A total of 14 track events (7 for men and 7 for women) will be contested at the 11th IAAF World Indoor Championships which take place this weekend, Friday 10 to Sunday 12 March, in the Olimpiyskiy Sport Palace Complex, Moscow, Russia. Here are some of the track event highlights we can expect in the Russian capital.
With no one sprinter displaying dominance in the dash this year, the only certainty in the men’s 60m is that a new World champion will emerge. With defending champion Jason Gardener (GBR) focusing his full attention this winter on the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the spotlight will fall on the American duo of Leonard Scott and Terrence Trammell, whose 6.52 and 6.53 respectively at the U.S. indoor championships are the two fastest performances this season.
While Scott was a fraction faster, his Boston outing was only his first of the season, while Trammell, who will also double back in the 60m Hurdles, has fine-tuned his race through a busy season, winning four of his six 60m finals.
Nigerian Olusoji Fasuba, who improved to 6.55 last weekend in Chemnitz, may be prepping himself as a podium threat, while Andrey Yepishin and Aleksandr Volkov, both with 6.60 performances to their credit this year, will have the home crowd on their side.
With his world-leading 45.81 win in Lievin last Friday, Alleyne Francique has shown that he will not give up his World indoor title to the favoured Americans without a fierce fight. The 29-year-old Grenadian has won each of his six outings over the distance this year. A finalist in two of the three last global championships outdoors and the fourth place finisher at the 2004 Olympics, Francique is a tested big meet veteran.
The U.S. challenge will be led by national champion Milton Campbell, who will arrive in the Russian capital undefeated in four races. Twice under 46 seconds this winter, Campbell’s attention will be clearly focused not only on improving on his fifth place finish from Budapest, but on his two silver medal performances from 1999 and 2001.
LaShawn Merritt, who produced the fastest ever indoors by a junior of 44.93 a year ago, will be hoping to prove his vast potential. In Moscow, the 19-year-old hopes to add a solid big meet performance to his growing resume. Other podium threats include Christopher Brown of the Bahamas and California Molefe of Botswana, with 46.03 and 46.26 clockings to their credit this season.
A 4x400m Relay will also be contested in Moscow, an event in which a USA squad set a new World record earlier this year - 3:01.96 (11 Feb).
If any event has a clear favourite, it is the men’s 800m. Indeed, anything shy of an eagerly anticipated win by Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy – who also won the World Indoor title in 2001 – will be viewed as nothing short of a full-fledged disappointment by Russian fans. Undefeated in six outings this winter, including a dominating win over 1000m in Lievin on Friday, Borza has shown that this race is his to lose.
Perennial power Wilfred Bungei (KEN), with a pair of sub-1:46 efforts this season, looms as the largest threat. The previous two champions – Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa and American David Krummenacker – are also in the field, who along with Borzakovskiy, will try to become just the second two-time winner in the event. Another podium threat to emerge in recent weeks is Dmitrijs Milkevics. After he lowered the national record to 1:46.46 late last month, the Latvian announced that he would forgo his remaining collegiate eligibility at the University of Nebraska, turn pro, and compete in Moscow. A podium finish would prove that his decision was not a hasty one.
With a pair of sub 3:35 performances this season – the year’s two fastest – Daniel Kipchirchir Komen is on paper the man to beat. The 21-year-old IAAF World Ranked number one handily won his two 1500 races this winter, and owns the year’s fastest 1000m (2:18.19) for good measure. But he’ll have company, as at least seven of the season’s fastest 11 are slated to compete.
If team tactics come into play, the French 1-2 punch of Mounir Yemmouni (3:38.88) and 2003 Champion Driss Maazouzi could play a role in the outcome. Spaniards are always competitive, particularly in tactical contests: this year, Sergio Gallardo is their top hope. While he has competed sparingly, Ukraine’s Ivan Heshko, runner-up in 2004, has to be considered a threat as well.
With multiple World record holder Kenenisa Bekele, 2003 World 5000m champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, and World Steeplechase champion Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar meeting for the first time ever on the track, the men’s 3000m has the makings as “the” race of the championships. In January, Kipchoge made his career indoor debut a notable one, notching a world leading 7:33.07 win to become the fifth fastest performer ever. For his part, Bekele has a 7:35.1 en route performance from his two mile race in Birmingham to his credit this season, while Shaheen also dipped under 7:40 in his first-ever indoor race.
Kenenisa’s younger brother, Tariku (7:41.5 from Birmingham), may be ready to forge ahead and out from his sibling’s shadow, while Bouabdallah Tahri of France (7:42.48) and Adil Kaouch of Morocco (7:44.22) could be in the mix as well. On Friday, Tahri displayed his fitness after joining the sub-five minute club over 2000m.
As he did in 2003, 2001 winner Terrence Trammell arrives at the World Championships as the year's fastest. That's where he hopes any similarities will end; his highly-touted double attempt in Birmingham was dashed by injuries in each of his first round races. His 7.46 win at the U.S. championships is 5/100s faster than the next man on the yearly list, U.S. runner-up Dominique Arnold, and the two arrive as solid podium favourites. Jamaican Maurice Wignall, the bronze medallist in Budapest, has produced a 7.54 this season, and always looms as a threat.
Olympic champion Xiang Liu, second in Budapest, has yet to race this season, after twisting his ankle just before the two meet Chinese indoor GP two-meet series began. But it’s quite unlikely that he would make the trip to Moscow if he wasn’t prepared.
While the host team has shown that it is ready to dominate the proceedings on the track when competition gets underway Friday morning, the soft spots on the roster are in the short dash and hurdles.
In the 60m flat, co-world season leader Mariya Bolikova, who sped to a 7.04 clocking in Samara in early February, hasn’t repeated that form since sustaining a slight injury in a fall the following week. Since then, attention has shifted across the Atlantic where U.S champion Me’Lisa Barber has displayed remarkable consistency on the domestic circuit. The 25-year-old, also the national champion outdoors last year at 100m, has run 7.10 or better on five occasions, topped by her 7.05 personal best to capture the U.S title. Perrenial force Christine Arron of France, has produced three sub 7.10 performances, topped by a national record 7.06. As she did in her run up to the World title outdoors, Lauryn Williams (USA) has steadily improved throughout the winter, and should be considered a threat for the title as well.
In Budapest, Natalya Nazarova became the second two-time winner in the 400m, and in Moscow she’ll be a solid favourite to become the first three-time champion. The only runner to dip under 50 seconds this season (49.98), her stiffest competition looks to be compatriot Olesya Krasnomovets (50.04), who finished second to Nazarova two years ago in Budapest and three weeks ago at the national championships in Moscow. In an event dominated by Russians this year, the next fastest is the largely untested Vania Stambolova of Bulgaria, who clocked a national record 50.58 to win in Pireás last month. Despite a modest – by world list standards – 51.28 best this season, American Sanya Richards could pose the biggest threat to the Russian juggernaut. Last year’s fastest outdoors and IAAF World Ranked #1, Richards will arrive in Moscow with fresh legs, having just one outing thus far this season.
A 4x400m Relay will also be contested in Moscow, an event in which a Russian squad set a new World record earlier this year - 3:23.37* (28 Jan).
Four women have dipped under two minutes this season; not surprisingly, all are Russian. World leader Olga Kotlyarova (1:57.51) and Natalya Tsyganova (1:59.18) were ultimately chosen to try to put an end to six-time winner Maria Mutola’s win streak at three. With just two outings under her belt this season, Mutola showed in Gent (2:00.81) that she is taking her title defence very seriously. When doubts about her form surfaced in Budapest two years ago, Mutola dispelled them quickly with a first round 1:57.72. Will she play a similar psychological card this weekend? With silver medals in her collection from the 2004 Olympics and 2005 World Championships - and an indoor gold in the 1500 from 2001 - Hasna Benhassi of Morocco is a powerful big meet performer, and could very well steal the thunder.
Yelena Soboleva stunned the athletics world with her remarkable 3:58.28 World record* at the Russian national championships last month. Now she’ll have to prove to the world that her performance wasn’t a fluke. With a 1:58.53 in the 800 to her credit, along with PBs in the 1000 (2:32.40) and 2000 (5:40.75) this season and a fourth place showing at last summer’s World championships, the 23-year-old has at the very least shown that she’s well prepared to take centre stage in Moscow.
Lost in the hoopla behind Soboleva’s win was the 4:01.26 runner-up performance by Yuliya Chizhenko, propelling her to the number six spot all-time. The biggest threat to the Russian duo comes in the tiny frame of Bahraini Maryam Yusuf Jamal, the breakout star of 2005, who produced a 4:01.82 clocking last month in her indoor debut. Romanian Corina Dumbravean and Alesya Turava of Belarus have raced well this winter, and should be in the podium tussle as well.
The biggest surprise to emerge from the Russian championships came in the 3000m, where Liliya Shobukhova (8:27.86) and Olesya Syreva (8:29.00) both dipped under* the previous World record set by 2003 World champion Berhane Adere. Can the pair produce another similar outing to dispense with the efforts of defending champion Meseret Defar? The 22-year-old Ethiopian, while not quite as fast, has produced a sterling season of her own. With a pair of sub 8:31 performances this winter – only three others, including the Russian pair, have ever bettered that barrier - Defar, who also finished third in 2003, should still be considered the favorite. Another to watch is Mariem Alaoui Selsouli (8:41.67) of Morocco.
A finalist in the previous three editions, Jamaican Lacena Golding-Clarke will arrive in the Russian capital as the world fastest this season, after a 7.83 personal best in Leipzig. She backed that up with a 7.87 win in Birmingham a week later, to emerge as a solid threat for her first podium finish. Swede Susanna Kallur, the reigning European Indoor champion, has displayed consistency as well, with three performances at 7.88 or better. After finishing seventh and fifth in the previous two championships, the 25-year-old may finally be ready for a jump to the podium. Americans have reached the podium in four of the last five editions; this year their hopes lie with Danielle Carruthers (7.93 SB) and Damu Cherry, whose 7.95 PB at the national championships landed the 27-year-old her first national team appearance. Others to watch include German Kirsten Bolm and Aurelia Trywianska of Poland.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
*World Indoor record pending ratification