Continuing in its enviable role as Europe’s longest-running international indoor meeting under continuous sponsorship, the 21st edition of the Sparkassen Cup fixture in Stuttgart’s Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle will enter a new era on Saturday evening (3 Feb).
After twenty years under the direction of Fredy Schäfer, the reins of organization will be taken-up by former European decathlon champion Alain Blondel, who has already directed the Karlsruhe meeting with success for several years.
Records were always a trademark of the Sparkassen Cup during the Schäfer years, and Blondel has set the stage for continuing this tradition.
Defar aims at 3000m mark
Leading the list of potential record aspirants is Ethiopia’s reigning double World Indoor 3000m champion Meseret Defar, who will make an attempt on the global indoor standard at that distance. The relatively fresh mark of 8:27.86, set by Liliya Shobukhova in last year’s Russian championships, was just beyond Defar’s reach last weekend in Boston despite an otherwise excellent 8:30.31, but the reigning Olympic 5000m champion certainly still has the feel of what it will take after making the trip across the Atlantic earlier this week.
But the time could be a lot stiffer to surpass after this evening's Millrose Games in New York (2 Feb), as compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba who slashed five seconds off her own indoor World record for 5000m last weekend in Boston, will make her own attempt at the 3000m record.
Accompanying Defar on the 15-lap trek in Stuttgart on Saturday (3) will be 21-year-old countrywoman Meselech Melkamu, the former World Junior 5000 metres champion, who will be seeing an indoor track for the first time.
Other standouts in the field include two medallists from the last European indoor championships - winner Lidia Chojecka of Poland and Germany’s Sabrina Mockenhaupt, the bronze medallist. Also going to the line will be Commonwealth silver medallist Jo Pavey of Great Britain and World Indoor finalist Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco.
Liu Xiang vs Dayron Robles
It may be too early in the season to think about a World record in an event as technical as the Men’s 60 Metres Hurdles, but if anyone is going to topple Colin Jackson’s 13-year-old mark of 7.30, one would have to nominate as most likely China’s Liu Xiang, the new standard-holder in the outdoor event. Aged only 23, Liu has many seasons ahead in which to achieve this goal.
Liu Xiang's development is a matter of Balance
Of more immediate concern to him than the record will be 20-year-old Dayron Robles of Cuba, the World Indoor silver medallist, who on Wednesday evening ran a world-leading 7.49 in Gothenburg in only the fifth indoor race of his career.
The Athens fourth-placer, Jamaica’s Maurice Wignall, plus American standout Ron Bramlett add to the event’s strength, as do the German pair of Thomas Blaschek, last year’s European silver medallist, and a surprise European finalist, Jens Werrmann.
Deep Pole Vault field ready for the heights
For superb depth, one has only to look at the men’s Pole Vault start list, which includes Australia’s Paul Burgess, a two-time Commonwealth medallist who is the outdoor co-world leader at 5.91. Two-time European champion Alex Averbukh of Israel, current World champion Rens Blom of the Netherlands, and former World champion Giuseppe Gibilisco of Italy continue the long list of luminaries. And that is without even considering the competitors from the host country, one of the world’s strongest in the event.
Danny Ecker and Björn Otto lead the indoor world list at 5.82 after their one-two finish in Cottbuson Wednesday night (31 Jan), and one can never overlook three-time European Championships medallist Tim Lobinger. Add to them former European silver medallist Lars Börgeling, two-time European finalist Richard Spiegelburg, and World indoor finalist Fabian Schulze, and one can see the likelihood of a competition lasting far into the night.
Oprea the standout in injured Olsson’s absence
Romania, Marian Oprea, the Olympic silver medallist in Athens, is the standout in the men’s Triple Jump in the absence of Olympic champion Christian Olsson who picked up an injury in training earlier in the week. Oprea is well remembered for stopping Olsson’s 29-meet triple-jump winning streak at the 2004 Dagens Nyheter Games in Stockholm.
Joining Oprea will be former World Championships bronze medallist Leevan Sands of Bahamas, and Helsinki finalist Karl Taillepierre of France.
Klüft to Long Jump
The only women’s field event of the evening, the women’s Long Jump, boasts the presence of Sweden’s Carolina Klüft, who currently holds multi-event titles at the World, European and Olympic levels, in both indoor and outdoor categories. She will be challenged by European indoor bronze winner Adina Anton of Romania, Athens finalist Bianca Kappler (who scored a narrow indoor win over Klüft three seasons ago), and Moscow fifth-placer Ineta Radevica of Latvia.
Ceplak faces Russian onslaught
The 37-year-old legs of Vyacheslav Shabunin have run the indoor season’s fastest 1500 metres, but the Russian has opted for the men’s 3000 metres on Saturday where he will joust with another 1500 specialist, World indoor silver winner Daniel Kipchirchir Komen of Kenya. Another Kenyan finalist from Moscow, Shadrack Korir, plus Birmingham bronze medallist Abdelkader Hachlaf of Morocco, will also be in the field, as will steeplechasers Bob Tahri of France and Turkey’s Halil Akkas.
The men’s 1500 will be a wide-open affair involving Helsinki finalist William Chirchir of Kenya, three-time World and Olympic finalist Driss Maazouzi of France, former World Indoor champion Rui Silva of Portugal, who is the current World and Olympic bronze medallist, and veteran Laban Rotich of Kenya. Wesley Cheruiyot of Kenya, only 18-years-old, brings a youthful presence to the field, which also includes former European junior silver winner Stefan Eberhardt of Germany and last year’s African bronze winner Tarek Boukensa of Algeria.
In the men’s 1000 metres, European 800m champion Bram Som (NED), Gothenburg 800m fourth-placer James McIlroy of Great Britain, and Germany’s René Herms, a former European Junior and U23 champion will fight it out.
A winner Tuesday night in Vienna with the year’s second-fastest time of 1:59.33, Slovenia’s Jolanda Ceplak, the current World record holder, will find strong competition in Women’s 800 metres. Vying for top honours will also be the current European outdoor champion, Olga Kotlyarova of Russia, plus her compatriot Svetlana Cherkasova, another Helsinki finalist, and Ukraine’s Tatyana Petlyuk, the European fourth placer.
Pickering up against established European stars
The fast-ascending European junior 100 metres champion Craig Pickering will be put to the test in the men’s 60 metres. A co-world leader in the event with 6.55 a week ago, the compact 20-year-old will find much of the challenge coming from his own British brethren, with three-time European Indoor champion (and former European record holder) Jason Gardener, and former World and European indoor medallist Mark Lewis-Francis close by to push the pace.
African 100m record holder Olusoji Fasuba of Nigeria, and the current holder of the European 60m mark, France’s Ronald Pognon, also add notably to the field.
The women’s 60 metres appears to have no favourite, although Britain’s Joice Maduaka, the fourth placer last year in Helsinki, might have an inside edge on the basis of overall experience and recent performances. Laverne Jones of the US Virgin Islands, who ran 7.26 in the US two weeks ago, would appear to be a strong contender, as would last year’s Mediterranean Games 100 metres silver medallist, Sylviane Félix of France and three-time European junior champion Sina Schielke of Germany.
Jones will return to the track a second time for the women’s 400 metres. In her only two-lap race of the season, she has clocked a national-record 52.16 and will look for an even faster time against European bronze medallist Olga Zaytseva of Russia, Göteborg finalist Grazyna Prokopek of Poland, and the German duo of Claudia Marx, a past European indoor silver winner, and Claudia Hoffmann.
Kallur – world leader
The women’s 60 metres Hurdles is led by Sweden’s Susanna Kallur, the European champion and possessor of the fastest time this season at 7.90. The deep field includes the person finishing just behind her in Gothenburg, Germany’s Kirsten Bolm, Athens fifth placer Lacena Golding-Clarke of Jamaica (last year’s fastest indoor hurdler), Paris fifth placer Aurelia Trywianska of Poland, two-time World finalist Vonette Dixon of Jamaica, and Germany’s Nadine Hentschke, twice a European finalist.
Also on the start list at age 37 is Jamaica’s Michelle Freeman, the World Indoor champion in Paris ten years ago.
Although the 200 metres is no long part of the international indoor championship programme, a match race between European silver medallist Johan Wissman of Sweden and Germany’s Markus Malucha will provide entertainment for those who revel in seeing speed around the curve.
Ed Gordon for the IAAF