Brussels, BelgiumTwo racing legends, Usain Bolt and Kenenisa Bekele, the second of whom along with Sanya Richards and Yelena Isinbayeva will try to negotiate the final hurdle to at least share the US$1 Million Jackpot provide the focus of tomorrow night’s star-studded Belgacom Memorial Van Damme - ÅF Golden League meeting in the Belgian capital (Fri 4).
Eleven Berlin champions
The fierce gale which is currently blowing across Brussels with gusts of up to 46.7 km/h (aren’t weather websites convenient) has in the space of 24 hours changed the weather picture remarkably in the favour of Friday’s competitions with the chance of rain forecast currently diminishing.
The last ÅF Golden League meeting of 2009 and for that matter in history, deserves good climatic conditions as events organisers have lined up eleven individual event World champions from Berlin.
The winds of change are also sweeping across the face of one-day athletics. The entirely European based IAAF Golden League which began in 1998 and which now has ÅF, the Swedish technical consulting group as its title sponsor closes its twelfth and final season in the Belgian capital tomorrow. Next year the premier rung of the international one-day circuit is reborn as the IAAF Diamond League, a 14 meet tour stretching across the globe from Asia, to America to Europe, with Brussels sharing the status as a joint Diamond League final with Zürich.
Over the 12 years of the Golden League, the seriers has attracted 2.5million stadium spectators, 1.2 billion TV audience and 15,000 hours of TV programming!
Since 1998, dozens of athletes have tasted at least a share of the famous $1 Million Dollar Jackpot with three becoming outright millionaires – click here for list of all past winners and this year’s contenders.
Three contenders for last Jackpot
On present form the Jackpot contenders, Bekele (5000m), Richards (400m), and Isinbayeva (Pole Vault), who set world season leads, the latter a World record, last week in Zürich seem to be unbeatable. But then roll back your memory and think of the previously peerless Isinbayeva kneeling head in hands on the landing mat in Berlin, no height registered on the scoreboard. That’s the beauty of sport, nothing is ever certain.
Will a similar result happen in Brussels? Very unlikely! By the manner in which the 2008 World Athlete of the Year last week scaled three heights on her first attempts culminating with 5.06m, World champion Anna Rogowska might need to lower her ambitions to the runners-up spot as the highest possible attainable achievement in the King Baudouin Stadium.
Bekele is opposed by 14 Kenyans in a 5000m field of 22 runners, Eliud Kipchoge, fifth in Berlin but also the 2003 World champion and Beijing Olympic silver medallist, will be his chief opponent.
In the women’s 400m, Richards faces World silver and Olympic bronze medallist Shericka Williams of Jamaica, as well as Britain’s Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu.
Legend – one made, one in the making
When we are talking millions, the growing bank balance of Usain Bolt springs to mind, and who would begrudge the sprinting phenomenon a cent.
Running the 200m tomorrow, Bolt is to most fans already a living legend but you won’t hear that from the World and Olympic champion’s own lips:
"No, I will be a legend after the next Olympics and other World championships. If I do extremely well in those I'll consider myself a legend," commented Bolt yesterday.
By contrast Bekele, who counting team results at cross country has won 24 senior global gold medals in his career, can already be seen has having achieved that superlative, if not the public recognition enjoyed by Bolt - See 'Related Content' under main photograph for story - 'Bekele, a man for all seasons'.
Bolt faces the fifth fastest man of all-time USA’s Wallace Spearmon (19.65 – 2006) whose 19.85 sec run in Berlin secured the 200m bronze medal.
100m line-ups the best seen in Brussels
“The men’s and women’s 100 metres are the strongest ever put together in Brussels,” said Meeting Director Wilfried Meert. “It’s a dream to have such races on our new surface,” referring to the newly installed Mondo track which was inaugurated yesterday in a ceremony in which Bolt participated.
As well as the men who have been flying this season - Tyson Gay (9.71), Asafa Powell (9.84), Darvis Patton (9.94), Michael Rodgers (9.94) and Lerone Clarke (9.99) – the women’s 100m line-up includes World and Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser, double Olympic 200m gold medallist Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kerron Stewart who was until Zürich a Jackpot contender, and her vanquisher USA’s Carmelita Jeter, and so there is no doubt we will see some fast running in both dashes.
World record possibilities
There will be World record bids at the rarely run distances of the men’s 4x1500m and women’s 2000m, attempts upon which we have already focused earlier this week – see ‘Related Content’ under photograph for previous stories.
Meert pointed out that for the relay record to be achieved “3.39 has to be run by each Kenyan and the record is gone…. Strong winds in the stadium or one of the four guys having a bad day is the only thing standing in their way.”
The final Kenyan line-up is now William Biwott, Gideon Gathimba, Geoffrey Rono and Augustine Choge.
As to the 2000m record that is “a very tough one,” confirmed Meert. “It’s not an easy record.... Laps of 64, 65 seconds of even paced running is the target tomorrow.”
But look out, Kenya’s World 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot and Russia’s Anna Alminova, second fastest in the world at 1500m in 2009 (3:58.38), could steal the race and the record themselves from the principle protagonist Gelete Burka, for whom this race has been set-up.
Into the infield and given the presence of Isinbayeva’s name on the start list nothing should be taken for granted in terms of the winning height in the Pole Vault either. If the wind subsides we could see the bar raised above her World record of 5.06m.
Likewise after scaling 2.08m in Zagreb during the week, double World High Jump champion Blanka Vlasic of Croatia is a likely candidate to scale to the top of the all-time lists currently headed by the 2.09m World record of Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova (Rome 30/08/1987). Nine of the High Jump finalists from Berlin including Anna Chicherova, the silver medallist, start.
The task ahead for the other Berlin champions on show
The international programme opens with the men’s 3000m Steeplechase, and Ezekiel Kemboi takes on much of the field from Zürich where he cemented his World championships crown with a fine 8:04 victory. There is no Bob Tahri from France to harry Kemboi this time but (all Kenyan unless stated) Paul Kipsiele Koech, Mike Kipyego, Richard Mateelong, Jukka Keskisalo (FIN), Abel Mutai of the next six runners who followed that duo home last week race again.
The Javelin Throw or more accurately one javelin thrower, Andreas Thorkildsen, the World champion and double Olympic gold medallist, was one of the top performers of the entire Zürich meeting. The 91.28m release of the Norwegian confirmed, though no confirmation was still necessary, that he is currently the lone star in this event.
Expect Thorkildsen to prevail even with the return of arch-rival Tero Pitkämäki to competition following his serious ear infection in Berlin which resulted in a hospital visit on the morning of the final. The career record of these two men who meet week-in-week out on the international circuit still remains slightly in the favour of the Finn, 25 victories over Thorkildsen, to the Norwegian’s 22 over Pitkämäki.
The sprint hurdles winners from Berlin have had slightly contrasting fortunes in the short time since taking World titles.
Following his surprise 13.14 sec national record 110m Hurdles victory in Berlin, Barbados’ Ryan Braithwaite was beaten into third in Zürich (13.27) but bounced back with a win, albeit much slower, in Zagreb (13.35). Dwight Thomas whose Jamaican record of 13.16 took the prize in Switzerland last Friday races the World champion again.
Brigitte Foster-Hylton has turned the screw on all those who still doubted the 34-year-old. The World champion after her 12.51sec run gold in Berlin, hammered home her superiority in Zürich with her season’s best of 12.46 into a slight headwind (-0.4m/s), and in the wet in Gateshead on Monday (31) took another convincing win in stronger head wind conditions (12.88; -1.9).
While Brathwaite faces none of his fellow Berlin medallists, Foster-Hylton takes on silver and bronze recipients, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Delloreen Ennis-London.
The men’s 800m finds World champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi battling with Berlin bronze medallist and 2007 World champion Alfred Yego, while in the women’s two laps his female contemporary as 2007 World champion Janeth Jepkoskei, who took silver this time around (1:57.90), races amongst others Ukraine's Yuliya Krevsun, fourth in Berlin (1:58.00).
In the men’s 400m, in the absence of World and Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, the former owner of those titles Jeremy Wariner looks to improve the stadium record of 44.06 sec owned by his manager and mentor Michael Johnson. "I would like to break the stadium record," Wariner is quoted on the meeting website. With a season’s best of 44.60 he has quite a task on his hands!
World silver and bronze medallists, Mabel Gay and Anna Pyatykh are the standout names in the women’s Triple Jump.
Chris Turner for the IAAF