Valencia, Spain“The new Russians, there are always new Russians.” That's not actually what former Algerian middle-distance king Noureddine Morceli once said when asked what athletes he feared (he cited the Kenyans), but if he had been a woman running between 400m and 1500m today, perhaps he might. With the 400m, 800m, and 1500m finals for women all on Sunday (9), the last day of the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships, chances are better than average that the Russian national anthem will be played at least once.
Olesya Zykina, for example, leads the world indoor list in the women's 400m, and has dominated each of her heats thus far. Zykina may not count as a "new" Russian, having been a regular finalist at international finals since 2001, though generally out of the medals. Zykina's teammate Natalya Nazarova ran the fastest semi-final time, 51.62, and her speed to the "break" after two bends has helped her to two previous World Indoor titles, in 2003 and 2004. After the athletes break from their lanes, it becomes difficult to pass, so a quick first lap can pay off.
Yulia Fomenko posted the fastest 1500m qualifying time, a 4:05, after taking over the weaker heat less than 600m in and blasting away simply to show that she could. Teammate Yelena Soboleva advanced from the tougher first heat, but in the process tangled with Bahrain's Maryam Yusuf Jamal, the outdoor World Champion who will be the primary obstacle to Russian dominance of the 1500m.
For the fastest semi-final qualifying time in the men's 800m, find Dmitry Bogdanov, who took on pre-event favourite Yusuf Saad Kamel of Bahrain by out-front-running, front-running American Khadevis Robinson in the first heat. Bogdanov will have a hard time with wily South African Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, but nobody is visualizing a gold medal for Sunday without visualizing beating Bogdanov to do it.
And in addition to these finals, there is yet the 4x400m Relay, where the Russian women hold the World record.
Vlasic looking for the right groove
Blanca Vlasic (CRO) will be hoping that her final is easier than qualifying on Saturday, where she actually required four jumps (three clearances and one miss.) Vlasic, normally an electric competitor, will face at least two jumpers - Marina Aitova (KAZ) and local favourite Ruth Beitia (ESP) - who cleared every attempt in qualifying.
Aitova brushed the last bar, at 1.96m, but if the spectators could lift Beitia from their seats Vlasic would have to reach record heights to beat her.
The Croatian may have looked uneven in qualifying, but her 2.05m leap on 27 February in Weinheim is the highest yet this year, and if anyone is to reach Kajsa Bergqvist's two-year-old World record of 2.08m, it's likely to be Vlasic. She will be pushed by defending World Indoor champion Yelena Slesarenko, who matched Vlasic's series exactly with one miss.
Slesarenko may hope to duplicate the duel she had with Vlasic in Moscow 2006, where Slesarenko came out on top.
Can Sebrle reel in Clay?
Bryan Clay (USA) has a reputation for a strong first day in the multi-events, and he enters the second day of the Heptathlon with a 174-point lead over Roman Sebrle. Clay is a good vaulter, however, and Sebrle has struggled with his hurdles and Pole Vault (two of Sunday's three disciplines) in 2007, which will make catching Clay challenging.
Champions Vili and Walker look for more
World Champion Valerie Vili seems to be in a class of the women's Shot Put, after pitching the ball out to 19.72m on Saturday when no other putter was able to crack 19m. Given how rarely Oceania athletes compete indoors, it's no surprise that Vili set an area record with that mark, and we can watch for another on Sunday. Don’t Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus, the 2005 World champion and this season’s indoor leader is the main danger to Vili
Brad Walker (USA) is the outdoor World champion in the men's Pole Vault, and defending champion here, only one of three men in the field with 6m PBs. Walker would like to win with as few vaults as Isinbayeva required for the women's event, but he'll have to jump a few more times to better Steven Hooker (AUS) and Tim Lobinger (GER).
Bekele looks for a family title
The men's 3000m is led, on paper, by Tariku Bekele (ETH), younger brother of the 2006 champion Kenenisa. Bekele will have his hands full with the Kenyan duo of Paul Kipsiele Koech and Edwin Cheruiyot Soi, not to mention the Australian Craig Mottram and his own teammate, Abreham Cherkos, all of whom ran confident and relaxed qualifying races on Friday.
Parker Morse for the IAAF