joint World 100m record holder Asafa Powell wins in Oslo (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Paris, France

IAAF Golden League, Paris – PREVIEW

Despite the season’s debut of Yelena Isinbayeva, and Kenenisa Bekele’s desire to bounce back from his defeat in Oslo, the presence of the women’s and men’s 2004 & 2005 World Athletes of the Year is likely to be over-shadowed by the sight of Asafa Powell, of one of the two joint-holders of the World 100m record, on the home straight of the Stade de France at tomorrow’s Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis (Saturday 8 July), the second leg of the IAAF Golden League 2006.

At 17.20hrs (15.20GMT) tomorrow, a programme of 2 hours and 35 minutes comprising 19 competitions, 11 of which are IAAF Golden League Jackpot events, will commence in front of what is hoped will be a capacity audience of over 70,000 spectators.

All starters retain Golden League Jackpot hopes   

All competing athletes in Paris still have a chance to win a share of the $500,000 prize which is on offer for athletes accomplishing five Golden League wins, with the winners from the opening leg in Oslo (2 June) also in line for a share of an additional $500,000 should they win at all six meetings this year. A total Golden League Jackpot of $1 Million!

IAAF Golden League Jackpot is more open than ever!

Powell’s ready, “why not!”

Asafa Powell is oozing confidence at the moment. After confirming on Wednesday (5 July) that capturing the World 100m record outright was a certainty, today, the 23-year-old added simply “why not” when asked if he could run 9.77 again. The Commonwealth Games champion obviously does not recognise his personal best as anything other than a transitory phase in his career. Even without Gatlin here in Paris, Powell’s opposition is hot - click on story link below - but he is man on a mission to be the best. There is no contemplation of defeat.

Outright World record “it’s certain” for Powell – IAAF Golden League, Paris

Isinbayeva’s season debut

Paris will mark the 2006 outdoor season debut of Yelena Isinbayeva, the World and Olympic champion, and 19-time World record breaker. For anyone disputing figures the athlete confirmed this afternoon that this is the number she herself quotes as her total, not bothering to include her World Junior marks, as she tries to amass more World records than Sergey Bubka (35).

A 4.91m World indoor record this winter showed that a change of coach had not impacted negatively on the 24-year-old but the question which remains is, ‘is she now destined to wing her way up past even her outdoor best of 5.01m?’ In Paris she has the two Poles, Monika Pyrek (4.75m) and Anna Rogowska (4.70m), and the French record holder Vanessa Boslak (4.70m) for company.

Isinbayeva is no longer bored – IAAF Golden League, Paris

Bekele, back to winning ways?

Kenenisa Bekele, of the three major players tomorrow evening, has possibly the most weight riding on his reputation. Powell and Isinbayeva can miss the world records in their events and people will be disappointed but no one is ever considering they might lose. Bekele by contrast was so comprehensively defeated in the opening Golden League 5000m competition in Oslo (2 June), that we had to question, ‘was something seriously wrong?’

The Ethiopian World record holder’s conqueror in Oslo, Kenyan Isaac Songok, had always opted for the 1500m here in Paris, the distance at which he was once World Youth champion, and so some of the pressure is off Bekele. The field of 17 opponents is strong, with the likes of his brother Tariku Bekele, Kenyan World champion Benjamin Limo, and bronze medallist Craig Mottram of Australia. However, if there is even another slight crack in the veneer of perhaps one of the greatest distance running reputations of all-time, more questions will be asked of the athlete who was one of the favourites to share the Golden League Jackpot this season. Incidentally, Songok will race the 5000m in Rome next week, so battle will be rejoined shortly in any case.

Bekele’s focus is speed – IAAF Golden League, Paris

In total the holders of 15 World and 12 Olympic individual titles will compete in Paris, so the quality on show in the Stade tomorrow will stretch far beyond just three athletes.

Wariner takes on a resurgent Raquil

Dealing with the other contests in the usual event order, we can expect a marvellous men’s 400m, headed by World and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner (USA), and the men who followed him home to World medals in Helsinki last summer – Andrew Rock (USA), and Tyler Christopher (Canada). However, as the fastest European of the season (45.32, Metz, 2 July) we can expect fireworks from a resurgent Marc Raquil. Running on the track on which he brought home an individual 400m bronze and a relay gold in the 2003 World Championships, the Frenchman surely could not want for more inspiration?

Bungei heads sub-1:43 three

Over 800m, Wilfred Bungei, the World Indoor champion, who was taken at the line in Athens on Monday (3 July) by Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy (not racing tomorrow), is in form (1:43.59). The next three finishes from Monday’s race are also on show, Latvian Dmitrijs Milkevics (1:43.67 NR), Bahraini Youssef Saad Kamel (1:43.75), and Mohamed Mutlak Al-Azimi of Kuwait (1:44.13 NR). NB. Rashid Ramzi the 2005 World 800m and 1500m champion who was reported earlier to be competing is not on the final start list.

Over 1500m, 21-year-old Kenyan Alex Kipchirchir, the winner of the Dream Mile in Oslo, will race against his former compatriot Bernard Lagat of USA, the Olympic medallist, Songok (already mentioned), and Ukraine’s World indoor champion, Ivan Heshko, who was second this week in Athens with 3:31.78, the second quickest run of the summer.

Ready to roar home Doucouré

If Raquil can count on being roared home by the spectators in the men’s 400m, then France’s 2005 World champion over the 110m Hurdles, Ladji Doucouré, will not be short of motivation either when he takes on China’s Olympic champion and joint World record holder, Liu Xiang, and USA’s veteran Allen Johnson, 35, 1996 Olympic and multiple World champion.

In the 400m Hurdles, USA champion Kerron Clement after a presumably travel jet-lagged performance on Monday will wish to return to the form which saw him take the USA title in 47.39, the fastest clocking in the world this year.  The 20-year-old Clement was eighth in 49.32 in Athens. What’s more he will have a host of Olympic and World medallists to contend with tomorrow.

Even with the likes of the Kenyans, Olympic Steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi and World and Olympic medallist Brimin Kipruto, and Bahrain’s national record holder Tareq Mubarak Taher, racing in Paris any prediction that the finishing time in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase will approach Saif Saaeed Shaheen’s world leading mark in Athens on Monday would be ridiculous. That said, the weight of talent means this contest should be an interesting evenly matched battle.

Saladino keeps up the pressure on Phillips

World leader, Irving Saladino of Panama and USA’s Brian Johnson and Miguel Pate, have between them beaten World and Olympic champion Dwight Phillips four-times this summer. Phillips who has virtually been unbeatable for several seasons has only competed six times this summer. If ever there was a chance to restore some authority Paris provides it, with all four men competing together. Ignisious Gaisah of Ghana, the World Indoor champion and outdoor silver medallist is another standout from the 12 man competition.

In the men’s Javelin Throw, the roster is just as strong with the three 90m+ throwers of the current season, Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen (91.59m NR), Tero Pitkämäki of Finland (91.11m) and Latvian Vadims Vasilevskis (90.43m NR), throwing. The first and third men of that trio have been over 90m for the first time in their careers this summer, but significantly the Latvian is now nursing a slight foot injury while still competing. The 2003 World champion, Sergey Makarov (88.49m) will also be present.

Simpson to surprise again

It has been a wonderful and surprising year so far for Jamaica’s Sherone Simpson, 22, Commonwealth champion at the women’s 200m and leading the world in both the 100m (10.82) and 200m (22.00) events. Having seen off Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell (now injured) on the way to the Commonwealth crown, she has done the same to most of the world’s elite. Her opponents here over 100m are USA’s World champion Lauryn Williams, and former multiple global champion Marion Jones, and the Bahamas’ Debbie Ferguson Mckenzie, the Oslo winner.

Sanya Richards is the class of the women’s 400m (49.27), and unlikely to be challenged seriously even with opposition as strong as Svetlana Pospelova of Russia, with 49.99 to her credit the only other woman under 50 sec this season, and the 2001 and 2003 World champions, respectively Amy Mbacké Thiam of Senegal and Ana Guevara of Mexico.

The women’s 1500m looks set to be an all-Russian affair with the pairing of Yelena Soboleva, the World Indoor record holder, and Yuliya Chizhenko, the World Indoor champion, respectively the two fastest in the world this year with 3:56.78 and 3:58.02 on Monday in Athens, topping the entries. Soboleva finished second to Chizhenko at the World Indoors this winter but seems to have the measure of her compatriot at the moment.

5000m – nearly everyone is here!

Possibly the standout line-up of all the distance races in Paris is the women’s 5000m. The Olympic champion and new World record holder* Meseret Defar will start as the narrow favourite in a field which includes Ethiopian compatriots, World 5000m and 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba, former World 10,000m champion Berhane Adere, and World XC short race winner Gelete Burka, and the Kenyans, Olympic 5000m silver medallist Isabella Ochichi, and national record holder Edith Masai, 39.

Another wide open event is the women’s 100m Hurdles, with seven of the world’s 10 fastest of 2006 entered. The field is led by USA’s Damu Cherry, the second quickest in the world (12.58 seconds), and Priscilla Lopes, the third fastest (12.60).

In the one lap hurdles, Lashinda Demus is flying. Now controlling races with an expert intuition the American champion with a season’s best of 53.02, toyed with Olympic champion Fani Halkia on Monday in Athens. No one should come close to the 23-year-old World championship silver medallist in Paris.

The depth of the women’s High Jump pool in Paris is impressive. One of the two joint world season leaders (2.03m), Blanka Vlasic (CRO) is present, as is World champion Kajsa Bergqvist of Sweden (2.00m), USA’s Chaunté Howard (2.01m), the World silver medallist, and Olympic gold medallist Yelena Slesarenko of Russia (1.99m).

No superlatives are required to sum up the superb quality of the start-list assembled for the 2006 Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis, the length of this preview says it all!

Chris Turner for the IAAF


* pending ratification