Eskilstuna, SwedenBelonging to the exclusive group of cities that have seen IAAF World records both outdoors and indoors is the main claim to athletics fame for Eskilstuna, the host city of the 2007 Swedish national championships this past weekend (11-12), a competition that also doubled up as the "wave-off" of the Swedish World Championships team that will leave for Japan on Tuesday.
So it was inevitable that the media focus was mainly on the form demonstrated by the athletes viewed as medal contenders and on which athletes might take this very last opportunity to convince national team manager Thomas Engdahl to add their names to the Osaka roster.
Of the top athletes all but Christian Olsson and Kajsa Bergqvist competed. Olsson is nursing a tender hamstring and was cautious while Bergqvist felt that a couple of extra days of training was the best way to find the right "springiness" in her legs for the World Championships.
A couple of the stars also chose to tackle other events than what will be their task in Osaka:
Steeplechaser Mustafa Mohamed opted for the 5000m where he jogged along in the middle of the pack for the first three kilometres before taking the lead and gradually increasing the pace to conclude by sprinting the last lap in 58.6 to win comfortably by 8.5 seconds in 14:09.99.
400m runner Johan Wissman returned to his pre-2007 specialty the 200m and once more confirmed that he is a better 200m runner now despite the different focus in training. With his usual slow start he was buried in the field halfway through the turn before reaching his top gear. In the lead already when coming into the final straight he displayed his characteristic seemingly effortless flow to win - going away - by a whopping 0.82.
The winning time 20.73 should be assessed taking a very strong headwind (-2.4 mps!) into account. The other runners on average ran about half a second slower than their bests of the year - which confirms the impression that Wissman is capable of lowering his NR 20.38 from 2006 by a considerable margin if he just gets into a race with good weather (slight following wind) and tough competition.
Kallur 12.90 in a downpour
The strong headwind in the finishing straight significantly lowered the nominal results in all running events, especially the sprints. For the final of the women's 100m Hurdles a sudden intense downburst of pouring rain was added to the results-unfriendly weather. But that didn't dampen the spirits of Susanna Kallur who followed her win over Michelle Perry at the DN Galan on Tuesday by another absolutely stunning display of super crisp hurdling.
This at first glance "mediocre" 12.90 could very well have been Kallur's best race ever. She won by 0.67 over twin sister Jenny and by 0.76 over Carolina Klüft. To get an idea about the inclement weather they faced now it should be noted that both Kallur and Klüft two weeks ago in OK weather ran 0.43 and 0.48 faster than today.
Four impressive performances by Klüft
Furthermore it should be noted that Klüft demonstrated brilliant physical form during this weekend by setting new yearly best marks in the other three events she contested: In the High Jump she cleared 1.92 matching the winning mark of Helsinki bronze medallist Emma Green; in the Shot Put she was consistent at 14+ with 14.45 on top; and in the Javelin Throw she reached 44.79 despite obvious technical problems.
To understand the intrinsic value of these marks one could make a comparison four years back. In 2003 heading into the Paris World Championships where Klüft won with 7001 points, she at the Swedish Championships did 1.84 in the High Jump, 13.66 in the Shot Put and 13.43 in the hurdles (no rain, no headwind). So, no wonder Klüft was very satisfied with her weekend now even though she only won a silver (High Jump) and a bronze (hurdles).
For Holm, 111th meet at 2.30 or better
The High Jump match-up between Stefan Holm and Linus Thörnblad was not as spectacular as last winter (when both cleared 2.38) but it still provided very encouraging jumping for both. Holm had his first miss at 2.31 which he then cleared by a huge margin on his second attempt. With strong winds and dark clouds suddenly appearing Holm then went straight for 2.37 but the bad weather still was even quicker to get into action. However, the jumping was technically good and Holm could register his 111th 2.30+ meet.
Thörnblad has not cleared 2.30 so far this summer after missing most spring training to a month of persistant fever. But Thörnblad is definitely on his way up now and followed his 2.27 and close attempts at 2.30 on Tuesday at DN Galan his confidence was boosted further now with 2.29 and good attempts at 2.31 on Sunday.
As for the throwing events the ever-consistent Anna Söderberg chalked up her 15th straight discus title with a 58.95 effort thrown with a non-conducive strong following wind. Her shot put colleague Helena Engman threatened her NR of 17.72 when hitting 17.54. Both are going to Osaka while javelin thrower Annika Petersson, despite raising her own NR from 2000 by 61cm to 57.31 has to remain at home after missing the B-standard of 59.00m.
In the men's Javelin Throw, however, Sweden will be represented not only by Magnus Arvidsson – who added another 84+ meet to his seasonal record by hitting 84.68 – but also by Gabriel Wallin who got the nod over Jonas Lohse and Daniel Ragnvaldsson. All three of them have surpassed the B-standard 77.80 and this time both Wallin and Lohse threw 77.99 with Lohse getting the championship silver but - as said - Wallin the Osaka-ticket.
With 17.10 A standard, Andersson to join Olsson in Osaka
The final list of the Swedish World Championships team contains a total of 32 athletes. The very last addition came at the very last moment when triple jumper Anton Andersson – who didn't even have the B-standard 16.70 previously (16.40 legal, 16.77 wind-aided) – but who finally got it all together technique-wise. With a +1.7 mps wind at his back Andersson bounded to 17.10 to hit the A-standard!
Andersson, who just like Olsson, Green and Bergqvist is coached by Yannick Tregaro, has since his junior days been regarded as having great potential. But a series of injuries had got him seemingly stuck as a sparingly competing 16.30-16.50 jumper. But now at age 26, everything finally seems to be OK physically. The 17.10 came in round three after improving his PB to 16.67 in the previous round. Andersson took two more jumps, but it was obvious that the understandable elation after the big jump remained too strong to be able put together another 17+ jump.
So despite somewhat capricious weather the 2007 National Championships in Eskilstuna turned out very positively as the final tune-up competition before Osaka for the top Swedish athletes. Actually the only disappointment in that context was that 2006 World Indoor silver medallist Alhaji Jeng missed three times at his opening height of 5.49 in the men's Pole Vault. But that was quickly forgotten after witnessing Holm, Kallur, Wissman, Arvidsson, Mohamed et al in brilliant action!
A. Lennart Julin for the IAAF
NB: The Eskilstuna World Records referred to above were George Rhoden 45.8 at 400m and Jim Fuchs 17.95 in the SP outdoors in 1950 and Vala Flosadottir 4.44 in the PV indoors in 1998.