Amine Laalou springs a surprise in the 800m - Rome (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Madrid, Spain

Middle distance running will be centre stage in Madrid - PREVIEW

The ‘Meeting de Atletismo Madrid’06’ – a Grand Prix as part of the IAAF World Athletics Tour - will take place on Monday 17 July and offers a star-studded field which comprises five reigning World outdoor champions. With weather forecasts predict highs temperatures of up to 39º C let’s hope that such a hot atmosphere turn into world-class performances as well at the 16-event programme to be stage at the ‘Vallehermoso’ stadium.

Successful 26th birthday for Ramzi?

Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi became the first man to snatch the 800-1500 metres double at the World Championships last August in Helsinki clocking a lifetime best of 1:44.24 in the former event. The Moroccan-born athlete will take on a high calibre 800m cast exactly on the day he will turn 26 years of age.

Trying to deny Ramzi’s birthday celebrations will be the current world leader Morocco’s Amine Laalou who produced a stunning race last Friday in Rome to take a clear win in a PB of 1:43.25. Reigning World Indoor champion Wilfred Bungei of Kenya is the third fastest man this season thanks to a 1:43.59 time set in Athens earlier this month and should be in the quest for the victory too.

But Laalou and Bungei are only two of the five athletes who have been able to clock 1:43 this summer as Latvia’s Dmitrijs Milkeviks (1:43.67), Kenya’s Alfred Kirwa (1:43.91) and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al Salhi (1:43.99) have all proved to be in spectacular form. In addition, Bungei’s countryman William Yiampoi, also conqueror of Borzakovskiy in Lausanne (1:44.54) will also be on show.

Monday’s will be Ramzi’s 800m 2006 debut but he has already raced four times this outdoor campaign, the first three on American soil with two wins (1500/mile) to his credit and one defeat over One Mile being his tally. Ramzi is now fresh from a formidable 1500m career best of 3:29.14 for second place last Friday at the IAAF Golden League in Rome which is his first ever sub-3:30 clocking. Morocco’s Mouhssin Cheibi, Kenya’s Ismael Kombich and Spain’s European Cup victor Juan De Dios Jurado complete an impressive line-up.

Fresh 3:29 man Kipchirchir Komen eager to take revenge

World 1500m seasonal leading athlete Daniel Kipchirchir Komen suffered a shock defeat to his fellow Kenyan Shadrack Korir last Tuesday in Lausanne (3:31.96 vs 3:32.12).  Last night Komen, the reigning World Indoor silver medallist, has become the seventh fastest 1500m athlete in history by clocking a winning 3:29.02 effort in Rome. Both athletes, Komen and Korir, will clash again in Madrid but the former seems to be a safe bet for the win. World Indoor bronze medallist Angwenyi Elkanah Onkware (PB of 3:31.97 in Rome) and Simotwo Suleiman Kipses (SB of 3:31.67) complete what promises to be a Kenyan party in the Spanish capital. European hopes rest on Portugal’s Rui Silva and Spain’s Arturo Casado (PB of 3:35.49 in Rome).

Alekna, Cantwell, Hoffa…strong infield events

In the men’s Discus Throw, several of the season’s top throwers will face-off looking for a 70m+ release. Virgilijus Alekna has been the most consistent so far this season. Undefeated in nine competitions in 2006 topped by a 69.73m heave (10 June in Vilnius), the two-time World and Olympic champion carries momentum that his competitors will find hard to resist. American Ian Waltz (SB of 68.91m) and Gerd Kanter of Estonia (67.49m) will provide a difficult test for Alekna.

Leading the American charge in the men’s Shot Put are the last two World Indoor champions, Christian Cantwell (2004) and Reese Hoffa (2006). None of them managed the National title in Indianapolis as they placed second and third respectively despite huge tosses of 21.96 and 21.89 behind Nelson’s 22.04. Denmark’s Olympic bronze medallist Joachim Olsen (SB of 21.33) and America’s Dan Taylor (21.59) should be dangerous outsiders.

Lebedeva to regain 15m+ path

The women’s Triple Jump offers most of the usual elite of the event. Last year’s $1 Million Golden League Jackpot sole winner Russia’s Tatyana Lebedeva heads the cast and will face Jamaica’s reigning World champion Trecia Smith and Cuba’s world bronze medallist Yargelis Savigne. The reigning double World Indoor champion and former double World outdoor champion is the outstanding favourite for victory after her four straight wins this outdoor season, all with leaps of over 15 metres except her last outing on Friday in Rome where she jumped 14.88 but well ahead of Smith (4th measured in 14.53).

Medallists galore in the women’s 800

The pre-eminent athlete in this discipline should be Zulia Calatayud. The current World champion has been defeated twice in the short gap of eight days in Athens and Lausanne earlier this month although in the Swiss city the 26-year-old Cuban managed her second ever quickest time with a 1:56.91 clocking.

Yesterday in Rome Calatayud prevailed over three-time American champion Hazel Clark (1:59:35 vs 1:59.83). Stiff opposition for the Cuban ace will also come from Morocco’s reigning Olympic and World silver medallist Hasna Benhassi who placed fourth in Lausanne last Tuesday in a SB of 1:58.24 but had to settle for seventh in Rome outside 2:00. The classy field also includes another six women having run under the 2:00 barrier this season with Spain’s European silver medallist Mayte Martínez, fourth in Rome, among them.

Felix’s comeback at specialist event

Allyson Felix became, still 19 then, the youngest World 200m champion last summer in Helsinki.  The American began the 2006 outdoor season promisingly with a 11.04 100m PB in late April but she was forced to withdraw from the American championships 200 final (25 June) with a hamstring twinge and a sore throat, so Sunday’s outing will assess her 200m fitness after her below-par 100m performance last Friday in Rome where she was timed in 11.35. Fellow American Latasha Jenkins and Cydonie Mothersill of the Cayman Islands will try to push her.

Many more remarkable athletes will gather in Madrid such as World and Olympic Long Jump champion Dwight Phillips of the U.S. (SB of 8.32 in Rome), Cuba’s World and Olympic silver Hammer medallist Yipsi Moreno, her compatriot World indoor 60m hurdles silver medallist Dayron Robles, holder of an excellent 13.04 clocking in the 110m Hurdles and Congolese Gary Kikaya (400m SB of 44.66 in Rome).

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF