A number of World and Olympic champions, world leaders and some eagerly anticipated duels and debuts highlight Tuesday’s 54th edition of the Zagreb Grand Prix.
As another sell-out in Zagreb’s Sportpark Mladost is expected, the women’s field events, focusing specific attention on the nation’s stars, will feature the stiffest competition.
At last year's edition, Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic stole the show and captured the hearts of the capacity crowd with her first ever two-metre clearance. This year, Vlasic headlines the meeting as well, a year older, a year wiser, and, with a win over world champion Hestrie Cloete already under her belt this season, eager to claim a win on her home turf.
Both Vlasic, a two-time World Junior champion, and Cloete, a two-time World Champion, have 1.98 bests this season. In their two meetings this month, Vlasic took top honours in Ostrava, while Cloete returned the favour in Bergen. Also in the field are Vita Palamar (UKR) and Viktoria Seryogina (RUS), both members of the still-elite two-meter club.
World class Hammer Throw field
An even stronger field is on hand in the women’s hammer throw, topped by Olympic champion Kamila Skolimowska who makes another visit to Zagreb. Zhang Wenxiu (72.42) of China, one of five women who have surpassed 72 meters this season, along with compatriot Gu Yuang (71.97), the Asian champion, are also in the field, along with reigning Olympic silver medallist and European champion Olga Kuzenkova, who has six World records to her credit.
World record holder Michaela Melinte (76.07 – 1999) of Romania is also expected. 21-year-old Croatian Ivana Brkljacic, who extended her national record to 69.38 in May, wants a win on home turf, but as will be case for Vlasic, it will be a hard-earned one.
Pittman back on track
Hoping to make amends after a false start snafu threw her off stride in her seasonal debut in Lille on Saturday, World 400m Hurdles champion Jana Pittman is a late entry. In self-professed “phenomenal shape,” the young Australian comes to the Croatian capital eager to make her mark and set the tone for her Olympic campaign. Russian Yekaterina Bikkert (54.39 in Tula this month) should pose the strongest challenge.
A strong women’s 1500 is on tap, with Russian duo Yelena Zadorozhnaya and Olga Yegorova, this season's second and third fastest, leading the field. Zadorozhnaya ran to a strong 4:02.15 win at the Prefontaine Classic on June 19, while Yegovora, who won Saturday's race in Lille in 4:02.93, is undefeated in three starts this month.
In Rethymno last week, their most recent head-to-head, Yegorova, the 2001 5000m World champion, won with room to spare. Yuliya Kosenkova, third in the tactical European Cup Super League race last week, may provide a surprise for her compatriots. With time quickly running out and several women still seeking the 4:05.80 Olympic ‘A’ standard, a fast race is expected.
With a slew of runners exhibiting 3:36-3:38 condition thus far this season, the men’s race features a chase for Olympic qualifying times as well.
Suetsugu to run short sprint race
The men’s short dash features Ghanaian Aziz Zakari and Japan’s Shingo Suetsugo, who finished second and fourth respectively in Gateshead on Sunday. Just how popular is the 2003 World Championships 200m bronze medallist in Japan? An army of more than 30 journalists, representing two television networks, several agencies and daily newspapers, will make the trip to Zagreb. World Indoor short sprint champion Jason Gardener and fellow countryman Darren Campbell are also in the field, with the latter entered in the half lap as well.
The women’s sprints feature wide-open fields. Cydonie Mothersill arrives in the Croatian capital hot off her win in Sunday’s 200m in Gateshead, and is slated to contest the half lap here as well. Briton Joyce Maduaka, second to the Cayman Islander on Sunday, is entered in both dashes here.
Honouring Croatian hurdling great Boris Hanžekovic, a strong men’s high hurdles competition has become a perennial tradition in Zagreb, and that trend will continue on Tuesday.
Ziang Liu of China, who sped to an Asian record and world-leading 13.06 in Osaka early last month, lands in Central Europe as a prohibitive favourite. With starts in Rome on Friday and Padova on Sunday, the 20-year-old prodigy, who four-time World Champion Allen Johnson has described as one of the finest ever, is looking to get his busy week off on a solid note.
Stanislavs Olijars (13.34 in Kassel in early June) of Latvia will make his eagerly awaited Grand Prix debut, while Americans Duane Ross and Chris Phillips will represent the deep stable of American talent. Brazilian Redelen dos Santos, who lowered the South American record to 13.29 in Lisboa two weeks ago, cannot be overlooked.
In the women’s race, Ukraine's Olena Krasovska, the Bydgoszcz winner in 12.78, leads the field. Russian Maria Koroteyeva has also gone under 13 seconds this season.
The men’s long jump features Euro Cup First League winner Nikolai Atanasov (8.14) of Bulgaria, along with Kareem Streete-Thompson of the Cayman Islands, and Bahamian Osbourne Moxey, who has also spanned eight meters this season. On the women’s side, Olga Rublyova, who spanned 6.88 in Rethymno, has the strongest momentum coming in, but Bulgarian Antoniya Yordanova is close behind after her personal best 6.78 win at home at the European Cup First League championship.
For the sixth straight year, the meeting will be broadcast live on Eurosport, beginning at 19:00 CET. Pleasant temperatures are in the forecast, as are brief afternoon showers.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF