randal Tyson Track Centre is no stranger to fast times in the long sprints, and with several sprinters with experience in producing brisk performances on this particular oval entered in the field, an assault on Robson da Silva's 32.19 set in 1989 will undeniably be the evening's highlight.
Kerron Clement, Wallace Spearmon Jr., LaShawn Merritt, and Jamaican Omar Brown will chase a $25,000 bonus offered by organizers for new global standard.
Last March, Clement, then still only 19, stunned the world when he clocked 44.57 in Fayetteville, eclipsing Michael Johnson previous World record of 44.65 that was set in 1995. After a strong 2005 campaign over the full-lap Hurdles in which he led the world with a 47.24 win at the national championships, Clement finished fourth in the event at the World Championships in Helsinki.
Before Clement's performance, it was Merritt who attracted attention as the newest up and coming 400m star, after his scintillating 44.93 a month earlier, also in Fayetteville. Just 18 at the time, his performance was the fastest the world had witnessed since Johnson's heyday, and still ranks as the fourth fastest ever clocking.
But perhaps garnering the most attention will be Spearmon, who will be competing on his "home" track. The silver medallist in the 200m at last year's World Championships in Helsinki, the 23-year-old Spearmon too has a solid history in the Fayetteville facility. Last year he sped to a 20.10 national indoor record at the NCAA Championships to become the second fastest ever in the event, trailing only World Indoor record holder Frank Fredericks.
Joining the American trio will be 23-year-old Jamaican Omar Brown, who set a national indoor record for 200m of 20.52 in Fayetteville last year.
Sizzling short dashes as well
Olympic 200m champion Shawn Crawford, who won the short dash in his comeback from injury at last weekend's Millrose Games, leads the men's field. He too is not a stranger to the facility. In a virtual dead heat in 2000, he and John Capel set a US indoor record of 20.26 on the same track, a standard that stood until Spearmon clocked his 20.10 last year.
The local favorite will be Tyson Gay, last year's 200m winner at the World Athletics Final and reigning 100m NCAA champion. Marc Burns of Trinidad, the winner of the 100m at last September's World Athletics Final, will make his second indoor outing of the year. Two-time Olympic 110m Hurdles silver medallist Terrence Trammell is also in the strong field, along with Ghanaian Aziz Zakari. Trammell has the track record, a brisk 6.46 from 2003, the year he also won the 60m Hurdles in 7.42, also a track record.
Women’s 60m - Barber v Campbell v Williams
Just five months after winning the World 100m title, Lauryn Williams has already learned what it's like to have a target on her back. At the Boston Indoor Games two weeks ago, it was Me'Lisa Barber who sped to a 7.09 personal best to the 7.13 personal best by Williams. At last Friday's Millrose Games, it was Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell who took home the win by the narrowest of margins, with both she and Barber credited with a 7.10. There, Williams finished third. In Fayetteville, the trio meet for the second time this season, and definitely the final time prior to the World Indoor Championships in Moscow next month, should each participate.
World Long Jump champion Tianna Madison and Bahamian Golden Girl Debbie Ferguson are also in the field.
In the men's 400m, World 400m Hurdles champion Bershawn Jackson will face last fall's World Athletics Final winner Tyree Washington. After a pair of runner-up finishes in over-distance races --600m in Boston and 500m in New York-- the 22-year-old will be eager to make his first appearance at his preferred distance.
Cragg takes to his ‘home’ track as well
The key distance event on the programme will be the men's 3000m, where Alistair Cragg of Ireland, and an Arkansas alum, returns to defend his title. The 25-year-old Cragg, who last year defeated Ethiopia's Markos Geneti prior to winning the European indoor title, ran his personal best of 7:38.59 at this meeting in 2004, a national record. This will be Cragg's third outing of the year, following a 3:55.04 win in the mile at Fayetteville's Razorback Invitational and a third place showing in the Two Mile race in Boston.
Kenyan Boaz Cheboiywo, a former NCAA Cross Country and 10,000m champion who is based in Michigan, is in the field as well. Cheboiywo set the track record of 7:38.30 in 2004, defeating Cragg. U.S. Steeplechase specialist Dan Lincoln, a Helsinki finalist, and Canadians Kevin Sullivan and Nate Brannen will toe the line as well, along with Geneti.
Domestic showcase in women's middle distances
Jamaican Kenia Sinclair, who emerged last season as a solid middle distance performer, leads the 800m field where she'll face the top U.S. runners, including two-time Olympian Hazel Clark, 2005 national 1500m champion Treniere Clement, and two-time NCAA champion Alice Schmidt.
The mile features 2004 Olympic Trials 1500m champion Carrie Tollefson, NCAA record holder Tiffany McWilliams, 2004 US indoor champion Jen Toomey, and last season's fastest American outdoors, Lyndsey Gallo. Canadian Malindi Elmore and Mestawot Tadesse of Ethiopia, third and fourth at Millrose, lead the international challenge.
Howard going for fourth straight win
After a slate of victories at the Gator Invitational, Boston and New York, World Championships silver medallist Chaunte Howard will be gunning for her fourth win of the season in as many competitions. In Boston, the 22-year-old, who last year joined the events two-metre club outdoors, raised her indoor best to 1.95. In Fayetteville, she'll face three-time Olympian Amy Acuff and two-time U.S. indoor champion Gwen Wentland.
Helsinki silver medallist Brad Walker, currently ranked #1 in the IAAF World Rankings, leads the field in the Pole Vault. National indoor record holder Jeff Hartwig and Tye Harvey, the silver medallist at the 2001 World Indoor Championships, are also on the slate.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF