Blanka Vlasic of Croatia shows off her dancing skills after becoming the IAAF World Champion in women's High Jump for the second time (Getty Images) © Copyright
The focus here is on one of the most anticipated head-to-head clashes of the weekend which could result in the first sub-seven second dash at the World Indoor Championships since 1999.
US Virgin Islander Laverne Jones-Ferrette jumped to the fore in a big way in Stuttgart last month when she dashed to a sizzling 6.97, the fastest run in 11 years. With four other performances at 7.10 or faster, the 28-year-old, who didn’t advance beyond the semis in the last two World Indoor Championships, will be gunning for gold this time around. But she’ll have to get past American Carmelita Jeter.
Jeter, a two-time 100m bronze medallist outdoors, made her splash late last year with a pair of sensational late season 100m runs, first a 10.67 in Thessalonki and a 10.64 in Shanghai to move all the way up to No. 2 all-time. And she’s been quick indoors, too. Second to Jones-Ferrette in Stuttgart in 7.05, she returned the favour in Birmingham two weeks later when she edged her new rival by the slimmest of margins as both clocked 7.06. Taking full advantage of Albuquerque’s altitude, she went even faster at the US championships clocking 7.02.
Also expected in the hunt will be two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. Although the Jamaican is well behind on paper with a 7.14 season’s best, conventional wisdom would suggest that she wouldn’t be making her first trip to a World Indoor Championships if she wasn’t fully prepared. Meanwhile the US runner-up (7.14 SB) Mikele Barber will be looking to emulate her twin sister, Me’Lisa, who took the World Indoor title in Moscow in 2006.
Here we’ll expect a Russia-USA showdown as runners from the two powerhouses have largely dominated the tail end of the season. Debbie Dunn capped her consistent indoor campaign with a quick and world-leading 50.86 to take the US title, albeit at altitude, after collecting a victory in Stockholm and a pair or runner-up finishes in Glasgow and Moscow.
At the latter, she was defeated by Tatyana Firova who two weeks later cruised to a career best 51.22 in the heats of the Russian championships. That final resulted in a photo finish where she was inseparable from Natalya Nazarova – both stopped the clock at 51.39 – who will be joining her in Doha. If experience matters – and it certainly does – Nazarova, who sped to the World Indoor crowns in 2003 and 2004 and finished runner-up in 2008, will be difficult to beat.
US runner-up Deedee Trotter (51.23), who will be making her first World Indoor appearance, is rounding into form at the right time.
Jamaican Novlene Williams-Mills, the winner in Birmingham in 52.03 and a finalist indoors in 2006, is expected to be a factor, as is Aliann Pompey, twice a World indoor semi-finalist, who clocked a 51.83 Guyanese record in January.
A year after claiming the European Indoor title, Russian Mariya Savinova is poised to take an even bigger step in Doha. Working on her speed and endurance, the 24-year-old has raced well this winter over several distances, lowering her personal bests in both the 400m (52.05) and the 1500m (4:08.2), and producing key 800m victories at the Russian Winter meeting (1:59.23) and at the national championships. At the latter she beat world season leader Yevgeniya Zinurova by a second-and-a-half.
Impressive too has been Briton Jenny Meadows, who has won four of her five races this season. Last year's World bronze medallist outdoors, Meadows has gotten consistently faster indoors this season, capped by a national record 1:59.11 at the UK championships. Her only loss came at the hands of Savinova at the Russian Winter.
Keep an eye on the versatile Anna Pierce (formerly Willard), who took the US title in 2:00.84, and who has rapidly gained a reputation of her own as a scrappy and decisive racer. A sub-four 1500m runner outdoors, the American collected four impressive 800m wins last season, beating strong fields, including at the World Athletics Final.
Zinurova, who has paced the world since clocking 1:58.65 at the Moscow championships in mid-February, will be making her first major championship appearance. Yuliya Krevsun (2:00:36) of Ukraine and Poland’s rising Angelika Cichocka (2:00.86) have also dipped under 2:01 this winter.
An Ethiopian 1-2? Reigning champion Geleta Burka and the teenaged upstart Kalkidan Gezahegne would like to think so.
The 24-year-old Burka made two appearances over the distance this winter, producing two of the season's four quickest times. Her closest race was in Stuttgart where she out-sprinted European champion Anna Alminova, 4:03:44 to 4:03.88, season's bests for both. For good measure, she also took home a fast Mile victory in Birmingham where she got the better of Gezahegne, 4:23.53 to 4:24.10. Still hurting (inside anyway) from the fall which likely cost her a medal at last year’s World Championships in Berlin, Burka will perhaps want this victory more than anyone else.
Gezahegn, still only 18, struck World junior silver over the distance in 2008 and was strong and savvy enough to reach the World Championships final last August. Her 4:03.28 world season leader, the fastest ever indoor run by a junior, came in Stockholm one month ago, where she too outran Alminova by more than a second.
That’s two scores to settle for Alminova, who emerged last year as one of the most versatile middle distance runners in Europe. A third score came at the Russian indoor championships where she and Yevgeniya Zolotova were inseparable at the line resulting in a unique shared title. Like Burka, she too left Berlin disappointed after failing to reach the final.
Although she’s only raced once (4:24.71 for third in the Birmingham Mile) two-time outdoor World champion Maryam Jamal of Bahrain is certainly a threat. Kenyan colours will be carried by Irene Jelagat, the 2006 World junior champion. Spaniard Natalia Rodriguez, who was disqualified for causing Burka’s tumble in Berlin last summer, will also be aiming to make amends.
At just 26, Meseret Defar has already created quite a bit of history on the track. In Doha she’ll be looking to add a little more to that legacy as she chases an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in the event.
The Ethiopian has hit the track twice this winter, winning the Stuttgart 3000 in 8:24.46 (No. 3 performance all-time) and the Stockholm 5000m in 14:24.79 (No. 2 all-time), both world leaders. Needless to say, the World record holder in both events indoors is fully prepared to break her tie with this event’s other three-time winner, Gabriela Szabo.
Among those in the chase pack will be her compatriot Setayehu Ejigu who displayed her form in Stuttgart where her chase of Defar resulted in an 8:25.27 performance, the fourth fastest performance ever. Fourth four years ago, she’ll be eager for a podium finish here.
But the bigger threat to Defar’s quest will be the reigning World 5000m champion outdoors, Vivian Cheruiyot. The Kenyan suffered a narrow defeat to Tirunesh Dibaba over Two Miles in Birmingham, her only track appearance this winter, but most recently showed solid form with 31:07 victory over 10km in San Juan where she took down a very strong field.
Sylvia Kibet, who finished second to Cheruiyot in Berlin last summer, is the Kenyan No. 2.
Women’s 60m Hurdles
Like many of the battles at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver last month, this event is shaping into one between Canada and the USA. Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, a medallist at the 2008 Olympics and the World Championships last year, arrives as the world leader at 7.82. But the 27-year-old has struggled in her two appearances since that performance in Stuttgart.
Returning World champion Lolo Jones arrives as the year's second fastest at 7.85 and more consistent than any other leading candidates for gold: she's won only two of her seven outings but never finished further back than second. But history won’t be on the American’s side: no woman has ever successfully defended the title in this event.
The U.S. title went to Ginnie Powell in an altitude-assisted 7.87, the only victory in the 26-year-old’s mostly domestic campaign. Momentum may be with Cuban Anay Tejeda, who won in Lievin last Friday, where she beat Powell, Lopes-Schliep and Belgium’s Eline Berings, the European champion, who is also entered.
There are always surprises. In Moscow four years ago, Irishwoman Derval O’Rourke shocked a formidable field, riding a wave of momentum and national records to an unlikely triumph. She too is in the field.
Women’s High Jump
Even before her chief rival, Germany’s European Indoor champion Ariane Friedrich, was forced to withdraw due to injury, Blanka Vlasic was considered the prohibitive favourite. If nothing else, the recent trend in the event is in the Croatian’s favour: the two women she succeeded as indoor champion in Barcelona two years ago, Kajsa Bergqvist and Yelena Slesarenko, each won back-to-back titles.
But Vlasic prefers to set her own trends. In yet another busy and dominant indoor season, Vlasic has produced the season’s three best efforts and five of the top six, capped by her 2.06m clearance in Arnstadt to move into a tie as the No. 3 jumper all-time indoors. Attempts on Bergqvist’s 2.08m World record, which has stood for four years, are commonplace. No less should be expected here: at Doha’s outdoor meeting Vlasic has already taken six shots at the World record outdoors.
With Friedrich on the sidelines, other medal contenders include Spain’s Ruth Beitia, a two-time European silver medalist indoors who has leaped 2.00m this year; Friedrich’s compatriot Meike Kröger, who joined the two-metre club at the German Championships; and Russians Svetlana Shkolina and Irina Gordeeva.
Women’s Pole Vault
Yelena Isinbayeva is undeniably the finest women’s pole vaulter ever. She’s jumped more than 15 cemtimetres higher than anyone else, taken home titles too numerous to count, and has thus far set 27 World records. Clearly, there isn’t a stronger gold medal favourite arriving in the Qatari capital this week. Pretty much the same was written about the Russian star in the build up to last summer’s World Championships, and we all remember what transpired there. Especially Isinbayeva.
She admitted that complacency got the better of her in the German capital last year when she famously no-heighted, leaving the rest of the world - as well as the rest of the field – scratching their heads. She promised later that such an episode wouldn’t be repeated.
Isinbayeva has competed twice this year, on both occasions clearing 4.85m before attempting to collect World record No. 28. A similar scenario is expected in Doha.
This season it’s Brazil’s Fabiana Murer, the 2008 bronze medallist, that is leading the challengers. In two of her three competitions this winter the 28-year-old has raised her own South American record indoors, first to 4.81m in Stuttgart and again to 4.82m in Birmingham late last month.
Poland’s Anna Rogowska, who took the World title in Berlin, is near her best this year, with a season’s best of 4.81. Russian No. 2 Svetlana Feofanova, whom Isinbayeva succeeded, remains a medal threat, with a 4.75m best this season.
Women’s Long Jump
Can Brittney Reese pick up where she left off last year? The answer is, quite likely, yes.
The 23-year-old impressively took the World title outdoors last year with a 7.10m leap, and will arrive in Doha as the world leader after a 6.89m leap in the altitude of Albuquerque to take the US title. Despite that obvious assistance from the rarified air, Reese has already earned the reputation as a fierce competitor, and will be hard to beat this weekend.
Depending upon which two of the three Russians provisionally entered will compete, they will put forth a stiff challenge. Junior Darya Klishina has sailed 6.87m this winter, but only finished third at the Russian championships, behind winner Anna Nazarova (6.75m) and seasoned international Tatyana Kotova (6.74m), herself a former three-time champion.
Others looking for a big day will be Germany’s quickly improving Sostene Moguenara (6.75 PB, SB) and Portugal’s Naide Gomes (6.70 SB).
Women’s Triple Jump
Fittingly, Yargeris Savigne, the reigning World champion indoors and outdoors, has provided the only spark in an otherwise lacklustre season in this event, and she’ll clearly start as the woman to beat.
The Cuban has competed only once in her specialty, but her 14.84m winner in Dusseldorf last month is a massive 40 centimetres better than her nearest rival on paper, Anastasiya Taranova-Potapova, who took the Russian title with a 14.44m leap. Only four others have managed even the 14.40m barrier this winter, and of those, only two are expected in Doha: Russian veteran Anna Pyatykh and Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan.
Based on experience alone, the 28-year-old Pyatykh, with a pair of World outdoor bronze medals and a World Indoor silver from 2006, is most likely to rise to the occasion.
Women’s Shot Put
Nadzeya Ostapchuk sent the Shot Put world into a spin last month when she blasted a 21.70m bomb at the Belarus national championships. The mark elevated the 29-year-old, who took home World Indoor silver in 2001, 2003 and 2008, to the No. 3 position all-time indoors with the fourth furthest performance. No one – besides Ostapchuk herself on the same day, with a 21.23 effort – has come remotely close this year. Although she hasn’t competed since, she’ll nonetheless be starting as favourite.
In that same competition, her Doha teammate and reigning Olympic silver medallist Natalia Mikhnevich, was second with a 20.28m toss, the only other indoor performer to reach beyond the 20-metre mark indoors this season. Not a bad one-two punch for Belarus. But they’ll nonetheless have a fight on their hands courtesy of the defending champion.
New Zealander Valerie Vili, the two-time defending World champion outdoors and reigning Olympic champion, has been consistent in her three outdoor appearances, capped by a 20.57m effort in Sydney late last month, the third furthest throw of her career.
Others expected in the mix include Romanian Anca Heltne (19.90m PB, SB), German Nadine Kleinert (19.19 SB), and China’s Gong Lijiao (18.82m). Kleinert and Gong finished second and third behind Vili in Berlin last August.
Russia has won this event for eight consecutive championships, and will start again as the favourite this year as well. But the US squad, which has collected three silver and five bronze medals in the event, comes armed with three-time World 200m champion Allyson Felix, who also has one Olympic and two World 4x400m gold medals to her credit.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
- Blanka Vlasic of Croatia shows off her dancing skills after becoming the IAAF World Champion in women's High Jump for the second time (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Just a little shy.. Meseret Defar frustratingly close to her own World 5000m record in Stockholm (Hasse Sjögren) © Copyright
- Yelena Isinbayeva clears 5.06m in Zurich to set a World Record in the Pole Vault (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Virtual dead heat between Laverne Jones and Carmelita Jeter in Birmingham (2010) (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Valerie Vili - 20.57m in Sydney (Getty Images) © Copyright