Asafa Powell winning at the Crystal Palace (Getty Images) © Copyright

France’s Beijing prospects face tough test in Monaco - PREVIEW - IAAF World Athletics Tour

MonteCarloAsafa Powell and Yelena Isinbayeva are the main attractions of a deep start-list of quality at Herculis 2008, which takes place tomorrow night, Tuesday 29, in the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco.

The annual Herculis meeting, which is held in the Stade Louis II in the Fontvieille district of Monaco, a Super Grand Prix as part of the IAAF World Athletics Tour 2008, this year is also a fixture of the Lagardère Athlé Tour, which unites the best French meetings in one package. As such it is no surprise that much of the national team for the Beijing Olympic Games is competing here.

Powell in fine vein of form

Ronald Pognon, the French record holder at 100m (9.99 – 2005), who while not running at that distance at last weekend’s national championships, must have been surprised as everyone else by the breakthrough of  Martial Mbandjock who won his first 100m national title in 10.06 (wind +1.7), faces the 22-year-old newcomer in Monaco's dash.

Pognon restored some normality in the national sprint hierarchy with a fine 20.45 (+3.3m/s wind) championship victory in the 200m yesterday, with Mbandjock well defeated in fourth.

Of course the main name of the 100m line-up in Monaco is Jamaican and not French. Asafa Powell, will look to consolidate on fine Super Grand Prix wins last week in Stockholm (9.88 season’s best) and London (9.94).

In Stockholm, going sub-10 for the first time in his career was fellow Jamaican Nesta Carter, in the “B” race, and he will be joined in the Herculis’ 100m by reigning Olympic and World silver medallists Francis Obikwelu (POR) and Derrick Atkins (BAH).  Also don’t over look 2003 World champion Kim Collins of St.Kitts and Nevis (10.07 season’s best) who is rounding into good racing condition.

Robbed of Robles, Oliver is the standout name

If there is a French star you’d feel would need more racing at the moment it would be 2005 World sprint hurdles champion Ladji Doucouré but the athlete and coach (Renaud Longuèvre) are confident of their Beijing build-up and after his 13.28 (+2.6m/s) win of the national 110m Hurdles title on Saturday, Doucouré confirmed, “I currently need training as much as competing,” and so doesn’t start here. Therefore the French hope in Monaco will be Samuel Coco Viloin who also goes to Beijing thanks to his 13.46 time earlier this season.

The international duel we all wished to see in Monaco between Cuban Dayron Robles and USA’s David Oliver has been robbed from us, as it was in London at the weekend by the vagaries of Europe’s immigration system as Robles’ European visa has expired.  It’s a shame because the Cuban World record holder went to Stockholm (22 July), where he raced and won against Oliver - 12.91 to 13.04 - and didn’t seem to pose too many threats to the security of the Swedish state.

Oliver is the standout name in the Cuban’s absence, and if rumours of the continued hamstring problems to China’s Olympic champion Lui Xiang are true, then another fast run will be a further confidence boost to the American’s Olympic ambitions. Oliver has a PB from this year of 12.95, and took a win over Robles in Berlin on 1 June.

Chambers and Bain to spoil Europe’s party?

Another French hope for Beijing, Osaka World champs 400m fifth placer Leslie Djhone, who won his third consecutive national title on Friday, goes in a race that might offer the rarity of a European led international competition. Others from the continent who standout are Martin Rooney of Britain who for the first time in his career ducked under 45 sec in London at the weekend, and Sweden’s Johan Wissman who finished seventh in Osaka.

But the Bahamas or Jamaica one feels via the talent respectively of Andretti Bain (44.62 PB - 2008) and Ricardo Chambers, who ran 44.80 in Barcelona recently and has the same PB as Bain (44.62 - 2007), are not going to let Europe take the win easily.

Contrasting fortunes for Arron and Hurtis-Houairi

The French national sprint squads bound for Beijing race here in Monaco in the men’s and women’s 4x100m relays, while in the individual women’s sprint France will be represented by two of its major championship stalwarts in European 100m record holder Christine Arron and Muriel Hurtis-Houairi, who have had contrasting fortunes recently.

Arron was struggling at the French championships last weekend, forgoing the 100m semi-final round in favour of the 200m, but she could only manage 23.44 in her heat, which in her own words, “was not good enough for the final” which she missed.

Hurtis-Houairi by contrast was the winner of that 200m heat in 22.80 on Friday, and won the final on Saturday in 22.77 (+1.3m/s). She took third place in her season’s best of 22.50 in Rome on 11 July, and she is clearly going for a speed work-out here in Monaco, as this is the first 100m of her summer.

Edwards heads impressive start list

Confronting the two home-girls will be much of the cream of US and Caribbean sprinting including Torri Edwards, who with 10.78sec is the fastest in the world this year. Jamaica’s Kerron Stewart is next best in 2008 with 10.80, and is also joined in Monaco by compatriots Shelly Ann Fraser (10.85), Sherone Simpson (10.87), and USA’s Marshevet Hooker (10.93) in what is a class field. Kim Gevaert of Belgium, the European champion, makes another outing in her recovery from recent injury niggles.

Gomes vs Kolchanova

Another home crowd favourite is of course former World Heptathlon and individual Long Jump champion Eunice Barber but her current form in the latter (6.60m windy) is not going to help her against the likes of Portugal’s World and European Indoor champion Naide Gomes who was twice over 7m in Stockholm last week. Gomes’ 7.04m best tied the current world season lead with Russia’s outdoor continental champion Lyudmila Kolchanova who is also competing here. In fact the six furthest jumpers of 2008 are all in the starting line-up!

All-time top-8 battle it out in the Pole Vault

The women’s Pole Vault also includes a prominent French athlete, Vanessa Boslak, who despite a 4.50m PB surprisingly lost her national title in the last few days. Similar to Barber it would be a shock if she was to play any part in the top end of proceedings here in Monaco.

The organisers of the Herculis meeting have attracted the top hierarchy of the event, led of course by the superlative swamped Yelena Isinbayeva who had a very near third-time miss at a would be World record improvement of 5.04m in London on Friday. This height was also unsuccessfully tried once by American record holder Jenn Stuczynski who finished second in the British capital with 4.81m, and she also makes the trip to the French Riviera. In fact the top-8 women all-time at this young emerging event will compete at the Stade Louis II.

>>UPDATE: Stuczynski has withdrawn due to a recurrence of the back problems which also led to her non-participation in Stockholm (22), prior her competition last weekend in London<<

High quality 1500 even with Lagat and Ramzi absent

The overall quality of the Monaco start list is inspiring and considering that we are so close to Beijing has held up very well in its depth at a time when many athletes are considering only one thing, the Olympic Games.

As well as Robles (reason already cited) there have been some prominent withdrawals in the last few days, the main one being World 1500m and 5000m champion Bernard Lagat, who seemed a little below par in third place in the Mile in London. 2005 World 800m and 1500m champion Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain who was added to the 1500m field yesterday has also had to pull out, again like Robles, an immigration issue preventing his travel.  This is a real shame as Ramzi, while not having run an outdoor 1500m this year, was good shape having produced a 8:13.16 national record at Two Miles for second place in Eugene on 8 June, and he recently ran 5000m in a 13:10.72 PB in Tanger on 13 July.

Anyway, so much for who won't be running, the man who beat Lagat in London over the Mile, Shedrack Korir, the World 1500m bronze medallist, remains in the 1500m field and has been joined by Morocco's Mohamed Moustaoui whop ran 3:32.06 in Rome. Korir's season's best is 3:31.99.

But both runner's are overshadowed by Kenyan Daniel Kipchirchir Komen who was second in Berlin with 3:31.91, and is the fastest of the field in Monaco. He also has PB of 3:29.02 (2006), which makes him the seventh fastest runner of all-time.

Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka, the African champion, seeks to recapture form in the women’s 1500m after being blown away in Paris where she finished a lowly seventh (4:05.25). She is the fastest in the field this year with 4:00.44 a time achieved when winning in Eugene at the start of June.

Koech something more to prove?

In the men’s 3000m Steeplechase, Paul Kipsiele Koech smarting after missing Beijing selection at the Kenyan trials, has already in reaction improved his world season’s best to 8:00.57 in Heusden on 20 July. What fireworks can we expect here when he faces Beijing bound World champion Brimin Kipruto?

Yuriy Borzakovskiy building-up to his Olympic title defence next month runs the 800m. He has a season’s best of 1:44.81 and showed his good form in Stockholm over 1000m last week with a Russian national record for third place (2:15.50).

Watch out for South Africa’s Mbulaeni Mulaudzi ,who was the Olympic silver medallist behind the Russian in 2004. Last year Mulaudzi stormed to a 1:43.74 victory in Monaco, the fastest time in the world in 2007. He didn’t finish in London at the weekend taken out by a fall in conjunction with Canada’s World silver medallist Gary Reed, who also starts in Monaco. If fit after that altercation both will be a threat to Borzakovskiy.

Silnov, the new world leader

Another Russian Andrey Silnov will be the favourite in the men’s High Jump, having set the world season leading mark of 2.38m in London last Friday. Silnov finished fourth in the Russian trials and so doesn’t make the trip to Beijing. He takes on one of the trio that does make up Russia’s Olympic line-up, Andrey Tereshin. Also on the card is the Bahamas’ World champion Donald Thomas, who is still struggling to find his technique this season.

An Osaka World champion who is in better form is Portugal’s Nelson Evora in the Triple Jump who won in Athens on 13 July with 17.23m (season’s best), but he’ll want to see a big  improvement in distance tomorrow night if he is to enter the final approach to Beijing believing he can contend with the 17.50+ jumps that the leading jumpers of this season have been producing.


There is a brace of fine 400m Hurdles line-ups, headed by USA and Jamaican combinations. In the men’s race Reuben McKoy and Danny McFarlane are the fastest of the field, while the women’s speedsters are Tiffany Williams and Melanie Walker. Look out also for Poland’s World bronze medallist Anna Jesien and Russia’s European champion Yevgeniya Isakova.

In the women’s 100m Hurdles, Australia’s Sally McLellan was second (12.61) in London caught just before the line. The 21-year-old is having a fine season with her 12.58 Australian record in Luzern on 16 July. Of the field in Monaco there are only two faster women this year, Jamaica’s Brigitte Foster-Hylton (12.50) and USA’s Nicole Denby (12.54), and McLellan beat for the former in London.

Dorian Scott is the best of a quality men’s Shot line-up. The Jamaican’s 21.45m national record back at the end of March makes him the fourth best in the world this year. His longest since then has been more modest, 20.58m in Doha on 9 May. US Trials fourth placer Dan Taylor (20.80m) is perhaps a better bet for the win, along with Poland’s Tomasz Majewski whose 20.97 surprised for third place in London.

With one exception, Sylvia Kibet, the men’s and women’s 3000m will be run without the presence of the Kenyan and Ethiopian 5000m or 10,000m line-ups for Beijing as the squads have been pulled away to national training camps as part of their build-up to Beijing. That detail does not of course prevent dozens of other talented east Africans dominating the entry for both races such is the overwhelming strength of these super powers of long distance running.

Chris Turner for the IAAF