Olympic and European Pole Vault champion Renaud Lavillenie may not yet have the same extensive medal collection as the legendary Sergey Bubka, but on Thursday (4) in Lausanne at Athletissima 2013, the eighth leg of the IAAF Diamond League, the Frenchman could achieve something that even the great World record-holder did not manage.
A victory on Thursday would make Lavillenie a four-time winner in Lausanne, having notched up three consecutive wins between 2010 and 2012. But he wants to go beyond simply winning by breaking the meeting record.
“My goal for tomorrow is to break the meeting record of 5.91m,” he said. “I’ve had a good start to 2013, one of my best ever starts. I have already broken 5.90m twice, and I’ve won a few times. In terms of technique, it’s been going rather well.
“I’m stronger this year because I’ve reduced my quantity and improved the quality of my training. There’s still a little bit of fine tuning to do to ensure I make it to the World Championships in the best possible form and get that gold medal.
“This year the opposition is very strong, so I can’t relax. I have to be 100 per cent in Moscow. I don’t fear them [Bjorn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe] at all. In fact, they give me great motivation. The quality of opposition has been high for the past four years, but not as high as it is now.”
Another Athletissima defending champion is Sally Pearson. The Australian World and Olympic champion won the 100m Hurdles when it was last held here in 2011, but enters this year’s race in a different frame of mind, having had to miss a large chunk of the early season due to injury.
“I tore my hamstring twice this year, and it’s hard to come back from that,” she said. “But I’m now really fit, fast and strong. It’s just a matter of doing more races, getting faster and getting my rhythm back; that’s the most important thing.
“I may not be winning every race, but that doesn’t bother me, so long as I can keep getting better with each race. Hopefully by the World Champs I’ll be in my best shape.
“I was having a hard time through rehab and I was looking to return in Oslo. But I then had a scare in training when my hamstring tightened. It frightened me a bit, so I decided I needed to get away from it all for a few days to unwind and not think about athletics. I had a two-day break in Paris, which really helped me mentally. I came back more motivated and more excited.
“Brianna Rollins has run an amazing time, so it’s going to be very interesting when we come up against each other for the first time. It’s hard for me, because I’m not 100 per cent yet and she’s in good shape. I wish she’d have broken through last year when I was in good shape, but I’ve got to focus on my own race and ensure I’m getting the best out of myself. Hurdlers never shy away each other, she’s another athlete in the field, and I look forward to the challenge.”
One athlete who has made a successful return to the top after a long battle with injury is USA’s Tyson Gay. The 2007 triple World champion goes into Thursday’s 100m race as the world leader in both the 100m and the 200m.
“I wouldn’t say I had been expecting to run as fast as I have done at this stage, I’m just taking things slowly and hoping everything goes well,” he said. “Fortunately I’ve ran a couple of good times and I’m ranked No.1 in the world right now.
“I think my strength and confidence comes from training, knowing that I’ve put the work in. I haven’t set a PB [in the 100m or 200m] for four years, so I’m hoping I can do that this year.
“In Moscow I hope every athlete is healthy. We all know Usain performs well at major championships. I’m just hoping I’m at my best and I give it my all, whatever the outcome may be. It’s been a long time since I doubled at a major championships, so it’s good to be able to do that again.
“My plan now is to stay healthy, not only for this year but the next three years. It was very difficult mentally and physically being injured. But it’s good that it’s over and done with. No excuses, no pain, and over the mental strain of always being injured. I think I’ve got a few more years in my body because I’ve missed a lot of time being injured.”
Athough it is one of the non-Diamond League events, the 110m Hurdles on Thursday has a great field that includes three of USA’s best ever athletes in the event. Current World champion Jason Richardson is one of the favourites to win, but his main goal for the year is defending his title in Moscow.
“With having the wild card [for the World Championships], my coach and I decided that this year we'll aim to peak just once. The US team is the hardest one to make in the 110m Hurdles, so I'm glad that I made it.
“I think the selection policy is fair. The World Championships is decided by one race, so making the team should be based off one race.”
When asked about the likelihood of going under 13 seconds on Thursday, Richardson didn’t rule it out.
“For us, running sub-13 is like having a really large bouncer outside a club and he really doesn't want to let you in. I was 13th person go under 13 seconds, so I got a tattoo to reflect that – because that's what Americans do. Hopefully Ryan [Wilson] will be the next person to join the club.”
Team-mate Ryan Wilson was a surprise winner of the US title two weeks ago, and he too is hoping to soon become a member of the sub-13 club.
“It’s always exciting to compete here,” he said. “It’s an excellent field with everyone rounding into form. Lausanne is a very special place and is accustomed to fast times, so I think there’s a strong possibility that there could be a sub-13 run. You can never exactly tell, but if history has anything to do with it, then it's as good a place as any to have the first sub-13 of the year.”
In the third hurdles event of the meeting, the men’s 400m Hurdles, London 2012 Olympic Games champion Felix Sanchez knows that he is playing catch-up with the rest of the field.
“I only started training seriously in March,” said the man from Dominican Republic. “I was overweight from celebrating after winning gold last year. I also missed a lot of training from having to travel a lot.
“I had a messed-up race in Birmingham. Hopefully this competition will be better. I usually always run well in Lausanne, and I’ve only had one bad run here. I’m hoping to at least run a season’s best.
“When I first started in athletics, my goal was to win a gold medal. I did that in 2001, then again in 2003. Winning Olympic gold in 2004 was also very special. But after that, my goal was to become the first 400m hurdler to win three gold medals at the World Championships.
“When I lost my winning streak after 43 wins, I knew that I couldn’t match Ed Moses’ record, so I wanted to make my mark in the event in another way. I want to be the most decorated 400m hurdler in World Championships history.
“Very few athletes can say they’re arguably the best ever in their event. I still have a few years left to achieve more, but I’m on my way to getting there.”
Sanchez’s opponent Javier Culson, meanwhile, would be content to win his first World Championships gold medal this year, The Puerto Rican having taken silver at the past two editions.
“I have learned a lot from my experiences in recent years; how an athlete can dominate all season but not win gold at a major championship,” he said. “This year I’ve prepared differently so I can fulfil my dream of becoming a World champion.
“One thing I am pleased about is that I've always won a medal, so I've never been far away from gold.”
Kimberlyn Duncan is still a relatively new name on the circuit, but she is favourite to win the 200m on Thursday after winning the US title two weeks ago and beating 2012 Olympic champion Allyson Felix.
“I was just trying to make the team, so when I found out I’d won, I was very excited,” she said.
“I’ve been pushing harder and harder each year in training. I’m just trying to execute my race as best as possible. I’ll probably run a few 100m races before Moscow.”
US team mate Carmelita Jeter could have been expected to challenge Duncan for the victory, had it not been for the injury she picked up earlier in the season.
“Getting injured caused me to have to do more rehab and therapy, which meant my legs still felt a bit heavy in Birmingham, but we simply wanted to make sure the leg was okay,” she said. “I love running in Lausanne, and now I’m here I hope to run a lot better.
“Right now I’m excited by the depth the US has in the 100m. It’s great for our medal chances in both the individual and the relay. When we get to the World Championships, we’ll all line up and see what happens.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF