The men'' s 400 metres Hurdles was, as expected, the highlight at the annual Botnia Games indoor meeting which took place last night in the vast Botnia Hall in Mustasaari - near the city of Vaasa - which contains one of the world’s few indoor 400m tracks.
South Africa´s Llewellyn Herbert used all his early season strength on the Mondo track to blast out an unofficial World all-time best time of 49.90 for this rarely contested indoor event. His young compatriot Wouter le Roux was timed 50.41 and Finland´s Jussi Heikkilä 50.59 - the fastest European time ever. The previous world best of 50.86 had been run by another Finn Janne Mäkelä on the same track on February 2003.
Next stop Tampere
Herbert, 27, since his World Championships silver medal in 1997 and his Olympic bronze in 2000 has had a bad run of luck in major international competition, but he has no plans to give up. His next challenge will be in another Finnish city, Tampere on Saturday 12 February, when in another huge indoor arena the South African will try the 300m Hurdles.
“I hit the 6th hurdle badly, and so running in the home straight was very painful, but I believe, that this indicates a good 300m Hurdles in Tampere," said an exhausted Herbert last night.
He holds the World 300m Hurdles indoor all-time best at 34.92 from when competing in Tampere’s Pirkkahall in 1999. Le Roux, who ran 49.25 last week outdoors in South Africa, will also continue his short Finnish tour in Tampere.
“This is a very good hall (Botnia) and a good, long track, but the climate difference between Africa and Finland caused me problems. I felt like I was getting no oxygen during the race, said 19-year-old le Roux (World Junior 6th in 2004).
Tampere will also see the visit of a third South-African sprinter. 60m dash man Morne Nagel clocked 6.60 in Vaasa to beat Nigeria´s Nnamdi Anusim by 0.07 seconds. Anusim lives in Finland and is trying to obtain Finnish citizenship at present.
“I feel really fast now - perhaps faster than ever during the last three years and hope to get invited to the Birmingham Indoor meeting. In Tampere I’ll run both 60 and 100 metres,“ confirmed Nagel.
Other news from Vaasa…
Tommi Hartonen, 2001 World Championships semi-finalist and the Finnish outdoors record holder for 100 and 200 metres, set a national indoor record (oversized tracks) of 21.03 when winning the 200 metres last night.
Robert Kronberg of Sweden, the former World and Olympic finalist at 110m Hurdles won the men’s 60m High Hurdles in 7.65.
On the infield, Mika Vasara the latest emerging Finnish shot putting talent, who was World Junior bronze medallist in 2002, set his new personal best of 19.58m to win.
Nelson, Mulaudzi and Freitag in Tampere
Finnish shot putters will face the strongest possible opposition in Tampere on Saturday, as Adam Nelson of the USA, the double Olympic silver medallist tries to improve his own indoor season leading mark of 21.66 (28 January). Unfortunately, Arsi Harju of Finland, the 2000 Olympic Champion will not compete this indoor season due to an injury. Of the other top Finnish putters, there is mixed news concerning two former World Championship finalists, Ville Tiisanoja will compete in the Finnish Championships in Turku on 19 February but Tepa Reinikainen misses the entire indoor season after his knee operation last September.
South Africa's Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, the Olympic 800 metres silver medallist, and World High Jump champion Jacques Freitag will be two of the other star athletes on show on Saturday.
Antti-Pekka Sonninen for the IAAF