Following a series of explosive jumps, Ariane Friedrich celebrates a huge pb, national record and world leading height of 2.06m (Getty Images) © Copyright

Spotlight on Friedrich and Shaheen in Karlsruhe - PREVIEW

29 January 2010Ariane Friedrich's return to the Europahalle and Saif Saeed Shaheen's return to the indoor circuit will be just two of the eagerly anticipated highlights of Sunday's BW-Bank Meeting in Karlsruhe.

As the BW Bank Meeting, the second of 10 IAAF Indoor Permit meetings of 2010, celebrates its 26th anniversary this year, it will be Friedrich's return to the venue which will quite likely steal much of the attention of the expected capacity crowd of 4500.

Just under a year ago, the 26-year-old sprung to the forefront of the women's High Jump for good with her sensational 2.05m clearance, in the process defeating Croatia's Blanka Vlasic on countback. The leap elevated Friedrich to joint No. 4 all-time indoors, and presaged well the European indoor championships a month later where she again defeated Vlasic and emerged victorious.

For Friedrich, who has since become one of the most recognised and followed faces in German athletics, Karlsruhe will be her second outing of the season after her season debut in Hustopece, Czech Republic, last weekend, where she cleared 1.95m and produced three solid efforts at 2.01m.

Vlasic won’t be competing this year, but Friedrich won’t be lacking competition. The slate also includes 23-year-old Russian Irina Gordeeva, another star on the rise in the event. Last winter, the 23-year-old improved to 2.01m indoors and 2.02m outdoors after finishing an unlucky fourth at the Russian championships and missing the World Championships.

Shaheen’s indoor return

From the busy middle and long distance program, one name in particular stands out, that of Saif Saaeed Shaheen, the World record holder in the 3000m Steeplechase. Sunday's outing will mark the first indoor appearance for the 27-year-old Qatari since the 2006 World Indoor Championships in Moscow where he took 3000m silver behind Kenenisa Bekele. Injury has largely relegated the two-time World steeplechase champion to the sidelines since that season, a campaign capped by his stellar 5000m/3000m Steeplechase double at the IAAF World Cup.

His primary opponent looks to be his former compatriot Shadrack Korir of Kenya, the 2007 World 1500m bronze medallist, who has a personal best of 7:35.98 in the 3000m indoors.

The women’s 3000m has the makings of a barnburner as well, with two of history’s four fastest women toeing the line. Meselech Melkamu famously chased Meseret Defar to the line over the distance in Stuttgart three years ago, finishing in 8:23.74, just 0.02 behind her compatriot’s World record. In Karlsruhe she’ll face Russia’s versatile Anna Alminova, the European indoor 1500m champion, who clocked 8:28.49 in Stuttgart last year – also behind Defar.

Four reigning World indoor champions on show

Four reigning World indoor champions will be in Karlsruhe this weekend, plying their trade and working out the kinks with the 13th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha just six weeks away.

Leading the women’s 1500m field will be Valencia gold medallist Gelete Burka of Ethiopia, one of just five women who have dipped under four minutes indoors. This will be the first appearance in Karlsruhe for the 23-year-old who was one of the most consistent racers in the event outdoors last summer. On paper her closest challenger is Moroccan Ibtissam Lakhouad who has a career best of 4:03.23. The meet record is a strong one, 4:01.90, set by Kutre Dulecha in 2004, a mark which now ranks the Ethiopian just outside the all-time top 10.

Another Valencia champion whose road to a title defence will wind through this south western German city is 60m World champion Olu Fasuba of Nigeria who’ll be making his first start of the year. Taking him on will be Mark Jelks, the reigning US indoor champion; three-time World Long Jump champion Dwight Phillips, whose 6.47 60m career best from 2005 is faster than Fasuba’s; and Olympic 100m finalist Churandy Martina from the Dutch Antilles who opened his season 13 days ago with a 6.66 dash.

The women’s dash features the reigning World champion as well. Angela Williams of the USA will be making her 2010 debut, and will face the likes of Laverne Jones_Ferrette of the Virgin Islands and Franca Idoko of Nigeria, a 4x100m Relay Olympic bronze medallist who has clocked 7.09.

Another Valencia champion on show will be American Lolo Jones. The 27-year-old American clocked her 7.77 career best in Karlsruhe in 2008 where she finished second to Susana Kallur’s 7.68 World record. She’ll be arriving from Glasgow where she’ll be making her first international start of the season on Saturday.

As always, strong domestic line up in men’s Pole Vault

Plenty of local - and international – attention will remain on the infield where the strong German vaulting corps will be well represented. The line up includes Alexander Straub, the European indoor bronze medallist; 2008 European indoor champion Danny Ecker; World junior record holder Raphael Holzdeppe; and former World indoor and twice European indoor champion, Tim Lobinger. Frenchman Romain Mesnil, a two-time World silver medallist outdoors, will be looking to rain on the German parade.

Back on the track, figuring prominently in the men’s spring hurdles will be four-time 110m Hurdles champion Allen Johnson. The ageless American, now 38, set the meeting record of 7.38 back in 1995. Bahamian Shamar Sands (7.49 PB) and European indoor bronze medallist Petr Svoboda of the Czech Republic, respectively 14 and 13 years Johnson’s junior, lead the field.

In the men’s 800m, most eyes will be on Russian Yuriy Borzakovskiy who’ll start as favourite. In the men’s 1500m, the favourite will be Gebremehdin Mekonnen of Ethiopia who was sixth at World Indoor Championships in 2008. Last year the 21-year-old had his best outing in Oslo where he finished fourth in the Dream Mile.

In the men’s Long Jump, Frenchman Salim Sdiri and Martin Starzak of Poland lead the field. With European indoor champion Sebastian Bayer sidelined, Christian Reif, and 8.19m jumper, will be the crowd favourite.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF