The sixth edition of the European Athletics Festival in Bydgoszcz will be a chance for the top Polish athletes to shine in front of their home audience. The EAA permit meeting, which takes place in the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak stadium on 1 June, will also feature top-class international fields in most events. Of particular interest are the field event competitions, all featuring medallists from recent global championships.
Entire Helsinki podium to contest the Hammer
The highlight of the meet should be the men’s Hammer Throw featuring the complete set of medallists from last year’s World Championships. The home favourite Szymon Ziolkowski, former World and Olympic champion, who won the bronze in Helsinki, will attempt to spoil a possible Belarussian party. Ziolkowski has already shown good form this year, winning the European Winter Throwing Cup in Tel Aviv with a throw of 79.04.
Neither of his Belarus opponents have competed outside their home country yet this year. Ivan Tikhon, double World champion and the second furthest thrower of all time, has a modest season’s best of 76.83 so far, but will be looking to throw significantly further in Bydgoszcz. Vadim Devyatovskiy, the Helsinki silver medallist, threw 79.31 in Brest in late April and will be expected to confirm his good form.
Also in the competition will be the African record holder Chris Harmse, former World Championships medallist Ilya Konovalov, World and Olympic finalist Libor Charfreitag of Slovakia, as well as Maciej Palyszko, another Polish thrower with a PB over 80 metres (80.89 in 2003).
Rogowska vs Pyrek
Another world-class competition is expected in the women’s pole vault. The world’s number 2 and 3 last year, Anna Rogowska and Monika Pyrek, are resuming their old rivalry. Rogowska, the Olympic bronze medallist and second in this year’s World Indoor Championships, has already shown good form outdoors this season, winning in Doha with a world leading 4.63m, but will likely have to go higher to beat her domestic rival. Pyrek has not competed outdoors so far this year, but having cleared a new absolute PB of 4.76 this winter, the two-time World Championship medallist is not ready to concede Rogowska’s position as the nation’s best vaulter.
One vaulter who may be the dark horse of the competition is a third Pole, Joanna Piwowarska, who is having a breakthrough season, having already taken her PB from 4.30 to 4.53 and finished second to Rogowska in Doha. After a near miss at 4.60 in Warsaw last weekend, she will be looking for another PB. The field in Bydgoszcz will also include Floe Kuhnert of Germany, with a PB of 4.41, and another Polish vaulter Roza Kasprzak (4.40 indoors this year).
Olympic champion in the Shot
The men’s Shot put competition will star the current Olympic champion Yuri Belonog of Ukraine. The Ukrainian has so far reached 20.29 this year, but he may not have it all his own way in Bydgoszcz. One athlete looking to score the prestigious victory over Belonog will be the American Jamie Beyer, who has a best of 21.13 from last year. Another will be Poland’s best putter, Tomasz Majewski, a finalist both in Helsinki and at this year’s World Indoor Championships. Other contenders include the Finn Ville Tiisanoja and the Slovak Mikulas Konopka, both finalists at the last World Championships (8th and 11th, respectively).
A top-class field has also been assembled in the women’s 200m. The World champion from 2003 Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, will be making a comeback after a two-year drug ban. Going against her will be her compatriot Yulia Gushchina, sixth in the World Championships final last year and a member of the world record-setting 4x400 relay indoors this winter.
Also in the race will be Ionela Tirlea-Manolache. The versatile Romanian is of course best known for her exploits at 400m Hurdles, but at her best she is a formidable 200m runner, with a PB of 22.35 and a gold medal from the 1999 World Indoor Championships. And if the Romanian does not threaten the Russians, perhaps the Ukrainian Maryna Mindareva, or Laverne Jones of the Virgin Islands (both semi-finalists in Helsinki) will.
The men’s Pole Vault competition features three world-class Germans. Tim Lobinger proved he is still a force to be reckoned with, winning bronze in Moscow this winter. His compatriots in the competition will be Danny Ecker, who, like Lobinger, is a member of the exclusive 6-metre club, and Fabian Schulze, fourth at the World Indoor Championships this year. Ruslan Yeremenko of Ukraine (a 5.84 vaulter at his best) and the improving Polish vaulter Przemyslaw Czerwinski (5.70 this winter) will also hope to feature in the fight for top places.
In men’s Discus Throw, it’s a trio of Hungarians that is expected to feature prominently. The best known of these is Zoltan Kovago, the Olympic silver medallist from Athens. His countrymen Roland Varga and Gabor Mate, with PBs of respectively 67.38 and 66.99, will attempt to make it a Hungarian 1-2-3. The Polish challenge in this event will be strong, however. Piotr Malachowski, the winner of the European Winter Throwing Cup this year with a PB of 65.01, and Andrzej Krawczyk, a finalist at the last World Championships with a best of 65.56, will be aiming both at a win over the Hungarians and at breaking Dariusz Juzyszyn’s national record (65.98 from 1985).
2.30m+ battle expected
More world-class action is expected in the men’s High Jump. The young Russian Andrey Tereshin, silver medallist of this year’s World Indoor Championships, will try to maintain that form outdoors. The quality of the field, however, ensures he will not have it easy. Andrey Sokolovskiy, the unpredictable Ukrainian with a PB of 2.38, may beat anyone on a good day. Another new star, the Swede Linus Thornblad, bronze medalist from Moscow, will also be there, as will a strong group of Polish jumpers: Aleksander Walerianczyk (PB 2.36), Grzegorz Sposob (6th in the 2003 World Championships), Robert Wolski (2.30 in 2005) and Wojciech Theiner (European Junior Championships medalist from last year, who recently took his PB to 2.28).
The women’s 400m Hurdles is another event where the Poles are expected to feature prominently. At last year’s European Athletics Festival, Anna Jesien won with a national record of 54.22. She later went on to record a time of 53.96 and to finish fourth in the World Championships. This year she is back, hoping to at least match last year’s form. Her rivals include two other finalists from Helsinki: the sixth placer, Andrea Blackett of Barbados, and the Polish number two, Malgorzata Pskit, eighth in the World Championships final. Also in the race are the Russian Marina Shiyan, the World University Games champion, and another Pole, Marta Chrust-Rozej, a semi-finalist in Helsinki.
The women’s 1500m will be notable for the presence of Olga Yegorova, silver medalist in Helsinki in this event and former World champion at 5000m. Going against the Russian star will be Lidia Chojecka, who, after missing the 2005 outdoor season through injury, came back to claim the bronze at this year’s World Indoor Championships at 3000 meters, Anna Jakubczak, seventh at last year’s World Championships, and another Helsinki finalist, Irina Krakoviak of Lithuania.
National squad try-outs in 400s
The 400 meter races will feature most of the members of Poland’s strong 4x400 relay squads competing against some top-quality international opposition. In the men’s event, it’s the American Leonard Byrd versus Marcin Marciniszyn, Piotr Klimczak and the veteran Robert Mackowiak. On the women’s side, the British hurdles specialist Nicola Sanders, who ran the flat distance in 50.72 indoors this year, and the Croatian teenage sensation Danijela Grgic (51.30 at the World Youth Championships in 2005) will be on hand to test the form of Monika Bejnar, Anna Pacholak, Grazyna Prokopek and Zuzanna Radecka.
Two men with PBs below 20 seconds will appear in the men’s 200m race. One is the American Coby Miller, the other the Polish record holder Marcin Urbas. Neither is likely to come close to that barrier in Bydgoszcz, although the Pole has shown good early-season form with 20.63 in Osaka. The race looks wide open, with Brian Dzingai of Zimbabwe, Chris Lambert of Great Britain and a second Pole, Marcin Jedrusinski, all able to challenge.
Unsurprisingly, the entry list in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase is headed by three Kenyans. Richard Matelong, Julius Nyamu and Wesley Kiprotich, all with PBs below 8:10, are the class of the field. Poland’s Radoslaw Poplawski, who showed he can mix it with the Africans last year with a second place in Ostrava, is perhaps the man most likely to threaten the Kenyans.
The men’s hurdle events have good international fields as well. In the 110m Hurdles, Stanislavs Olijars of Latvia, who finished just centimetres off a medal in the last Olympic Games, will go against the American Ron Bramlett (PB 13.26) and the Russian Yevgeniy Pechonkin, a World Championship finalist from 2001. In the one-lap hurdles race, the Jamaican Commonwealth Games medallist Kemel Thompson is the clear favourite on paper. Among his rivals will be Gianni Carabelli of Italy and Yevgeniy Meleshenko of Kazakhstan, both sub-49 men, as well as Rhys Williams of Great Britain, who finished just behind the Jamaican in Melbourne last March.
Finally, the men’s 800m will feature the Kenyan 1:43 man Joseph Mutua, as well as two other runners who have run below 1:45 – his compatriot John Litei and the Latvian Dmitrijs Milkevics, who finished just outside the medals at this year’s World Indoor Championships.
Pawel Jackowski for the IAAF