Usain Bolt stretches away from the rest of the field to win the Olympic 200m title in 19.30 (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Ostrava, Czech Republic

Bolt, six other Beijing Olympic champions, and thrilling duels on tap in Ostrava – IAAF World Athletics Tour

Seven reigning Olympic champions will top another strong cast at Wednesday’s (17) 48th edition of the Golden Spike, but the attendance of one in particular will bring the attention of much of the sporting world to this eastern Czech city.

The Golden Spike is a Grand Prix status meeting as part of the IAAF World Athletics Tour 2009.

Question of the day: how fast will Bolt run?

A year ago, Usain Bolt was already the headliner here, arriving less than two weeks after setting his first World record in the 100m. He followed up admirably, cruising to a 19.83 victory in the 200m. This year he returns as a triple Olympic gold medallist and World record holder, the sport’s biggest star, and one of the most recognized faces in the entire world of sport. It’s not surprising then that upon his arrival here on Saturday, the 22-year-old Jamaican was given The Key to the City.

Bolt will be making this third start of the spring in the 100m, and is clearly aiming to make it a more memorable one than his last, by his standards a lacklustre 10.00 dash in Toronto last Thursday. He said afterwards that he had a bad day, yet still won decisively by a wide 0.25 second margin. Including his 150m dash through the streets of Manchester a month ago – a staggering 14.35 - Bolt’s only real opponent in his last two outings has been rain. There is only a slight chance of rain in the forecast for Wednesday, leaving anything short of taking down Mike Rodgers’ 9.94 current world seasonal lead a major disappointment. A better indication of his late spring form would be an assault on the meet record of 9.85 set by his compatriot Asafa Powell in a driving rain four years ago. Hoping for even more, organizers are offering a $100,000 bonus if he dips under his 9.69 World record. How fast will he run in his first European Grand Prix of the season? That’s the question on many a mind.

On paper, a pair of sub-10 men in the field, American Marcus Brunson and Asian record holder Samuel Francis (10.12 and 10.19 this year, respectively), both with 9.99 PBs, are the closest pursuers, but in reality, Bolt is at an entirely different level.

Robles returns to World record track

Another Olympic champion very familiar with - and quite comfortable in - Ostrava is Cuban Dayron Robles. At last year’s meet, Robles stunned the near-sell out crowd at Mestsky stadium when he broke the World record in the 110m Hurdles with his powerful and dominating 12.87 run. That stellar performance came in just his third outing of the season; on Wednesday he’ll line up for just the second time this year.

Robles opened with a clear victory five days ago in Thessaloniki clocking 13.30, but he may have to run considerably faster to keep up with the momentum that American Dexter Faulk brings to Ostrava. Beginning the season as a 13.34 hurdler, the 25-year-old has improved his career best four times this season already, most recently with his 13.18 victory in Berlin on Sunday.

Local heroine Špotáková shares the spotlight

But for Czech athletics fans, it’ll perhaps be Olympic javelin champion and World record holder Barbora Špotáková who will be the biggest draw. Her competition though, will hardly be an exhibition. Organisers have assembled a Beijing podium reunion, pitting the Czech against silver medallist Mariya Abakumova of Russia and German Christine Obergföll. The latter arrives as the current world leader at 68.40m and the defending Ostrava winner. Last year she defeated Špotáková with a solid 67.72m throw. For her part, Špotáková has already thrown 68.23m this season, setting the stage for a fabulous showdown.

Also in the field is German Steffi Nerius who was fifth in Beijing where she reached an astonishing fourth Olympic final.

Separate stage for Olympic Hammer Throw champions on Tuesday

For the fourth straight year, the meet will open the day before the main programme with the men’s and women’s hammer throws on Tuesday (16). This year the meet boasts both Olympic championships, Slovenia’s Primož Kozus and Oksana Miankova of Belarus. But in the men’s competition, it is Krisztián Pars of Hungary, the Beijing silver medallist who carries the best momentum. The World leader at 81.43m, Pars is undefeated in eight competitions thus far in 2009.

Miankova will face current world leader Martina Hrasnova of Slovakia, who came within a metre of the World record with a 76.90m throw in Trnava last month; Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk , who’s produced four of the season’s five best throws; and World champion Betty Heidler of Germany.

Sadly, a familiar face in Ostrava will be absent, but she will be remembered. 2000 Olympic champion Kamila Skolimowska, who passed away in February, competed in each of the previous editions, finishing third in 2007 and fourth twice. In the Polish athlete’s honour, the women’s winner will be presented the Kamila Skolimowska Trophy by her parents.

Kipruto vs. red-hot Kemboi

The sixth Beijing winner on show is Brimin Kipruto, who’ll face the man he succeeded as Steeplechase Olympic champion, Ezekiel Kemboi. According to organizers, Kemboi requested a World record pace after his 7:58.85 run in Doha last month, his first ever sub-eight minute performance and the fastest in the world since September 2007. Paul Koech, arguably last year’s best steepler, finished second in the Doha race after doing most of the leading, and will be looking for revenge here. Kipruto finished third behind the pair in that race then took home a win in Hengelo two weeks ago.

Cheruiyot vs Masai in the 5000, and Melkamu as well?

The women’s 5000m took an unexpected turn on Sunday when Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu clocked a sensational 29:53.80 over 10,000m in Utrecht to become only the fourth woman ever to dip under 30 minutes. She was expected to join Kenyans Vivian Cheruiyot, the 2007 World 5000m silver medallist, and Linet Masai, in an assault on Meseret Defar’s 14:30.18 meet record. Will she bring that momentum to Ostrava? Or will she simply be out of steam?

Intriguing mix in both 800m

With an unusual mix of speed, endurance and big meet experience, one of the more intriguing races of the evening could be the men’s 800. The line-up of heavy hitters includes World champion and Olympic bronze medallist Afred Yego and Olympic silver medallist Ahmed Ismael, both 800m specialists; Olympic 1500m silver medalist Asbel Kiprop and the versatile Augustine Choge; and another pair of swift Kenyans, David Rudisha and Olympian Boaz Lalang who were second and third here last year. Kiprop took an impressive mile victory in Eugene eight days ago and lowered his 800m PB to 1:43.17 in Doha and Choge arrives on the heels of sub-3:30 1500 victory in Berlin.

Similarly in the women’s race, Gulnara Samitova-Galkina, the World record holder and Olympic champion in the steeplechase, who’s been impressive in 1500m outings this spring, will move down even further to test herself in the 800m. After running a 2:00.29 PB in May, a sub-2:00 is certainly a possibility. Others in the chase are Briton Jenny Meadows and Ukrainian Tetyana Petlyuk.

With Kiprop and Choge busy with the two-lapper, rising star Haron Keitany will certainly have an easier time in the meet’s inaugural mile run. Over the past two weeks, the 2008 Zurich and World Athletics Final 1500m winner lowered his career bests in both the mile and 1500, while finishing second to Kiprop and Choge. 

Two for Tune? Chasing her own One Hour World record and the 20,000m standard

Last year the meeting began with Dire Tune picking up where Haile Gebrselassie left off the year before, with a successful assault on the World record in the One Hour Run. The 24-year-old covered 18,517m in 60 minutes, adding 177m to the previous record of 18,340m set by Tegla Loroupe 10 years earlier. Tune returns this year to add to that mark, but will also forge onwards in an effort to take another of Loroupe’s records, the fabled Kenyan’s 20,000m mark of 1:05:26.6 set in 2000. Three pacesetters will assist in the bid which begins at 16:20 local time, an hour and a half prior to the main programme

World champions Perry and Vlasic return

Two-time World champion Michelle Perry, an impressive winner in Eugene () the weekend before last, is the woman to beat in the 100m Hurdles. Her memories of Ostrava are not fond. Two years she was disqualified after a false start. Jamaican Delloreen Ennis-London, the Berlin runner-up, is also in the field.

After taking the back seat to Ariane Friedrich in Berlin in Sunday, World champion Blanka Vlasic of Croatia returns to action in the high jump. She’s the meet record holder here at 2.05m, and she’ll start as favourite yet again. At the moment, she’s clearly a class apart from the rest of field.

Likewise in the women’s Long Jump, where Russian Olga Kucherenko will start as the favourite.

Leading the men’s Long Jump field is Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena of South Africa, who arrives on the heels of his victory in Berlin on Sunday. Mokoena jumped consistently in the German capital (8.33m SB), and according to rising German talent Sebastian Bayer, he is fully capable of jumping 8.50m or more in his current form. Freshly-minted French record holder (8.42m) Salim Sdiri, and Bayer, who etched his name into Long Jump history with his 8.71m leap at the European indoor championships, are also in the field. The target here is Cuban Ivan Pedroso’s meet record of 8.35m, set in 1998.

Olympic 400m Hurdles bronze medallist and 2005 World champion Bershawn Jackson returns to action after his recent solid victory in Eugene. His chief opposition appears to be Poland’s Beijing finalist Marek Plawgo, although two-time World and former Olympic champion Felix Sanchez will be looking to argue otherwise.

Elsewhere, Brian Dzingai leads the men’s 200m, and South African Robert Oosthuizen is the favourite in the men’s javelin.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF