Javier Culson of Puerto Rico in action in the 400m Hurdles semi-finals (Getty Images) © Copyright

Culson vs Jackson and Robles vs Richardson in Ponce - PREVIEW - IAAF World Challenge

Ponce, Puerto RicoThe first encounters of the season between Javier Culson and Bershawn Jackson in the 400m Hurdles and between Olympic champion Dayron Robles and World gold medallist Jason Richardson top the bill of 6th Ponce Grand Prix - IAAF World Challenge - on Saturday 12 May at the Francisco "Paquito" Montaner Stadium in Ponce.

The above quartet of star hurdlers leads a class field of 34 former and present World and Olympic medallists who will compete in 16 events.

Unbeaten in this Grand Prix since 2009, Culson ran the only sub 48-second race (47.72) of his career so far in 2010 and will find in world leader and 2005 World champion Jackson a tough opponent to keep a winning streak in his hometown.

Jackson, who turned 29 on Tuesday, has shown incredible form in an already busy season. The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist has run 10 races so far in 2012 and has produced the three fastest races of the year in the 400m, including a world leading 48.20.

Culson started his 2012 campaign on 18 February in San Germán, where he ran 800m in 1:50.26, followed by a 400m personal best (45.99) on March 31st. He won his first 400m Hurdles in 49.02 at the Drake Relays in Des Moines.

On Saturday, the duo will face familiar rivals, including Jamaica’s 2004 Olympic runner-up Danny McFarlane, Trinidad and Tobago’s Jehue Gordon, fourth at the 2009 Worlds in Berlin, USA’s Michael Tinsley and 2011 Pan American Games champion Omar Cisneros of Cuba.

Meet record beckons in 110m Hurdles

The first clash between Robles and Richardson in the 110m sprint hurdles could produce a season’s best for both and a new meet record (13.12), held by David Oliver since 2010.

Robles will look forward to his first competition in Puerto Rico after opening his outdoor campaign in Guadeloupe on 1 May with 13.19. Richardson, the 2011 winner, has had a busier 2012 campaign so far with three races around 13.30, including a wind-assisted 13.20.

World and Olympic medallist and twice Ponce winner David Payne returns to the meet after missing the 2011 edition. His fellow Americans Ryan Wilson, Jeff Porter, Joel Brown, Jamaica’s Richard Phillips and Cuban Orlando Ortega complete a stellar start list.

The women’s sprint hurdles is led by Britain`s 2012 World Indoor silver medallist Tiffany Porter.

Brenes and Pinder to relive Istanbul final

In the men’s 400m, Nery Brenes will run his first race after becoming World Indoor champion in Istanbul. In his first visit to the Ponce GP since 2008, the young Costa Rican will again meet his closest rival two months ago in the Turkish city, the Bahamas` Demetrius Pinder.

Brenes keeps good memories of his last trip to Puerto Rico in 2010, when he won the CAC Games gold in Mayaguez with a personal best of 44.84.

The women’s 400m feature five individual and relay World medallists: USA’s Leslie Cole Monica Hargrove, 2011 winner and meet record holder Natasha Hasting (50.97), Jessica Beard, Dee Dee Trotter and Jamaican Patricia Hall.

Both 100m races should also produce world class times. Six men with personal bests under 10 seconds have confirmed, including Jamaica’s 2011 winner and meet record holder Nickel Ashmeade and Britain’s 2010 World Indoor champion Dwain Chambers. With ideal weather conditions, fans could be treated with the first sub-10 seconds ever on Puerto Rican soil.

The women’s 100m is led by Ivory Coast’s World Indoor runner-up Muriel Ahoure. She is joined by relay World champions Bianca Knight, Shalonda Solomon, Alex Anderson of the USA, the Bahamas’ Chandra Sturrup and Tahesia Harrigan of the British Virgin Islands.

Three other decorated women will highlight the Long Jump, including 2005 World champion Tianna Madison, who will make her first appearance of the year in the event, after clinching the 60m bronze at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.

She will be joined by Ukraine’s 2011 winner Viktoriya Rybalko and two Triple Jump specialists: Colombia’s 2011 bronze medallist and 2012 world leader Caterine Ibarguen and Cuba’s three-time World champion Yargelis Savigne.

Another top Cuban making his Ponce debut is 2011 Pole Vault World Championships runner-up Lazaro Borges.

The Ponce Grand Prix joins Kingston and Rio de Janeiro as the only three Latin American stops on the IAAF World Challenge tour.

The event will be broadcast live on WAPA2 and WAPA America TV channels, as well as several radio stations.

In the lead-up to the event, journalist and statistician Carlos Uriarte will be exalted Friday as the first Puerto Rican into the Central American and Caribbean Athletics Confederation (CACAC) Hall of Fame.

IAAF Centenary parade

Men and women will run 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m and will also battle in the Javelin. Men will also compete in both the 110m and 400m hurdles and Triple Jump. Women will also contest 1500m, 100m hurdles and Long Jump. The four-hour programme will kick off with relay races involving local schools and end with the much-awaited Culson-Jackson clash and an athletes’ parade to celebrate the IAAF Centenary.

“We already have a sold out stadium and we are looking forward to enjoying great results from over 30 plus Olympic and World Championships medallists. I would also like to express my appreciation and thanks to the IAAF and especially to IAAF President Lamine Diack for his support and encouragement to organize the continental one day meetings circuit in the Caribbean,” said meet founder and director Victor Lopez.

Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF