Eleven medallists from IAAF World Championships London 2017 will converge on the Croatian capital Zagreb for the 67th edition of the Hanzekovic Memorial, an IAAF World Challenge Meeting, on Tuesday (29).
Four of those are freshly-minted world champions, in Zagreb headed by local heroine Sandra Perkovic. The two-time Olympic champion regained the world title in London earlier this month, and although she hasn’t been perfect this season, losing twice in nine competitions, she did add three more 70 metres-plus competition to her already impressive CV, topped by a 71.41m lifetime best. No one in Zagreb will receive a warmer welcome.
London shot put podium reunion
The meeting gets underway on Monday night with the men’s shot put competition at the City Fountains Park in central Zagreb which features a reunion of the London podium finishers. World champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand will face Joe Kovacs of the US and Croatian’s rising star Stipe Zunic, the London bronze medallist, in a competition that includes Czech Tomas Stanek who joined the 22-metre club earlier this season with a 22.01m throw. Kovacs meanwhile improved his lifetime best to 22.57m this season while Walsh, who set his 22.21m Oceania record at this meet last year, has thrown 22.14m this season.
In the pole vault, Sam Kendricks, another London champion and the world leader at 6.00m, will bring his 12-meeting unbeaten streak to Zagreb, clearly the man the beat. The closest on paper this season is Frenchman Kevin Menaldo who's topped 5.83m this season. Croatia's Ivan Horvat will look to improve his own 5.70m national record on home territory.
The fourth London winner on the programme is Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, the world 200m champion, who’ll be racing over the less comfortable 100m distance.
The 27-year-old joined the sub-10 club in July with a 9.97 clocking in Bursa, and will arrive on the heels of a 10.09 runner-up finish in Berlin. He'll face a solid field, which includes Jamaicans Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell and Ben Youssef Meite of Ivory Coast. Blake has run 9.90 this year and Meite 9.97, while Powell, who is seeking the 98th wind-legal sub-10 of his career, is on the rebound from injury. He clocked 10.11 in Zurich on Thursday in his first race in two months.
Rare home appearance for Rio champion Kolak
Among the past or current Olympic champions on the programme, attracting the biggest buzz will be Croatia’s Sara Kolak, the Rio champion.
Despite her surprise success last year, the 22-year-old is still finding her way in the event --with mixed results. She'll arrive as the world leader at 68.43m, her latest national record set when winning in Lausanne, but on the heels of disappointing finishes at the World Championships and the IAAF Diamond League final where was fourth and third respectively. Primary among her challengers are Tatsiana Khaladovich of Belarus, who's reached a near-PB of 66.30m this season, and Slovenia's Martina Ratej, who has a 65.64 season's best.
Shubenkov vs Baji in the highs
The meeting’s signature events are the sprint hurdles contests named to honour Croatia’s inter-war hurdler Boris Hanzekovic. The men's field is traditionally strong and quite even, led by Sergey Shubenkov and Balazs Baji of Hungary, the world silver and bronze medallists. The former has clocked 13.01 this season and is rounding into form while Baji has improved to 13.15. Andrew Pozzi of Great Britain (13.14 PB, SB), Jamaican Ronald Levy (13.05 PB, SB) and Devon Allen (13.10 SB) of the US will all play key roles.
The women's race features Dawn Harper-Nelson, the 2008 Olympic champion and silver medal in London this year, taking on US compatriots Kristi Castlin and Christina Manning. Manning improved her lifetime best to 12.54 with her Berlin victory on Sunday.
Clement vs McMaster
Over the full lap barriers, an intriguing battle is expected to play out between Olympic champion Kerron Clement, who was third in London, and Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Islands. The 20-year-old, who is the world leader at 47.80, was disqualified in the opening round at the World Championships but bounced back with an impressive victory at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the 400m flat will feature a rematch between Isaac Makwala of Botswana and Gil Roberts of the US, who finished 1-2 in the Diamond League final on Thursday. Makwala, who's clocked under 44 seconds in his last three races --not including the rounds in London-- will be difficult to stop.
The women's 100m includes three women who've gone under 11 seconds this season including Michelle-Lee Ahye of Trinidad & Tobago, the year's second fastest woman at 10.82.
Wilson the woman to beat at 800m
Moving up in distance, Ajee Wilson, the world bronze medallist, will start as the women to chase. She'll arrive after chasing Caster Semenya to the line as the South African broke the world best for 600m in Berlin on Sunday. Wilson clocked 1:22.39, also dipping under the previous world best.
The longest events of the evening are over 3000m, the steeplechase for the women and the flat for the men.
Norah Jeruto of Kenya will arrive on the back of her solid 9:03.70 victory and lifetime best in Berlin; that's nearly 17 seconds better than the rest of the field. But how fresh will her legs be?
In the men's 3000m, watch out for Canadian Mohammed Ahmed --sixth in the World Championships 5000m and eighth in the 10,000m-- to set off on a quick pace. The 26-year-old has raced aggressively all season and is still chasing his first outdoor victory.
Back on the infield, London bronze medallist Kamila Licwinko of Poland leads the women's high jump field while Michael Hartfield (8.21m SB) of the US and neutral athlete Aleksandr Menkov (8.32m SB) are expected to do battle in the long jump.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF