Abubaker Kaki of Sudan wins a near gun to tape victory in the men's 800m to retain his World Indoor title (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Stockholm, Sweden

World record assaults by Kaki and Defar top a strong programme in Stockholm - PREVIEW

A slew of impressive fields are on tap at the Ericsson Globe Arena as the IAAF Indoor Permit Meeting series reaches its climax at the XL-Galan in Stockholm on Tuesday (22).

The stop of the international indoor circuit is already into its third decade after having premiered in 1990. Throughout the meeting’s history it has been the jumping events and the middle and long distances races that have provided most of the highlights - which includes no less than seven World indoor records, 30 Swedish indoor records and a large but unknown number of other national indoor records!

Looking at the start lists for the 2011 XL-Galan it is immediately obvious that the 22nd edition has every intention of  living up to that great tradition by once more featuring impressive fields, especially in the men's 1000m, Long Jump and Triple Jump and the women's 1500m, 3000m, High Jump and Pole Vault.

Kaki again targeting 1000m World record...

In the 1000m Abubaker Kaki is looking not just for his fourth straight win in the Globe Arena, and not just for a new PB (current 2:15.77 set here in 2008), and not just for a new Arena record (2:15.62 Vénuste Niyongabo 1995), and not just for a new 2011 World leading mark (his own 2:17.75 from Birmingham on Saturday).

No, the target is Wilson Kipketer's World indoor record of 2:14.96 set almost to the day 11 years ago in Birmingham. And in view of the fact that Kaki now will be up against Augustine Choge and Deresse Mekonnen (both 3:33 in Birmingham 1500m) and will be paced by Ismael Kombich (3:34 in Gent last week) it might very well take sub-2:15 for the Sudanese just to keep his winning streak in the Globe Arena!

... Defar to chase her own 3000m World record

Also building upon an impressive perfect record in the Arena on Tuesday evening will be Ethiopian Meseret Defar. After setting a new World indoor record at 5000m two years ago (14:24.37) and missing that record by a tantalizing 0.42 seconds last year, Defar this year has taken aim upon her own World Indoor record at 3000m.

That record of 8:23.72 was set four years ago in Stuttgart and just like for Kaki it will probably be necessary for Defar to get down to that kind of time just to win the race. Because she will be facing fellow Ethiopian Sentayehu Ejigu who in Birmingham set the current 2011 World leading time of 8:30.26 in a race she won unpressed by over seven seconds.

Gezahegn vs Arigawa in womens’ 1500m

Another exciting Ethiopian match-up is looming in the women's 1500m where their "next generation" will meet head-to-head for the first time: World Indoor champion from Doha last winter Kalkedan Gezahegn – still only 19 – vs current World leader Abeba Arigawi – still only 20.

Arigawi, who ran her first 1500m last summer, has been absolutely invincible so far this winter winning by huge two-three seconds margins in Düsseldorf (4:06), Gent (4:06) and Birmingham (4:03). Gezahegn, who missed last outdoor season due to injury, will need to be at least as good as when she won the World Indoor title last winter to challenge for the win.

But despite all this – and a men's 800m with Boaz Lalang who lost by just hundredths to Kaki in the Birmingham 1000m – the activities on the oval track will find it very hard to keep the undivided attention of the spectators. Because as said there will be top class jumping events going on continously in the infield.

Idowu tops strong Triple Jump field

The top event quality-wise will be the men's Triple Jump where just about everyone but Teddy Tamgho will be competing. Christian Olsson and Phillips Idowu will face each other again three days after Birmingham where Olsson took the early lead with 17.20m but where Idowu finally won by a massive 17.57m in the last round.

But most likely they won't have the competition all to themselves this time as the field also includes the top three Cubans David Giralt, Alexis Copello and Yoandri Betanzos, the always very competitive Romanian Marian Oprea and the reigning Olympic champion Nelson Évora on the comeback trail after missing last year due to injury.

However, the Triple Jumpers must also perform extremely well to get the focus of the Stockholm audience because there will also be a women's Pole Vault which is very much the event of the moment in Swedish athletics. Within the last month Angelica Bengtsson and Malin Dahlström have taken turns at improving the national indoor record by no less than 12 centimetres with Malin's 4.50m on Friday in Potsdam and Angelica's 4.52m on Sunday in Sätra the latest installments.

Teenager Bengtsson to take on Murer and Feofanova

Bengtsson – still only 17 – had a fabulous 2010 with gold medals at both the World Junior Championships in Moncton and the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore and a new World Youth best of 4.47m. Those achievements netted her several prestigious awards including the IAAF "Rising Star" as well as the "Newcomer of the year" of all sports at the Swedish National Sports Gala (held in January in the Globe Arena!).

Rather than making Bengtsson just a little bit complacent those accolades have obviously worked as an encouragement for further development. The XL-Galan now will be her first test on the world senior stage and judging from her 4.52m (plus very close attempts at 4.57m) on Sunday she should not feel intimidated. However, she of course should not yet be expected to challenge the likes of the gold and silver medallists of the 2010 World Indoor Championships Fabiana Murer and Svetlana Feofanova for the win.

The women's High Jump will probably be dominated by the Russian trio of Mariya Kuchina, Yelena Slesarenko and Irina Gordeyeva as the 2010 European silver medallist Emma Green will be missing due to a bothersome achilles tendon. Kuchina the youthful – just like Bengtsson born in 1993 -  revelation of this winter is the statistical favourite based upon her 1.97m from Trinec four weeks ago.

The strongest local interest of the evening will be found in the men's Long Jump where Michel Tornéus – who is from the southern suburbs of Stockholm just a few commuter train stops from the Globe Arena – will be starting as the favourite on the strength of his perfect record so far this winter of three meets and three comfortable wins: 7.94m in the match vs Finland and Norway, 8.10m in Mustasaari (Finland) and 7.97m in Birmingham.

Although the jumps and the middle and long distances as said will once more provide most of the excitement of "XL-Galan" there of course will be also quality action on the sprint straight.

In the men's 60m Hurdles Aries Merritt who has won his last four races in times between 7.46 and 7.53 will be facing the top European Petr Svoboda (7.48 on Saturday) and the women's 60m looks to become a tight matchup between Gloria Asumnu (yearly best 7.14, won in Birmingham) and Ruddy Zang Milama (yearly best 7.15, won in Gent and Liévin).

Another close and exciting race should the women's 400m with four runners who this winter have run between 51.87 and 52.21. Judging from the experience of the athletes – a very important factor in indoor 400m-running – the fight for the win should be between Jamaica's Novlene Williams-Mills (who won in Birmingham) and Russia's Antonina Krivoshapka.

A. Lennart Julin for the IAAF