Yelena Isinbayeva celebrates 5m World indoor record in Donetsk in 2009 (Zepter) © Copyright
Preview Birmingham, UK

Isinbayeva, Ukhov and Ohuruogu, the standout names in Birmingham – PREVIEW

Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva fresh from her latest World record* last Sunday in Donetsk (15) and High Jump world season leader Ivan Ukhov, along with Britain’s World and Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu are the standout names among the large cohort of ‘major players’ who will assemble for Saturday afternoon’s Aviva Grand Prix in the National Indoor Area (NIA) in Birmingham (21).

The Aviva Grand Prix is an IAAF Indoor permit meeting.

WOMEN - Yet another World record for Isinbayeva?

Sadly in recent days the UK’s top indoor meeting has lost two of its main attractions. Ethiopia’s Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba’s ankle injury which has sidelined her throughout this indoor season still persists, while home favourite Kelly Sotherton, the Commonwealth Heptathlon champion, has been told she must rest for several days due to a heel injury.

Yet despite such disappointments for the organisers Yelena Isinbayeva after last weekend in Donetsk becoming the first woman in history to successfully scale 5m indoors in the Pole Vault, was always going to top the bill.

The World, Olympic and European champion likes competing in Britain, especially as it was in London in 2005 where she first cleared 5m when setting the then outdoor World record. Isinbayeva also has fond record memories of the NIA, as in 2005 she broke her own World indoor mark 4.88m) at this same meet and in total now has set global figures a remarkable 26 times.

This Saturday’s competition will be Isinbayeva’s sixth time at the NIA and she faces her sometime training partner Brazil’s Fabiana Murer, who was a 2008 Olympic finalist, and fellow Russian Yulia Golubchikova, who was fourth in Beijing.

Given we are talking about Isinbayeva, the 2008 World Athlete of the Year, one of the most decorated athletes in history, the wise money would be on another World record coming the 26-year-old Russian’s way this weekend.

Ohuruogu – whatever happens on the track, the crowd’s favourite

World records are out of the question and even a victory is unlikely for Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu on Saturday but this will do nothing to lessen the Briton being at least the most loudly applauded track athlete in Birmingham.

The World and Olympic 400m champion whose never say die attitude has seen her finish fast and late to take the last two global outdoor titles ‘doesn’t really do’ indoors. The first British woman to win an Olympic gold over the flat 400m she will race in the 60m and 200m just as she did this time last year. In 2008 a 7.45 sec dash and a 23.41 sec PB in the 200m in Birmingham was her reward but this year once senses there maybe is better to come as Ohuruogu has already run indoors in Belfast (7/8 Feb) with bests of 7.36 and 24.33 coming from four races over the two days of the Irish champs at which she was running as a guest.

On Saturday Ohuruogu’s target will be her 60m PB of 7.39 (2006) and her 200m time from last year, whether she achieves them or not the noise from the stadium crowd will be deafening as befits a national heroine in front of her home fans.

In the 60m dash the Briton will be running in the wake of talents such as Chandra Sturrup of the Bahamas, who is second fastest in the world this year (7.17), and a clutch of talented sprinters from the USA headed by reigning World Indoor champion Angela Williams. Over 200m Ohuruogu will have more chance to be properly in the fight. Yet particularly against Yuliya Chermoshanskaya who was one of Russia’s 4x100m relay Olympic gold medallists last summer and who ran a 300m PB of 37.61 in Moscow on 1 February, a victory doesn’t seem to be on the cards. But never discount Ohuruogu, too many unwisely did in Osaka and Beijing after all!

Jones, on the flat and over the barriers

Also racing on the flat will be World Indoor 60m Hurdles champion Lolo Jones, who is attempting a 60m flat / hurdles double in Birmingham. The 26-year-old respectively with 7.29 sec and 7.77 sec PBs, is in top shape having run the fastest hurdles time of the year in Karlsruhe only last weekend (7.82). The silver and bronze medallists behind Jones when she won her hurdles crown last winter, USA’s Candice Davis and Cuban Anay Tejeda will challenge her over the barriers, as will Ireland’s surprise 2006 World Indoor champion Derval O’Rourke.

Sotherton’s sidelining has robbed the meet of a great head to head with Ukraine’s Olympic Heptathlon champion Natalya Dobrynska in a special three-event challenge but Russia’s World Indoor Pentathlon bronze medallist Anna Bogdanova will be around to make sure there is still a close contest.

Jamal heads the middle distance line-up

The women’s middle distances races have gathered some in form participants. Ethiopia's Sentayehu Ejigu surprised many when she won in Boston over 5000m on 7 Feb in a 14:47.62 PB, which was only relegated to the second fastest time in the world this season following compatriot Meseret Defar’s World record last night in Stockholm (18). Ejigu will race Kenya’s 2007 World 5000m silver medallist Vivian Cheruiyot over 3000m, who in her first ever indoor competition in Valencia (14 Feb) won in 8:42.13.

In the 1500m, the World outdoor champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal is the headline attraction, while Britain’s Jenny Meadows and Marilyn Okoro with 2:01.67 and 2:01.81 bests to their name this season will be battling for the win over 800m.

MEN – Ukhov unbeatable

On the men’s side of things, Britain’s Olympic Triple Jump silver medallist Phillips Idowu, last year’s World Indoor champion, would have been certain of great crowd support like Ohuruogu but sadly will be absent due to a knee injury. It’s a shame as Olympic bronze medallist Leevan Sands of the Bahamas, along with 2007 World silver and bronze medallists Jadel Gregorio (BRA) and Walter Davis (USA) had been lined-up to challenge the home star. David Giralt of Cuba who was runner-up behind Idowu in the World indoors is also in the Triple Jump field.

A Russian athlete is set to capture the limelight in the men’s field events, just as Isinbayeva is a certainty to be the main ring attraction of the women’s programme. Ivan Ukhov with his notorious drunken exploits from last summer in Lausanne behind him and now concentrating on a different type of bar has dominated the men’s High Jump discipline all winter. The 22-year-old who has a personal best of 2.39m from 2007 seems to be approaching that level of condition and technique again with a 2.37m win at the Russian championships last weekend.

Lagat, Bungei, Farah…

The men’s track events have drawn together many high stature competitors. Bernard Lagat, the 2007 World 1500m and 5000m champion, lines-up for the 1500m, and with a perfect score sheet of four victories across this winter season the American will be hard to beat even with Kenya’s Augustine Choge (7:34.37 at 3000 this winter) and Portugal’s Rui Silva, the former World Indoor champion in the 1500m field.

At 800m, Kenyan Wilfred Bungei the Olympic 800m champion was well beaten in Stockholm last night, and will come under severe pressure from Uganda’s 20-year-old Abraham Chepkirwok who is coming into his best form.

If the Birmingham crowd has lost a home men’s star to shout for due to the injury to Idowu, on the track in the form of European 5000m silver medallist Mo Farah they will find a worth replacement for their affections. The 25-year-old set a 3000m national record of 7:41.99 in Glasgow at the end of January and races this distance again in Birmingham. Farah’s opposition includes Kenya’s 2007 World 1500m bronze medallist Shedrack Korir, who ran 7:35.98 in Valencia last week, and Ethiopia’s Markos Geneti, who won here over Two Miles in 2004 and has run 7:46.74 indoors for 3000m this season.

Christpher vs Wissman and Payne vs Oliver

The highlight of the three sprints (60m flat and hurdles and 400m), has got to be the 400m where World Indoor champion Tyler Christopher of Canada takes on again Sweden’s Johan Wissman who was runner-up to the Canadian in the Valencia World Indoor Champs last winter. They met last night in Stockholm with Christopher getting the better again, and their further rematch will be all the tastier given the presence of Xavier ‘X Man’ Carter in the field. The 23-year-old American who remains the fourth fastest 200m runner of all-time is returning from injury and posted a 46.98 sec victory over 400m in Fayetteville in his comeback race last weekend.

In the 60m Hurdles, Olympic 110m Hurdles silver and World bronze medallist David Payne takes on Olympic bronze medallist David Oliver (7.45 sec this winter at 60m Hurdles) and another American Joel Brown (7.48) and Bahmanian Shamar Sands (7.49) are also flying. In the flat 60m, reigning World Indoor joint silver medallist Kim Collins races among others Brazil’s Vicente de Lima who was fifth in the 2008 World Indoor final, and former World Junior 100m champion Ivory Williams who ran a 6.59 PB last weekend.

Chris Turner for the IAAF

*subject to the usual ratification procedures