Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba on her way to breaking the world indoor 3000m record in Stockholm (DECA Text & Bild) © Copyright
Preview Stockholm, Sweden

Dibaba’s record attempt the main attraction in Stockholm

For the 26th straight year, the Globe Arena will host top-class athletics when the XL Galan, an IAAF Indoor Permit meeting, descends upon Stockholm on Thursday (19).

During the first quarter century of the meeting, there have been no fewer than nine world indoor records established. The most recent of those came last year when Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba demolished the 3000m mark by more than seven seconds, running 8:16.60.

So when Dibaba returns to the XL-Galan on Thursday to run the 5000m, expectations for another stellar performance are high.

Her target is the world indoor record, which incidentally doubles up as the arena record as Meseret Defar clocked 14:24.37 at this meeting six years ago; the same Defar who held the 3000m world indoor record which Dibaba broke last year.

It will be a tall order for Dibaba to challenge the 5000m record as her PB from last summer stands at 14:28.88 and only four runners ever have run faster than 14:24 outdoors. But Dibaba’s outright PBs for the 1500m, 3000m and two miles were all set indoors, so she could be set to continue that trend in what will be her first ever indoor 5000m.

To attack the world indoor record, Dibaba would need to pass through 3000m somewhere in the region of 8:38; below the current world-leading mark for that distance and a time only one other runner managed to surpass last winter. It’s therefore not realistic to expect to have any pacemaker capable of keeping the necessary speed for more than half the distance; from then on she will be all on her own.

The middle and long-distance events have always been at the core of the XL-Galan and the line-ups this year for the men’s 800m and 1500m as well as the women’s 1500m ensures that the tradition will live on.

The men’s 1500m features world leader Homiyu Tesfaye, fresh from his 3:35.71 German record in Vienna on Saturday. He will be up against the formidable Kenyan quartet of Silas Kiplagat, Vincent Kibet, Collins Cheboi and Bethwel Birgen.

The men’s 800m is just as packed with the Polish duo Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski taking on Kenya’s Timothy Kitum, South Africa’s Andre Olivier and Qatar’s Musaeb Balla. The home turf advantage and the Stockholm crowd will hope to help world junior bronze medallist Andreas Almgren to mix it up with those runners.

Abeba Aregawi has delighted the spectators at the XL-Galan over the past two years, producing two of the four fastest indoor performances of all time. But the world champion is skipping the 2015 indoor season after being hampered with injuries throughout the second half of 2014.

But Swedish hopes for the women’s 1500m are still high this year as European 5000m champion Meraf Bahta will be contesting her favourite event. She showed her potential at the shorter distance last summer with her 4:01.34 for fifth place at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich.

An even more impressive indication of her middle-distance potential came at the IAAF Continental Cup where she finished second in the 3000m, running the last 1000m in 2:38 (3:57 pace for 1500m) and the last 600m in 1:29.3.

In Stockholm Bahta will face an impressive group of 1500m specialists including European champion Sifan Hassan, world indoor silver medallist Axumawit Embaye, world junior silver medallist Gudaf Tsegay and Britain’s 4:00.07 performer Laura Muir.

If the middle distances have historically been one of the corner stones of this meeting, the other major part has been the jumping events.

This year that tradition continues with the women’s pole vault – which previously has produced  three world indoor records and three world junior indoor records – bringing together six jumpers with indoor PBs of 4.68m or better.

Leading that group is former world champion Fabiana Murer who this winter at age 33 has improved her indoor PB to 4.83m, giving her an eight-centimetre lead on the 2015 world list. But in the competition prior to that performance, Murer lost to Angelica Bengtsson and Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou, both of whom will be competing in Stockholm.

Bengtsson will be returning to the arena where in 2011 she raised her PB and world junior record by 11 centimetres to 4.63m. That mark remains the world junior record, but she revised her PB last month by setting a national record of 4.68m.

Another favourite with the Stockholm crowd is local long jumper Michel Torneus. Just like last year, he will have a short indoor season consisting of just three meetings: the XL-Galan, the Swedish Championships and the international championships. Last year that schedule climaxed with a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships.

Torneus has won at the XL-Galan three of the past four years. On Thursday he will face world leader Eusebio Caceres plus the super-experienced Louis Tsatoumas and Ignisious Gaisah, who actually set his indoor PB of 8.36m when winning at this meeting nine years ago.

The women’s long jump will bring together four jumpers from the current top 10 this winter, two of whom are from Sweden: the ever-consistent Erica Jarder and the up-and-coming talent Khaddi Sagnia.

The latter won the inaugural World Youth Olympic title in the triple jump in 2010 but then suffered a knee injury. She is now back to full fitness and has – at least for the time being – switched her focus to the long jump.

The women’s 60m hurdles featuring a returning Susanna Kallur should have been one of the highlights of the evening. But after running 8.14 twice in Karlsruhe a couple of weeks ago, the world indoor record-holder felt that her body needed more time to recover and has therefore cancelled the rest of her indoor season.

It will still be an interesting race with USA’s Kristi Castlin competing against recent national record-setters Nooralotta Neziri from Finland and Isabelle Pedersen of Norway.

The line-up for the men’s event is even stronger as it is headed by world champion David Oliver and Olympic finalist Orlando Ortega, who both ran 7.51 last weekend.

On the oval track, world indoor champion Pavel Maslak has made a most impressive return to the 400m scene after missing last summer due to injury. The Czech has won in both Moscow and Chemnitz with sub-46-second clockings, despite not facing any runner capable of putting him under pressure. Dutch record-holder Lee-Marvin Bonevacia may this time provide a stronger challenge.

World youth champion and world junior silver medallist Irene Ekelund – who turns 18 next month – will be running her favourite event, the 200m. Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye will make certain that Ekelund will have to be at her best to challenge for the win.

A Lennart Julin for the IAAF