One of the hottest rivalries in the sport right now pits American Christian Cantwell and Tomasz Majewski of Poland in the Shot Put, and the pair are expected to duke it out again in the Thessaloniki ring. A year ago, the Pole took top honours at the Olympic Games, but this year Cantwell returned the favour in Berlin. Between them, the two have produced 11 of the year’s best 17 throws, with Majewski bringing a narrow 4-3 lead in head-to-heads.
But it is Cantwell, the WAF winner back in 2003, who has momentum on his side. In Berlin, he reached a 22.03m world leader and followed up 16 days later with a 22.16m heave in Zagreb, with Majewski, the WAF winner last year, finishing second on both occasions.
Five men have won the WAF title during its six year history, underscoring the possibility of surprise. The only man to win twice, 2007 World champion Reese Hoffa (21.89 SB), will also be in the field. The 31-year-old American hasn’t competed since Berlin and will be looking to put the disappointment of his fourth place finish there behind him.
Others in the hunt include Andrei Miknhevich, who finished seventh in Berlin and has thrown 21.02m this season; 2005 World champion Adam Nelson of the US, who was fifth in Berlin with a season’s best of 21.11m; and Canadian Dylan Armstrong, who has reached 20.92m.
Shot Put - WOMEN
On the women’s side, the event has clearly been all about one person: New Zealander Valerie Vili. The 24-year-old fulfilled her favourite’s role powerfully at the World championships, where she dominated the contest with a 20.44m toss to win by 24 centimetres. The world leader at 20.69m this year, Vili has produced 10 of the year’s best 11 efforts, remained undefeated in 12 competitions, and extended her unbeaten streak to 24. There are few defending WAF champions who will start as strong a favourite as Vili.
The best bet will be German Nadine Kleinert who thrilled the home crowd with her runner-up finish to Vili at the World championships. But she’ll need to be at her best. The 33-year-old took her third World silver in Berlin – she also took Olympic silver in 2004 - thanks to a 20.20m career best.
Natallia Mikhnevich of Belarus, fourth in Berlin, could play the spoiler’s role as well. The WAF winner in 2006, Mikhnevich has a 20.03m best this season.
Discus Throw – MEN
When the men’s Discus Throw competition concludes on Saturday evening, Berlino the Bear might want to be fairly far away. If not, he may find himself airborne again if Robert Harting repeats his heroics from Berlin.
After throwing a personal best of 69.43m to take the World title, the German strongman gave the popular mascot an unanticipated ride down the Olympic Stadium's backstraight, so potential WAF mascots, beware.
Harting, who took silver in Osaka two years ago, has built solid momentum this year, and will bring a five-meet win streak to Thessaloniki. Harting was third at the WAF last year, and fourth the year before that.
With five of the season’s best throws - including 71.64m and 70.84m, the only heaves beyond 70 metres this season - Estonia’s Gerd Kanter is dominating the 2009 performance list, and despite his third place finish in Berlin, could be seen as the man to beat. The 30-year-old has taken the WAF title the past two years, and in his build-up three days ago, threw 68.97 in Helsingborg, Sweden.
Piotr Malachowski threw a 69.15m Polish national record to take silver in Berlin, duplicating his finish from Beijing, and should be a factor. Not to be discounted is Lithuania’s twice World and two-time Olympic champion Virgilijus Alenka. Fourth at the World championships, the 37-year-old has thrown 68.94m this year, to sit in the No. 4 spot on the season’s list.
Discus Throw - WOMEN
The women’s Discus Throw is building up to be a repeat of the Berlin final. Surprise winner Dani Samuels of Australia, only 21, took the World title with a personal best 65.44m, the second farthest throw of the year. It was a major breakthrough for the 2006 World junior champion, who arrived in Berlin with a 62.95m career best.
No one thrower has produced a dominant campaign, leaving plenty of potential candidates to gain revenge on Daniels, the youngest World champion in the event. Berlin finishers two through five are all expected to be in Thessaloniki, and all have a strong shot at the victory. Silver medallist Yarelis Barrios of Cuba threw a season’s best of 65.31m in Berlin to take silver – she also took silver in Beijing a year ago – and has won her two subsequent outings in Zagreb and Rieti in preparation for her WAF title defence. Bronze medallist Nicoleta Grasu (65.20 SB) of Romania, Poland’s Zaneta Glanc (63.96m SB), fourth in Berlin, and fifth place finisher Aimin Song (64.83m SB) of China are also expected to contend.
Olympic champion Stephanie Brown Trafton is the world leader at 66.21m, but has been struggling since her 12th place showing in Berlin, and hasn’t thrown beyond 59 metres since.
Hammer Throw - MEN
The men’s Hammer Throw this season has been dominated by two men, Hungary’s Krisztian Pars, who rode an 18-meet win streak to Berlin, and Slovenia’s Primoz Kozmus, who ended that ride.
Coming back from early season injury and missed training, Slovenia’s Olympic champion bounced back just in time in Berlin to take the World title with an 80.84m effort, then a season’s best. He’s done considerably better since, taking over the world lead with an 81.77m throw in Zagreb and following up with an 82.58m national record at home in Celje on 2 September. The WAF winner last year, the 28-year-old has momentum on his side.
Pars, who left without a medal in Berlin – his 77.45m best there was his second worst showing of the year – has competed well since the World championships, finishing second twice and third once, all behind Kozmus. In Thessaloniki, he’ll have a point to prove.
Szymon Ziólkowski, the 2000 Olympic champion and 2001 World champion, took advantage of a low key competition in Berlin to take the silver medal with a season’s best 79.30m. Bronze medallist Aleksey Zagornyi (80.10m SB), is one of five men who have thrown beyond the 80-metre line. Both could step up if the top two have an off day.
Hammer Throw - WOMEN
After dominating the season, Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk was a fitting World champion, underscoring that dominance with a sensational 77.96m World record at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. But that same enthusiasm that brought her to the top of her event also put an abrupt end to her season. After her World record distance was announced, her celebratory dance resulted in a severely strained ankle, ending her season and knocking her out of the WAF.
Her performance in Berlin overshadowed that of the defending champion Betty Heidler, who, unfazed by the Pole’s performance, improved in virtually every round to finish second with a German record 77.12m to become just the fourth woman to throw beyond 77 metres. With win in nine of her 15 competitions, the 25-year-old has performed with a solid consistency, and with Thessaloniki her first competition since Berlin, Heidler will arrive fresh to regain the title she won in 2006.
Heidler’s main challenger will be Martina Hrasnova of Slovakia, the Berlin bronze medallist, who also produced a solid season, capped with a 76.90m throw in May.
Javelin Throw - MEN
The class of the men’s Javelin Throw this year has been two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen who underscored his dominance in the event with a dominating victory in Berlin to take his first World title after two successive runner-up finishes.
The 27-year-old Norwegian has produced six of the year’s nine farthest throws, topped by his 91.28m effort in Zurich, the second of his career to sail beyond the 91-metre line. Thorkildsen has won eight of his 12 outings; his four losses all came at the hand of arch-rival Tero Pitkämäki of Finland, the man he succeeded as World champion.
Slowed by illness in Berlin, Pitkämäki wasn’t at his best and struggled to finish a sub-par fifth. He has a season’s best of 87.79m, and won his most recent outing, reaching 86.23m at the Memorial van Damme in Brussels.
The picture is a bit more muddled behind the big two. Latvian Vadims Vasilevskis threw 90.71m in May and 88.33m in Athens in July before finishing fourth in Berlin. Most recently, he was third in Brussels and returns as defending WAF champion.
Finn Teemu Wirkkala (87.23 SB) could be a factor as well.
Javelin Throw – WOMEN
Four of the top five finishers from Berlin are expected to compete. In an emotional competition, the World title was won by Steffi Nerius who having made her first World championships appearance in 1993 and with several World and Olympic medals to her credit, finally took a global gold. It was only the second win of the season for the 37-year-old, who’ll be looking to cap her farewell season here on another high note.
But she’ll have to get by Czech Barbora Spotakova, the reigning Olympic champion who has won the last three WAF titles, last year with a World record 72.28m. Slowed by some injuries this season, Spotakova nonetheless managed to take silver in Berlin, and has a season’s best of 68.23m.
Russian Maria Abukamova, just 23, showed again that she could be the future of the event, following up her Beijing silver with Berlin bronze. The world season leader this year at 68.92m which she threw in the Berlin qualifying round, she followed up with victories in each of her two post-Berlin outings.
German Christina Obergföll, twice a silver medallist at the World championships and reigning Olympic bronze medallist, was fifth in Berlin this time around, and has a 68.59m season’s best to her credit this year.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF