Jeremy Wariner just manages to hold off a strong challenge from LaShawn Merritt (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Paris, France

Jackpot duo and notable head to head clashes, the main dishes on Paris’ 10th Anniversary menu - PREVIEW - ÅF Golden League

The Stade de France welcomes the tenth edition of the Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis – the fourth of this year’s six fixtures which make up the ÅF Golden League 2008 – on Friday 18 July.

The $1 Million ÅF Golden League Jackpot has come down to just two athletes, Kenya’s Pamela Jelimo (800m) and Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic (High Jump), and as we have already analysed their season’s in the last few days – Click here - Jelimo and Vlasic, their seasons so far - ÅF Golden League, Paris - we will now just quickly review the opposition they will face in Paris.

A generation game

Jelimo takes on the World champion Janeth Jepkosgei again but the new point of interest is the presence of veteran Maria Mutola in the field. The multiple global champion from Mozambique has this season seen her African record (1:55.19 – 1994) snatched by the 18-year-old Kenyan in Berlin (1 June) with 1:54.99.

If ever there was a battle of the generations in top sport it is here in the women’s 800m. Mutola is 35-years-old and is ending her illustrious career this summer, while Jelimo is in her first year racing the two laps. In their only meeting so far, the then internationally unknown, Jelimo beat Mutola to the African title in May.

Germany’s hot prospect

Vlasic for her part may have lost her Russian opponents on this occasion, as they will be contesting their national championships in Kazan this weekend, but the World champion still takes on in form Ariane Friedrich. The German has in high jumping terms albeit in more moderate ways been doing a good impression of Jelimo in 2008, that’s to say playing the role of the international find of the summer.

Last Friday (11), while Vlasic was winning in Rome with 2.00m, so the German was victorious at the same height in Bühl, Germany, her fifth time this outdoor season over that height. The German is only one of five athletes over 2m this summer, and her 2.03m PB with which she won the European Cup, makes her the second best in the world at the current moment.

The only other athlete in the field with 2m or more this outdoor season is Spain’s Ruth Beita (2.01). Do not over look US Trials winner Chaunte Howard who takes her first foot steps in Europe since that win.

Jelks leads wide open 100m dash

There was to be a head to head here between Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell but injury has robbed Paris’ tenth year anniversary celebrations of such a savoury offering. Instead the men’s 100m has drawn together much of the present second division of international sprinting, with USA’s Mark Jelks at 9.99 the fastest this season.

Yet in the turbulent injury hit world of the dash we can still look forward to world class times as while these men might not currently be spoken in the same breath as those in the premier flight - Bolt, Gay and Powell - the Paris line-up includes five men with sub-10 PBs. Of these starters 2004 Olympic 200m champion Shawn Crawford is the fastest with 9.88, and is surely looking for some speed work before his Olympic defence after his 19.86 return to form at 200m at the trials.

Wariner vs Merritt and Clement vs Jackson

The quality of the men’s 400m, both flat and over the hurdles, makes up for the lack of the best names in the 100m line-up.

So much has been written about the pre-Beijing sparring between Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt, that there is little more to add than to ring the bell for the next round.

Click here for - By mere inches, Wariner takes round three - ÅF Golden League

The Olympic and World champion Wariner took the race in Rome by the narrowest of margins, and while its always dangerous in sport to say ‘forget about any other athletes being in the top-two places on Friday’, it is respectful to note that Canada’s World Indoor champion Tyler Christopher is in the line-up, and five of the men have made sub-45 second runs this year. Wariner’s 43.98 leads the world list, Merritt has 44.00 in 2008.

If there is a possible grudge match it could be found in the men’s 400m Hurdles. No there is nothing personal, just possibly a little needle between two men on the track because last Friday (11), reigning World champion Kerron Clement defeated his fellow American Bershawn Jackson in a perfectly timed finish in Rome’s Olympic stadium – 48.23 to 48.34. Why should that be so provoking? Well the victory knocked Jackson, the US champion, out of the hunt for the $1 Million ÅF Golden League Jackpot.

Both men have run quicker in 2008, Clement leads the world list with 47.79 (Kingston, 3 May) and Jackson has 48.15 (Oslo, 6 June), and battle rejoined in Paris could lead to an even faster race than Rome.

But do not overlook the swift finishing South African LJ Van Zyl, a former World Junior champion, who won in Athens last Sunday (13) in a season’s best of 48.22 (third best time in the world this year).

Richards looks for more speed

Sanya Richards looks for another speed test at 200m, this time against Muna Lee, the surprise US Trials champion at 100m. In Rome last week a 200m outing took 2007 Golden League Jackpot winner Richards to a 22.49 season’s best, and on the back of that enhanced leg speed she produced her fastest 2008 performance at the 400m in Athens a few days later (49.86), so the benefits were obvious.

Lee comes to Europe for her first race since her 10.85 100m PB win and 21.99 (windy) 200m second place at the Trials, performances which take her to both sprints in Beijing. With a 22.30 PB earlier this year, it is clear that the 26-year-old Lee has come of age and her performance here in Paris should be one of the focal points of the meeting.

Saladino, Howe, Phillips…

The top three from Osaka are here in the Long Jump, and while USA’s bronze medallist Dwight Phillips, who is the reigning Olympic champion, did not qualify for the Beijing team, the fitness of World champion Irving Saladino of Panana and runner-up Andrew Howe of Italy is a talking point.

UPDATE: 18/07 - Howe remains unfit and will not compete

In Rome last Friday, an 8.30m win marked Saladino’s winning return after an injury that was originally sustained in and around the Berlin meet (1 June) but he confirmed in Italy that he is resigned to living with a persistent knee injury. Howe, the European champion, for his part sustained a leg injury at the European Cup last month where he ran the 200m for Italy, and Paris is his return to the runway. His last performance was an 8.16m second place in Oslo (6 June).

Don’t forget the Saudi pair either, Hussein Taher AL-Sabee may no longer be in the hunt for the $1 Million but he and his compatriot Mohammed Salman Al Khuwalidi are in 8.30+ shape and took third and second places respectively in Rome.
Robles vs two of USA’s Beijing line-up

Terrence Trammell and David Payne, second and third at the US Trials will provide World record holder Dayron Robles with a Beijing taster in the men’s 110m Hurdles. If the Cuban is a little frustrated that his last two runs have not been sub-13 (13.08 Rome; 13.04 Athens), these two Americans will have their own reasons to push this encounter as they have yet to venture into this territory, Trammell, this season, and Payne, ever in his entire career.

In the women’s 100m Hurdles, Spain’s Josephine Onyia, who lost out so badly last week in her attempt to stay in pursuit of the $1 Million when finishing only sixth in Rome, takes on many of those that beat her last week. Australian Sally McLellan, one of those ahead of her in Rome, flew to an Area record of 12.58 sec last night in Luzern (16), a time would have won that Italian leg of the ÅF Golden League on 11 July.

Solid Pole Vault, ragged Javelin and ravaged women’s 5000m

The men’s Pole Vault has attracted a good quality field of jumpers among which Australian Steven Hooker has cleared 6.00m this year. US Trials winner Derek Miles is also entered as is France’s World bronze medallist Romian Mesnil, though he has not yet approached his top shape this summer.

The men’s Javelin Throw is a shadow of its normal self, as while enjoying the presence of Olympic silver medallist Vadim Vasilevskis of Latvia, and some up and coming talents, the big three of this year, the two Finns Tero Pitkämäki and Tero Järvenpää, and Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen are missing.

Another event to have been massacred by withdrawals is the women’s 5000m. With the announcement of the Ethiopian team being made last Monday, the whole Dibaba clan headed by World record holder Tirunesh Dibaba has suddenly disappeared from the start list in Paris. This leaves at the time of writing a meagre six woman field of which the Kenyans Lucy Wangui (14:33.49) and Priscah Jepleting Cherono (14:45.12) are the best of the year.

Exceptional quality in the two 1500m races

Contrast the devastated 5000 line-up with the two metric Mile races. The women’s 1500m brings together the World champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal with Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka who took bronze at the World Indoors in Valencia this winter, one place ahead of the Bahraini. The two have come the closest of the 15 woman line-up to sub-4 this summer, with Burka slightly the quicker of the pair – 4:00.44 to 4:00.67.

Ukraine’s Iryna Lishchynska (4:01.61) the World bronze medallist last summer also runs, as does Beijing bound US champion Shannon Rowbury (4:01.61).

The fast emerging talent of Kenya’s 19-year-old Asbel Kiprop is the focus of the men’s 1500m. The fourth place finisher from the Osaka World championships is quickly coming of age, his smooth change of gear in the home straight last Friday in Rome (11) lowering his PB by over three seconds to 3:31.64, notching-up his first career ÅF Golden League series victory. We will hear a lot more about this IAAF High Performance Centre based athlete in the coming months and years.

World championship bronze medallist Shedrack Korir (3:31.18 PB) will compete, as will Algeria’s Tarek Boukensa, who was third in Rome (3:31.98), a race which saw a long list of personal and season’s bests. Expect another set of top results on Friday.

The men’s 3000m is nearly an all-African affair. Ireland’s Alistair Cragg, just as he was in Olympic 5000m final in 2004, is the only one of the 15 man entry who does not represent an African country, and Cragg was formerly of South African nationality. It will be fast, as 8 men have 7:40 or less PBs.

Three of Europe’s best will race the 3000m Steeplechase. Finland’s Jukka Keskisalo, the continental champion who was sixth in Rome (8:22.35), France’s Bob Tahri, who missed the Rome race due to his kit being lost, and Sweden’s Mustafa Mohamed. The latter two were respectively fifth and fourth at last summer’s World championships. It will be only the second steeple for the Swede so far this summer.

UPDATE: 18/07 - Keskisalo will not run but will compete in Stockholm (22)

Kenya’s World bronze medallist Richard Matelong is the fastest in the field this year with 8:07.64.

Chris Turner for the IAAF