The French capital is no stranger to international gatherings of the highest level. The next will take place on Friday at the Meeting AREVA, the fourth fixture of the ÅF Golden League 2009, when the women's world high jumping elite gather for a summit meeting of their own at the Stade de France.
It's difficult to imagine that there has been a greater roar from a crowd this season than the one which shook the legendary foundation of Berlin's Olympic Stadium at the ÅF Golden League opener last month when Ariane Friedrich sailed over 2.06m with her first attempt, to break Heike Henkel's 18-year-old German national record. The 24-year-old not only continued with two solid attempts at World record-equalling 2.09m, but beat rival and pre-meet favourite Blanka Vlasic in their first head-to-head outdoors. The Croatian, with a 2.03m clearance, was forced to settle for second. Face off No. 2 will take place in the Stade de France on Friday.
(NB: updated 15-July, 15:50 CET -- organisers have announced that Ariane Friedrich has withdrawn from the competition, citing 'tiredness after the World University Games.')
The German will arrive in the French capital undefeated in seven competitions outdoors this season, five of those with leaps of two metres or better, and remains one of the strongest home team hopes for gold when she returns to Berlin for the World championships in just over one month’s time.
After a 2.04m jump and victory at the European Team Championships second division in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, Vlasic went on to win in Oslo the weekend before last but in Rome this past Friday suffered another upset defeat at the hands of another home field favourite. In what she described as a “dream come true”, Italy’s Antonietta Di Martino won the competition with a two metre leap, her second of the season, and her third victory in four outings. Vlasic was second at 1.97m, marking the first time she failed to clear two metres outdoors since a rain swept meeting at home in Zagreb on 4 July 2007.
Vlasic is of course the reigning World champion and Olympic silver medallist, and remains, all things considered, arguably the world’s finest jumper. The Croatian has won six of her eight competitions outdoors, cleared two metres or better seven times already this season, topped by her 2.05m season opener in Doha in early May. A fierce competitor, she’ll be eager to bounce back in Paris where she set the meet record of 2.02m in 2007.
Also in the strong field is the season's other two metre jumper, Ruth Beitia. The Spaniard, who finished second behind Friedrich at the European indoor championships in March, was also second to the German at the European Team Championships in Leiria, where she bested Di Martino.
Others to watch include Marina Aitova of Kazahkstan, who took sole possession of the Asian record in Athens on Monday with a 1.99m leap, and American champion Chaunte Howard, the 2005 World silver medallist, who has cleared 1.98m this season, and finished second in Oslo and third in Rome.
Although she’s competed only once this season, Russian Anna Chicherova, who shared the World silver with Di Martino behind Vlasic in Osaka two years ago and struck Olympic bronze in Beijing, cannot be discounted.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF