Blanka Vlasic qualifies for the Olympic high jump final (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Beijing

Beijing 2008 - Day 9 PREVIEW

On this final day of athletics competition – except for Sunday morning’s men’s Marathon – there are seven events – and every event is a final.

Vlasic in the spotlight

The evening session will start with two field events – the women’s High Jump, and the men’s Javelin Throw. Blanka Vlasic of Croatia was a 20-year-old when she finished 11th in the 2004 Olympic High Jump in Athens, but by 2007 she was Number One in the world, winning 16 of 17 competitions and winning the World Championships. This year she has won 12 in a row, and looks, well, unbeatable. Her year’s best is 2.06m compared to the 2.03m of Ariane Friedrich of Germany and Russians Anna Chicherova, second in Osaka and Yelena Slesarenko, the 2004 Olympic champion. Others to look for include Antonietta di Martin (ITA), who tied with Chicherova for second in Osaka, and Chaunte Howard (USA), second in the 2005 Worlds and back in action after taking a year off to have a baby. But they’re all chasing Vlasic, who has been hinting that she’d like to win here with a new world record.

Thorkildsen ready to defend Javelin crown

The men’s javelin has 2004 Olympic gold and silver medalists Andreas Thorkildsen (NOR) and Vadims Vasilevskis (LAT) back for another shot; at last year’s world championships they finished 2-4 behind Finland’s Tero Pitkamaki. This year Thorkildsen and Pitkamaki have been trading long throws and victories on the Grand Prix circuit, with season’s bests only 3 cm apart (Thorkildsen 87.73 to Pitkamaki’s 87.70). Two others these top three must watch are Australia’s year-leader Jarrod Bannister (89.02 in February) and Tero Jarvenpaa of Finland (86.68).

Men’s 800 title up for grabs

On the track, the men’s 800 metres final – after two brutal rounds of qualifying races which eliminated five of the top ten 800 men entered here, including world leader Abubaker Kaki of Sudan and 2004 gold medalist Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia – has brought together eight hardened survivors. This race is impossible to forecast, except to surmise that the final 150 metres will probably see several lead changes. If you were to make a form chart, you’d start with the fact that in last year’s World Championships, Kenya’s Alfred Kirwa Yego and Wilfred Bungei finished 1-5, and Gary Reed of Canada took the silver medal, and that the entrants with the fastest times this year are Yusuf Saad Kamel, at 1:42.79, and Yeimer Lopez of Cuba, at 1:43.07.

Bekele chasing elusive double

In the men’s 5,000 – to many the centerpiece of Olympic athletics – World record holder Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia will try to repeat his 10,000-metres victory of eight days ago, and current World champion Bernard Lagat will try to repeat his 5,000-metres victory of a year ago. After the slow pace in Osaka last year helped set up Lagat’s finishing sprint, the race is expected to be very fast: eight of the entrants have PBs faster than Lagat’s 12:59.22, led by Bekele’s 12:37.35 and Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge’s 12:46.53 (he was second to Lagat in Osaka). Others in the field include Bekele’s younger brother Tariku (12.52.45), Moses Kipsiro of Uganda (12:50.72), and Matt Tegenkamp of the U.S., whose PB is only 13:04.90 but was an impressive heat winner on Wednesday.

Jamal looking to repeat Osaka triumph in 1500m

In the women’s 1500 metres, there has been an almost complete turnover from the 2004 Games. A new event leader, Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain, has pretty much taken over leadership of the event, winning the 2007 World Championships 1500 with authority and having the fastest PB among the finalists by more than three seconds. Her 3:59.99 this year is ahead of U.S. champion Shannon Rowbury, at 4:00.33, and Irina Lishchinskaya, third in the 2007 Worlds, who comes in here with 4:01.64 this year. Two others who could be in the medals are Natalia Rodriguez of Spain, who has run 3:59.51, and Russian Alma Alminova, who set a new PB this year with 4:02.02.

4x400m Relay cap the competition

The final two events on the track and field programme are the women’s and men’s 4x400 metres relays.

Ladies first: this should be a five-way battle among the United States, Russia, Jamaica, Belarus, and Nigeria.  The Russian team had an easier time winning its semi-final than the U.S foursome, which won a close one from Jamaica and Belarus. But with personnel changes (e.g, Allyson Felix will be added to the American team), injuries, et cetera, a team that competed last night may be quite different today. It should be an exciting race with plenty of lead changes.

In the men’s 4x400, with the U.S. going 1-2-3 in both the 400 metres and the 400-metre hurdles, this should be a walkover for Uncle Sam. But the Bahamas, Jamaica and Russia won’t concede without a struggle. Although one American 400 man was talking about a world record, the U.S coaches will be quite happy with the gold medal.

James Dunaway for the IAAF

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