PintusevichBlock and Menendez return to Greece hoping to rekindle fond memories
9 June 2002 – Athens, Greece – The Greek capital and its Olympic Stadium hold special memories for top sprinters Maurice Greene and Zhanna Pintusevich-Block. The Kansas Cannonball won here the first of his three 100m World Championships titles in 1997, while the Ukrainian took her first world crown over 200m on the same occasion. Five days later, she was already rejoicing after the 100m final, when the photo-finish decreed that she had placed second to Marion Jones; a disappointment which Zhanna was finally able to “avenge” last year in Edmonton, diving onto the tape just hundredths of a second ahead of the American sprint queen.
The two sprinters will be back on the same track tomorrow night for the Athens Grand Prix Tsiklitiria, which boasts an excellent field including 21 Olympic and 12 World Champions as well as three world record holders. Moreover, two of these world records were established in Greece. Maurice Greene had clocked 9.79 in Athens’ Olympic Stadium in 1999, while Cuban Osleidys Menendez propelled her javelin to 71m54 in Rethimno, Crete, in 2001.
Greene will be competing in an individual 100m race tomorrow for the first time since the World Championships last summer, and appears confident in spite of the lack of races. “I’m glad to be back again, Athens is a very special place for me, I have accomplished a lot here and expect to accomplish a lot more. This will be my first race since Edmonton, and I plan on having a great start.”
Maurice’s charismatic coach John Smith does not believe his protégé’s lack of competitions will be a problem. “Maurice is doing very well in training, and his body has now so well assimilated and memorised his running patterns that he no longer needs to build up his rhythm with competitions as in the past: he can run a terrific race right away.”
The most dangerous opponent for Greene is likely to be fellow American Shawn Crawford, the former 200m specialist who has successfully intensified his campaign over the 100m this year. Crawford dipped under 10 seconds for the fist time in April in Pretoria (9.99) and then confirmed his improvement a month later in Osaka: his mark of 9.94 puts him in first place (with Tim Montogomery and Frank Fredericks, both marks set at altitude) over the 100m dash this year.
Crawford and Ato Boldon (TRI), whose main goal is to confirm his Commonwealth title in July in Manchester, will both double their efforts, competing at 100 and 200m, but local hero Kostas Kenteris will try to surprise them over the longer distance.
Olympic Champion Noah Ngeny over 1500m may have to watch his young compatriot Cornelius Chrichir (second behind Ngeny in Doha). Another Kenyan star, Wilson Boit Kipketer, also faces opposition from the younger generations in the person of Stephen Cherono (KEN), second only to Moroccan world record holder Brahim Boulami in the steeplechase this season.
In the field events triple jumper Christian Olsson (SWE), who starred in the indoor season with 17.80, tantalisingly close to the indoor world record of 17.83, will do his best to start the outdoor season with a bang and improve the world-leading 17.67 (windy) – America’s Kenta Bell with 17.63m has the longest legal jump - established by Jonathan Edwards in Milan last Wednesday.
Hammer throwers have been giving battle well over 80 metres this year, and seasonal leader Aleksey Zagornyi (RUS) plans to maintain his rank in spite of stiff competition.
In the women’s events, Pintusevich-Block looks forward to the start of her 2002 campaign on the fast Athens track. “I look forward to running under 11 seconds”, says the Ukrainian, a feat only achieved so far this season by… yes, Marion Jones.
Slovenian sensation Jolanda Ceplak, who improved the indoor world record when winning the 800m European title over home favourite Stephanie Graf in Vienna, already ran a scorching 1:57.63 in the European Club Cup in Lisbon at the end of May. Ceplak will be especially motivated tomorrow night, as she competes for the colours of the organising club, Panellinios, as does Olympic Champion discus thrower Ellina Zvereva.
Another throwing event offers one of the best hopes for Greece, as Olympic silver and 1999 gold medallist Mirela Manjani hopes to successfully defy Cuban star Osleidys Menendez, who makes her Grand Prix debut but already threw over 67 metres at the start of the season in Cuba.