Usain Bolt's final surge secures victory in Rome (Giancarlo Colombo) © Copyright
Preview Ostrava, Czech Republic

Bolt, Robles, Campbell-Brown among the stars to gather for Ostrava’s 50th edition – PREVIEW - IAAF World Challenge

Ostrava, Czech Republic – Usain Bolt’s second 100m race of the year and the return of Dayron Robles to the setting of his 110m Hurdles World record are just two of the many highlights expected as Ostrava’s Golden Spike celebrates it’s 50th anniversary on Tuesday (31).

The Golden Spike is an IAAF World Challenge Meeting.

In his 2011 season’s debut at Rome’s Golden Gala last Thursday, Bolt produced a strong surge in the race’s waning stages to edge Asafa Powell, the man he succeeded as World record holder, to win in 9.91.

Powell won’t be joining him in Ostrava, but another quick compatriot, Steve Mullings, will be. Mullings is currently the world leader after a 9.89 (w +2.0) victory in Claremont, Florida, eight days ago. Other career sub-10 men in the field include Ivory Williams of the USA, who has a 10.05 season’s best, and Daniel Bailey of Antigua, who has clocked a wind-aided 9.94 this season. Kim Collins, the Hengelo winner in 10.10, will also be moving on to Ostrava.

Bolt is no stranger to this eastern Czech city where he clocked 9.77 (w +2.1) in 2009. He may not be ready to run that fast, but he’ll certainly be targeting a faster performance than in Rome in order to cast aside any doubts which may have arisen in the Italian capital.

Campbell-Brown’s last test before Jamaican trials

In the women’s 100m contest, the focus will fall on Bolt's compatriot, Veronica Campbell-Brown, who will be running in Ostrava for the first time. The two-time Olympic 200m champion's outing will be particularly important as it marks her final race prior to the Jamaican championships at the end of the June where she will be gunning for team spots in both the 100 and 200m.

Campbell-Brown was impressive in her lone 100m appearance of the year, holding off Carmelita Jeter in Shanghai and winning in 10.92. Her only goal in Ostrava, where she will run a heat and presumably the final, is to run faster.

On paper she's well ahead of the chase pack, consisting of Bahamian veteran Debbie Ferguson, Americans Lashauntea Moore and Stephanie Durst and compatriot Aleen Bailey. She’ll also face Jamaican rising star Schillonie Calvert, who improved to 11.05 en route to her victory in Hengelo.

Robles returns to World Record setting

Dayron Robles has a fondness for Ostrava, the site of his 12.87 World record in 2008, just a few months before he took the Olympic title in Beijing. The Cuban’s return comes with an added bit of confidence after his solid 13.07 victory in Hengelo on Sunday, which equalled Liu Xiang’s world best from Shanghai. With the rust shaken loose, the season’s first sub-13 second performance beckons.

He’ll take on Jamaican Dwight Thomas, the runner-up in Hengelo with a near-career best 13.18; American ace Terrence Trammell, who was third in Hengelo with a season’s best 13.31; and 2009 World champion Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados, who’ll be gunning to improve his 13.58 season’s best.

Heidler and Kozmus lead Hammer Throw Fields

The meeting gets underway on Monday (30) with the men’s and women’s Hammer Throw competitions, both part of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, and both to be keenly watched.

On the women’s side, 2009 World silver medallist Betty Heidler will be in spotlight, competing just nine days after breaking the World record* with a 79.52m launch in Halle, Germany. The German will arrive after another solid victory in Dakar on Saturday where she reached 75.33m. Her stiffest challenge should come from compatriot Kathrin Klaas, who has improved to 75.30m this year, and China’s Zhang Wenxiu, the reigning Olympic bronze medallist who earlier this season threatened her own Asian record with a 74.26m toss.

The men’s competition features Slovenia’s Olympic and World champion Primoz Kozmus who returns to international competition after a lengthy break from action. The 31-year-old threw for the first time in competition in 20 months at a Slovenian Grand Prix meeting on Sunday, where he reached a promising 75.10m.

His return test will be a difficult one, with four of the season’s best five throwers in the field: world leader (81.54m) Aleksey Zagorniy of Russia, Hungary’s Krisztian Pars (79.84m SB), Germany’s Markus Esser (79.69m SB) and Sergey Litvinov (78.90m SB), also of Russia.  

Can van Zyl’s momentum continue?

The story in the men’s 400m Hurdles thus far this season has been South African LJ van Zyl, who will arrive undefeated in five races over the distance this year. After opening his campaign with a 47.66 national record in Pretoria on 25 February, the 25-year-old has been unstoppable, producing the season's four fastest times - three of those in under 48 seconds - and bagging big victories in the Doha and Rome Samsung Diamond League fixtures where he handily defeated all of the event's top names.

The Ostrava field includes European champion David Greene, who was a strong second in Rome, and two-time defending World champion Kerron Clement of the USA, who’ll be looking to put his disappointing ninth place showing from Rome well behind him.

Blake tops 200m field

Back to the sprints, where the Jamaican flavour continues in the men’s 200m with Yohan Blake leads the field. Blake, 21, has a swift 19.78 career best to his credit, but has already run a wind-aided 9.80 in the 100m this season and could arrive in sub-20-second shape. His compatriot Marvin Anderson has a 20.36 best this season and most recently finished second in Rome. Shawn Crawford of the US could be a factor in crashing the Jamaican jamboree, arriving on the heels of his victory in Dakar.

In the 400m, observers will be keen to watch Jermaine Gonzales, one of the event’s key breakout performers in 2010, when he improved the Jamaican record to 44.40. On the rebound from injury, he clocked 45.43 in Rome where he finished second.

The women's 400m has shaped into a duel between Americans Sanya Richards-Ross and Francena McCorory. Richards-Ross, the reigning World champion, is battling back into form after missing most of last year. She's improved over the distance by more than a full second over the past month - most recently to 50.98 in Rome - but will need to go considerably faster to fend off the rising 22-year-old McCorory who lowered her career best to 50.50 in early April, and most recently finished third in Rome.

European hopes sit with Russian Olesya Krasnomovets, the European indoor silver medallist this year.

Ukhov’s debut, star line-ups in the Javelin Throws

There will be plenty of star power across the board on the infield, beginning with the men’s High Jump. Here, Russian Ivan Ukhov, the World and European indoor champion, will be making his outdoor debut and will start as the immediate favourite. Local hope Jaroslav Baba, who topped 2.34i indoors this winter, could be a factor, along with Germany’s Raul Spank, the co-bronze medallist at the 2009 World Championships.

With Olympic champion and World record holder Barbora Spotakova in the picture, the women’s Javelin Throw will figure prominently. The Czech finished third in Rome with a 63.32m launch, a competition won by Russian Mariya Abakumova with 65.40m. But look out as well for Slovenian record holder Martina Ratej who threw a world-leading 65.89m at a home meet in Slovenska Bistrica on Sunday.

The men's line-up features the finest line-up currently available in the world, with World leader Sergey Makarov (85.33m), Shanghai winner and former World champion Tero Pitkämäki (85.33m SB) of Finland, rising Czech star Petr Frydrych (85.32m), the winner in Doha, and Germany's Matthias De Zordo, the reigning European silver medallist. World and Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen was forced to withdraw last week, sidelined with a minor injury sustained in Shanghai.

In the women’s Pole Vault, the key standout is Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg, this year’s European indoor silver medallist and the winner in Daegu and Shanghai.

Melkamu returns to defend 10,000m title

A strong field has been assembled for the women’s 10,000m, led by reigning Ethiopia’s World silver medallist Meselech Melkamu who won the event here last year. In 2009, the 26-year-old lowered the African record over the distance to 29:53.80 in Utrecht, making her the second fastest over the distance all-time.

Others expected to be in the hunt include Wude Ayalew of Ethiopia and Kenyans Priscah Jepleting and Grace Momanyi.

With World Athlete of the Year David Rudisha’s withdrawal, the spotlight in the men’s 1000m will fall on Kenyan David Mutua’s attempt on compatriot Benjamin Kipkurui’s 2:15.00 World junior record set in 1999. Ahmad Ismail, Sudan’s 2008 Olympic silver medallist at 800m, could also be a factor.

In the men’s 3000m Steeplechase, Paul Kipsiele Koech will be the man to beat. The second fastest in the world this season at 8:02.42, his main pursuers will be his countryment Silas Kitum and teenager Hillary Yego, who’s already run 8:07.71 this season.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF

* pending the usual ratification procedures