Oslo’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games is an IAAF Diamond League meeting that is steeped in tradition – one of which is the annual Strawberry Party held two days before the competition.
To mark the fact that the 2013 IAAF World Championships are being held in Moscow, this year’s Strawberry Party was staged at the Russian Embassy in Norway on Tuesday (11).
After the festivities, a handful of the meeting’s top stars – including, of course, Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt – spoke to the press about their expectations for Oslo and the summer ahead.
The multiple World record-holder is out for redemption in Oslo, having suffered a rare defeat last week at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome, where Justin Gatlin finished 0.01 ahead of him in the 100m.
However, Bolt is confident that the same won’t happen again in Oslo.
“I watched the Rome race back once, and I’ve spoken to my coach after he analysed it,” said Bolt. “He said my start was good and I was over-striding a bit, that's all he has said for now, but I know when I go back home we’ll sit and talk some more about it.”
When asked if his loss in Rome could signify that he’ll be beatable at the World Championships in Moscow, Bolt shrugged off the suggestion.
“I’d like to point something out. In 2008, I lost one race, then won the Olympics. 2010 was an off-year for me and I said that if anyone was going to beat me, it would be that season; Tyson Gay beat me. Last year [Yohan] Blake beat me at the national trials, but I won at the Olympics again. So it doesn't mean much to lose a race during the season, I always focus on the championships. My eyes are always on the prize and for me this year that’s the 100m and 200m in Moscow.
“When my coach is not worried, then I'm not worried. At the moment my coach is not worried, so I'm confident that I'll be up to standard to win in Moscow. I'll be ready to go.
"A lot of athletes have shown up this season and are ready to go. Tyson has the world lead, Gatlin is running good, Lemaitre then beat Gatlin, Blake is coming back. So there will be a lot of good competition throughout the year.
“For me this season started off pretty good, but then I picked up a slight hamstring problem, which I’ve had to work through. Now it’s all about getting into races to getting back into top shape. My training will determine if I can get back to where I need to be to break a World record. It’s too early to say if I’m on course to do that; I’ll know more after I’ve done a few more races.
“I trained today and I feel really well, my legs felt great and I’m really happy. I’m getting better, I just need more races under my belt,” added Bolt, whose next race after Oslo will be the Jamaican trials.
As for his race on Thursday night, Bolt feels ready to run fast. He wasn’t aware that he doesn’t own the Norwegian all-comers’ record – which currently belongs to Namibia's Frankie Fredericks with 19.82 – but Bolt didn’t rule out breaking it.
“I think I’m in shape to run sub-20. It’s all about execution and getting it right. I don’t mind if it rains, that doesn’t bother me; a bit of rain can make a track faster. It's when it’s cold that it's a problem, so hopefully it will be warm.”
One of Bolt’s main rivals in Thursday’s race will be Norwegian record-holder Jaysuma Saidy Ndure, who will be hoping to improve on his modest season’s best of 20.51 he clocked at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene 10 days ago.
“It's a home meeting, so I have to at least try to run as fast as I can,” he said. “Bolt is very fast over 200m, but I always try to beat him so we’ll see. This is my World Championships.
“I always look forward to running against Usain. I know he can push me to running a season’s best and if I can dip under 20 seconds I’ll be happy.
“I will be doubling up at the World Championships,” added Ndure. “There are three or four days between the events, so I’ll use the 100m to warm up for the 200m.”
While Bolt and Ndure’s race will be one of the highlights on the track on Thursday night, the biggest clash on the in-field is set to come in the women’s High Jump where Russia's World and Olympic champion Anna Chicherova will face Croatia's returning two-time World champion Blanka Vlasic and Norway’s 2012 European silver medallist Tonje Angelsen.
Last month Vlasic surprised herself in her first competition for nearly two years, winning in New York with a meeting record of 1.94m. She improved that season’s best to 1.95m in Rome last week, where Chicherova shared the victory with compatriot Svetlana Shkolina.
“My heel is getting better. It’s still not perfect but hopefully throughout the season it will heal completely. This is still my comeback period and I still get very emotional before every competition, although it's a bit easier now than before New York where I was so nervous.
“When I started to compete again, I realised how much I missed jumping at bigger heights. During my technical training, I'd be very tired so I'd do 20-25 jumps per session and I didn't focus on heights. Now, I have to get a feeling for the bigger jumps because I've not done them for eight months.
“I'm not stressed at all, I know it takes time and I'm enjoying being here. I want to appreciate this moment. I'm still very excited and motivated, it’s like being at the beginning of my career again.”
Chicherova, who returned from a pregnancy break in 2011 to win World gold, is also feeling renewed motivation ahead of her title defence on home soil later this summer.
“Having the World Championships in Moscow has given me extra motivation to keep jumping. It’s something to inspire me to beat my personal best.
“Being a mother has also given me added emotion and inspiration. It's changed my outlook completely and I now see everything with more colour; that's why I have been jumping so well since returning from my pregnancy. Maybe I'll take my daughter with me to Brussels. And of course the World Championships!
“Oslo is a good opportunity to be with the best high jumpers in the world. I try my best to compete with them every time. The best training is competition – just like in Rome. That competition took a lot of strength, but if the weather is okay on Thursday then hopefully I’ll achieve the 40th two-metre competition of my career.”
Like Vlasic, Angelsen is also returning from injury, and Oslo will be her first competition of 2013.
“My goal for Thursday is to have fun and maybe jump over 1.90m,” said Angelsen, who improved to 1.97m last year. “I'm not at 100 per cent fitness yet, but I'll get there.
“I have always looked up to Blanka and Anna,” she added. “I’d like to eventually jump over two metres as many times as Blanka, but for now my main aim is to get more consistent.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF