Asafa Powell secures his Daegu ticket in Kingston, taking the national 100m title over Yohan Blake and Steve Mullings (Anthony Foster) © Copyright
Preview 9 July 2011 – Birmingham, UK

Birmingham’s ‘mini-Olympics’ makes first Samsung Diamond League outing – PREVIEW

Birmingham, UKWhile the claim made by Britain’s European 400m Hurdles champion David Greene that tomorrow’s  Samsung Diamond League meeting in Birmingham is “sort of a mini-Olympics” may seem a little enthusiastic, that description works in a range of the events that will take place in the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix (10).

Birmingham is the newest city to join the 14 strong global series, replacing fellow British city Newcastle who hosted the equivalent leg in last year’s inaugural tour.

A 100 metres field which includes nine athletes who have sub 10-second career times will run heats before a final that is likely to see Asafa Powell re-stating his impressive form as the IAAF World Championships loom ahead in Daegu, Korea (27 Aug to 4 Sep).

The Jamaican has established himself at the top of this year’s 100m season lists with his time of 10.78sec at last week’s Lausanne Samsung Diamond League meeting, and he has already demonstrated that running in Britain can be synonymous with running extremely fast, having equalled his then World record of 9.77sec on a sunny day in Gateshead five years ago.

With his compatriot Usain Bolt switching between the 100 and 200 metres, Powell leads the 100m Diamond Race standings in the short sprint and he will be keen to extend that lead.

But he acknowledges that he cannot take anything for granted – particularly when it comes to his fellow countrymen. “I’m biased,” he said. “But the Jamaicans are the people to beat. Michael Frater is running very well and Nesta Carter is in good form. Anyone can be beaten.”

Both those local rivals will be in the field. Frater has already lowered his personal best to 9.88sec this season, while the 25-year-old Carter, whose best of 9.78sec run in Rieti last year enabled him to join Tyson Gay at the top of the world list, Powell’s closest rivals apart from his fellow countrymen are likely to be Norway’s Jaysuma Ndure Saidy, who lowered his national record to 9.99sec this season, and Trinidad’s Olympic silver medallist Richard Thompson.

Naturally there will be a contingent of British sprinters involved, including 22-year-old former World junior champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, Commonwealth silver medallist Mark Lewis-Francis and former Olympic relay gold medallist Marlon Devonish, still going well at the age of 35.

Devonish is not quite the oldest competitor in the event, however - Kim Collins, the 2003 World champion from St Kitts and Nevis, who is two months Devonish’s senior and has a best of 10.05sec this year.

Tamgho to Tango with Idowu

The men’s Triple Jump will see another meeting of the two finest exponents of the event in the world – Britain’s World and Olympic champion Phillips Idowu, and France’s extravagantly talented Teddy Tamgho, who headed last year’s world lists with 17.98m and is top of this season too after the 17.91 he produced in last week’s Lausanne meeting to better his big rival, who has a best of 17.59 from his win in Rome’s Samsung Diamond League meet.

If either of these two should falter, however, high class talents such as Alexis Copello of Cuba, who has a best of 17.65, will be ready to take advantage.

All about Daegu for Mo

Mo Farah, the European 5000 and 10,000m champion whose career has shifted to an even higher level since he began training in Portland, Oregon with the three-times New York marathon winner Alberto Salazar, will be using the 5000 here to measure his World Championship aspirations against a field which, in his own phrase, is full of guys he will have to be racing against in Daegu.

The presence in the field of runners such as Ethiopians Imane Merga, Diamond Race winner of the 5000 metres last season and leader this year, and Yenew Alamirew, the 21-year-old who has a best of 13:02.71 this season, offers no reason for trepidation as far as the 28-year-old Briton is concerned – only a challenge.

Having lowered his 5000m best to 12:57.94 last season, Farah has confirmed his presence in the world’s elite by beating Merga over 10,000m in Eugene in a time of 26:46.57, which currently leads the world this year.

Although he isn’t focusing his attention on it, Farah is certainly not ruling out the possibility of improving his British record.

“It’s a home crowd, and I think there’s going to be a pacemaker… if it’s fast enough and it’s there, well see what’s there. I will go there and be racing against these guys as I will be racing against them at the worlds. But this year is all about Daegu for me.”

Richards – “more patient and more humble”

The women’s 400 metres will provide the reigning World champion Sanya Richards-Ross with another opportunity to measure the progress of her recovery this season after having 2010 wiped out by injuries as she faces the Diamond Race event leader Amantle Montsho of Botswana, who beat her by just 0.38sec in winning the last 400m in Lausanne, finishing in 50.61.

While Richards-Ross’s picture has adorned the Samsung Diamond League website for the past year, this was her first experience of the actual competition, and she is eager to maintain her upward mobility with another good run in the stadium where the United States team will be based for their pre-Olympic training camp in 2012.

“I do feel I’m getting my momentum back, but it’s just been a bit tougher than I realised,” she said with a laugh. “I thought I’d be able to run 50s again easily and then get back to 49s. But I’m learning to be even more patient and more humble. I really hope to be back to at my best before World Championships.”

The American athlete maintains, however, that she feels less pressure going into Daegu than she did before the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, following what she described as her “failures” in previous years – she had finished fifth in the 2007 World Championships and, as favourite, had only taken bronze at the 2008 Olympics.

Following Bolt’s fun attitude

“I do feel less pressure this year because I won the World title,” she said. “In the past I felt like pressure was building and building because I failed. In sport, success is a gold medal, and anything else is kind of a failure.”

She revealed that Usain Bolt played a big part in helping her to alter her approach in the months before she won her gold as she had started to watch recordings of his relaxed attitude to his running. “I realised he was having so much fun while competing,” she said. “I had gotten so intense in my desire to be a champion and it wasn’t helping me. So I think seeing how Usain did things was a big component of my success in 2009.”

While acknowledging Montsho’s progress this year, the American added that she didn’t feel there was any runner who was a “clear cut” dominant force in the event, as there had been in previous years. “That may be part of reason why Allyson (Felix) is going for a 200/400 double in Daegu, because it is wide open. I hope to change that soon.”

The 400m will not be a two-horse race, however, given the presence of Richards-Ross’s US colleagues Debbie Dunn, who has run 50.70 this season, and the fast-rising 22-year-old Francena McCorory, who ran 50.49 in Eugene. There will also be strong Jamaican opposition in the form of Rosemarie Whyte, who has a 50.40 to her credit this year, and Novlene Williams-Mills, whose 50.05 at the national championships in Kingston is the second best time recorded this year behind Felix’s 49.81.

Pearson vs Wells

Another highly competitive meeting is scheduled in the 100m Hurdles, where Australia’s Commonwealth champion Sally Pearson, the 12.47 (w) winner in Lausanne Samsung Diamond League takes on USA champion Kellie Wells who leads the world lists this year with 12.50sec.

Wells’ US colleagues Danielle Carruthers, second to her in the US Trials in 12.59, and to Pearson in Lausanne, and Ginnie Crawford has a best of 12.45 and has recorded 12.73 this year, the Jamaican pair of Vonette Dixon and Delloreen Ennis-London, who has a best of 12.50, could also figure importantly.

Meanwhile home supporters will be hoping for a good performance from their naturalised American, Tiffany Ofili-Porter, who has run 12.77 this year.

Greene looks to ‘get it right’

Dai Greene will be up against the double World 400m Hurdles champion Bershawn Jackson, who is making his first competitive appearance since the US trials, and the Dominican Republic’s 33-year-old former World and Olympic champion Felix Sanchez.

The Welshman has two records in his sights, meanwhile – the Alexander stadium record of 48.21sec, set by the former World and Olympic champion and World record holder Ed Moses, and the 21-year-old British record of 47.82sec set by Kriss Akabusi.

Greene has already managed 48.24sec this season, and with a personal best of 47.88 he knows the latter mark is in sight.

“I’m going to need some good weather, so fingers crossed as it hasn’t been too good all week. But if we have some favourable conditions, then the quality of the field is there...and if I get it right I’ll be British record holder. But I just want to win the race first.”

Jeter heads a high quality 200

Carmelita Jeter has never been in better shape over 200 metres, having run a personal best of 22.23sec this season which leaves her second in the world lists for the year. But the American will have her work cut out against opponents of the calibre of Jamaica’s world and Olympic silver medallist Kerron Stewart, who has a personal best of 21.99, and the hugely experienced Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie of the Bahamas, who has run 22.76 this season, not to mention her US team mate Marshavet Myers, who ran a personal best of 22.34 earlier this year. Ivet Lalova of Bulgaria will also be in the reckoning, having achieved 22.56 this season.

Cantwell can count on Canadian challenge

The men’s Shot Put offers another rivalry which could be of growing importance as World champion Christian Cantwell, meets the rising challenge of Canada’s Dylan Armstrong who in the Samsung Diamond League and World Challenge circuit has a 3 to 1 advantage over their 4 meetings in 2011. The Canadian has a personal best of 22.21m – which leads this year’s lists - as against Cantwell’s 2011 best of 21.87.

The field is deep, however, with Cantwell’s US colleagues Adam Nelson, the 36-year-old who has thrown 22.09 this year, and former World champion Reese Hoffa in contention along with Poland’s Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski.

Australia’s World Discus Throw champion Dani Samuels, who has only thrown 62.20m this season, is capable of adding at least three metres to that. She will need to improve to meet the challenge of Nadine Muller, the German who is the third best in this year’s world lists with 66.05. Stephanie Brown-Trafton of the United States, who has thrown 64.13 this season, could also figure strongly.

Brittney Reese will fancy her chances of victory in the women’s Long Jump having reached 7.19m to head this year’s World season’s lists as the only one over 7 metres. But the American will be wary of the talent of Portugal’s Naide Gomes, who has a best of 7.12 although she has only done 6.74 this season. Reese’s US colleague Janay Deloach is second in the standings with 6.97, and another of her American opponents, Funmi Jimoh, has 6.88 this year.

In the Pole Vault, Holly Bleasdale’s achievement earlier this month in setting a British record of 4.70m has put her in the picture as far as the World Championships are concerned. The 19-year-old Briton from Blackburn will have a chance to compete in the kind of company she will find in Daegu as the field includes Russia’s former World champion Svetlana Feofanova, who also has a best of 4.70 this year, Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg, who jointly heads this year’s world lists with 4.75, and Brazil’s Fabiana Murer, winner of last year’s Diamond Race.

Vlasic to bounce back?

World Athlete of the Year Blanka Vlasic, who will be seeking a third High Jump World title this year, is the only woman to have cleared 2.00 metres this year – she did it exactly – and despite her losses in New York and Lausanne will expect to maintain her dominance against a field which includes three other jumpers who have cleared that height in previous seasons – Russians Anna Chicherova and Irina Gordeyeva, and Sweden’s Emma Green.

Ethiopian hopes for steeplechase and 1500m success

The women’s 3000m Steeplechase looks as if it may well have an Ethiopian winner, and it could well be 22-year-old Sofia Assefa. Her 9:15.04 in finishing behind Kenya’s Milcah Chemos Cheywah in the Rome Samsung Diamond League meeting puts her at second place in the 2011 world season list.

But Assefa’s colleagues Almaz Ayana, who has run 9.41.86 this year, and Mekdes Bekele, who has a 2011 best of 9:45.91 will have their own ideas about that in a race that also includes 1991 World 10,000m champion Liz McColgan’s daughter Eilish, who has run 9:55.13 this year. Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi, with a 9.20.33 timing this season, will be a lurking danger.

Ethiopia also look capable of taking the women’s 1500m given the presence of 20-year-old Kalkidan Gezahegne, who has run 4:00.97 this season. But Bahrain’s World champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal, with a personal best of 3:56.18 and a 2011 best of 4:00.33, will be the favourite.

Britons Lisa Dobriskey, Hannah England and the 37-year-old Helen Clitheroe will be hoping to profit from the pace.

Sudan’s double World Indoor 800m champion Abubaker Kaki is going well this season as he prepares for a Daegu decider with the World record holder David Rudisha, having run 1:43.68 this year, and will be the fastest in a field which includes Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski and the British pair of Mukhtar Mohammed and Michael Rimmer.

Thorkildsen takes on the young generation

Norway’s World and Olympic Javelin Throw champion Andreas Thorkildsen is always a favourite wherever he competes, and his 88.19m this year offers compelling evidence of continuing threat. But there will be a cluster of young challengers waiting to profit from any slip in  Germany’s Matthias de Zordo, who has thrown 85.78 this year, Petr Frydrych of the Czech Republic, who has an 85.32 to his credit this season, and South Africa’s highly consistent Robert Oosthuizen, who has a 2011 best of 84.38.

Mike Rowbottom for the Samsung Diamond League