The Muller Indoor Grand Prix Glasgow on Sunday (25) represents the last stop of the IAAF World Indoor Tour, but – perhaps more significantly – for many athletes it will be the final dress rehearsal ahead of next week’s IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018.
Although five of the six IAAF World Indoor Tour meetings have been and gone, there are several questions left unanswered ahead of the World Indoor Championships: who will secure the last remaining wild cards for Birmingham? Who has timed their peak right for the indoor season? And just how much did the altitude of Albuquerque assist some of the amazing performances at the recent US Indoor Championships?
And while many of the expected top performers of the World Indoor Championships have already faced their main rivals this indoor season, two of the sport’s biggest stars will clash for the first time this year on Sunday.
Two-time world 200m champion Dafne Schippers and double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson have both had a relatively low-key campaign so far in 2018. Schippers was disqualified for a false start in her first competition of the year in Gent earlier this month and then won the Dutch 60m title in a season’s best of 7.09.
Thompson, meanwhile, is following the same template she has used for the past two years: racing once outdoors in Kingston before heading to the Muller Indoor Grand Prix and then, as she did in 2016, competing at the World Indoors. Thompson recorded 7.18 in minimal wind in Kingston at the end of last month, suggesting she is in the same kind of form that carried her to world indoor bronze in 2016.
The two global sprint champions will have to be near their best when they line up against the likes of double world silver medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou, South African record-holder Carina Horn and European 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith.
As well as acting as a preview of what to expect in Birmingham, the Muller Indoor Grand Prix will also provide a glimpse of what could have been.
Fred Kerley lined up for the 400m final at the recent US Indoor Championships as the favourite, but after getting caught up in some mid-race traffic he wound up fifth overall, missing out on an individual spot for the World Indoor Championships.
Last year the 22-year-old became the fourth-fastest man in history at 400m indoors, clocking 44.85. He went on to record an outdoor PB of 43.70 to move to seventh on the world all-time list and then won the NCAA and US titles at the distance.
Kerley will contest the 4x400m at the World Indoor Championships but on Sunday he will want to show what he would have been capable of in the individual event. He will face compatriot Dontavious Wright and Slovenia’s Luka Janezic.
Wild cards at the ready
Of the eight World Indoor Tour scoring disciplines in Birmingham, the current leaders in several events have already done enough to guarantee their victory in the series. But earning a wild card to the World Indoor Championships would mean that their country could send a third athlete in that event to Birmingham.
Ethiopian duo Hagos Gebrhiwet and Yomif Kejelcha, for example, currently share the lead in the men’s 3000m standings. Even if they finish behind the likes of Olympic 5000m silver medallist Paul Chelimo and Olympic steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto in Glasgow, either Gebrhiwet or Kejelecha will walk away with the World Indoor Tour win.
The women’s 60m hurdles is another event that will have three representatives from one nation at the World Indoor Championships as there is guaranteed to be a US winner of the World Indoor Tour. Predicting the winner, though, is a tough task as Sharika Nelvis and Christina Manning have been almost inseparable throughout the season.
Nelvis had the upper hand in Berlin and Karlsruhe but Manning gained revenge in Dusseldorf. Nelvis won again in Boston as the pair were separated by mere thousandths of a second. She then took the US title in a North American record of 7.70 but Manning was just 0.03 behind.
In their five contests this year, the biggest gap between the two sprint hurdlers has been four hundredths of a second. Expect a similarly close race on Sunday.
While Christian Coleman has been lighting up tracks over in the USA, China’s Su Bingtian has been the man to beat over 60m on the European circuit and goes into Glasgow leading the World Indoor Tour standings.
The 28-year-old is undefeated this year and has been improving with every outing. He won in Berlin in 6.55 and then improved to an Asian record of 6.47 in Karlsruhe. He went even quicker in Dusseldorf, winning in 6.43, and he now stands sixth on the world indoor all-time list.
On Sunday he will face US duo Mike Rodgers and Bryce Robinson as well as veteran Kim Collins and IAAF Diamond League 100m champion CJ Ujah.
Other sprinting events in Glasgow have a strong USA-versus-Great Britain theme as USA’s world champion Phyllis Francis takes on UK indoor champion Eilidh Doyle in the women’s 400m, while European indoor champion Andrew Pozzi faces US indoor champion Jarret Eaton and 2012 Olympic champion Aries Merritt in the men’s 60m hurdles.
Winners of global titles feature in all four of the jumping events in Glasgow.
In the women’s long jump, Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta faces one of her toughest rivals as Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic aims to wrap up the World Indoor Tour win. Germany’s Sosthene Moguenara-Taroum, just one point behind Spanovic in the World Indoor Tour standings, and Sweden’s Khaddi Sagnia and are also in good form.
As she prepares for another tilt at the one title missing from her collection, world and Olympic pole vault champion Ekaterini Stefanidi faces compatriot Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou and USA’s Morgann Leleux Romero. Stefanidi has been improving with every competition this year and will be looking to go higher than her season’s best of 4.83m.
World champion Maria Lasitskene will aim to extend her winning streak in the women’s high jump, while 2012 Olympic champion Greg Rutherford takes on a long jump field that includes Asian indoor champion Shi Yuhao and world indoor bronze medallist Huang Changzhou, both of China.
Kszczot targets sixth win
Having won all five of his 800m races so far this year – three of which have contributed to a guaranteed win in the World Indoor Tour – European champion Adam Kszczot will be looking to make it a sixth victory in a row in Glasgow.
It looks set to be the Pole’s toughest test of the year, though, as he’ll line up against world indoor silver medallist Antoine Gakeme, world indoor bronze medallist Erik Sowinski, two-time European indoor champion Marcin Lewandowski, 2017 World Championships fourth-place finisher Kyle Langford and 2017 Dream Mile winner Jake Wightman.
The women’s 1500m boasts similar quality. Steeplechase specialist Beatrice Chepkoech is the fastest in the field this year, having set a Kenyan indoor record of 4:04.21 in Dusseldorf. If she finishes in the top two, she will unseat Genzebe Dibaba at the top of the World Indoor Tour standings. But European champion Angelika Cichocka of Poland and Ethiopian duo Axumawit Embaye and Gudaf Tsegay will pose a strong challenge to Chepkoech.
In the men’s 1500m, surprise Dusseldorf winner Vincent Kibet of Kenya will take on 2015 European indoor champion Jakub Holusa. British interest will be focused on teenager Jake Heyward as he tries to get close to the national indoor U20 record of 3:42.87.
Less than a tenth of a second separates the season’s bests of the three fastest entrants in an all-European women’s 800m where world and Olympic finalist Lynsey Sharp lines up against Latvia’s Liga Velvere and Danaid Prinsen of the Netherlands.
In a rarely contested indoor 3000m race walk, British record-holder Tom Bosworth takes on in-form Lithuanian Marius Ziukas. Their targets will be the world-leading mark of 10:49.33 or even the world best of 10:31.42.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF