TRACK PROFILE Report #819
BOLT TO LEAD PARADE OF BEIJING CHAMPIONS AT WELTKLASSE – ZURICH PREVIEW
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2008 TRACK PROFILE Report, all rights reserved
ZURICH — Winners of 14 Olympic gold medals grace the starting line-ups for tomorrow eveningâ€™s Weltklasse meet in Zurich, but the chief focus of the sell-out crowd of 26,000 at Letzigrund Stadium and several million others around the world will fall on just one: triple Olympic champion Usain Bolt.
The smiling, playful visage of the tall Jamaican became one of the most identifiable on the planet during his stay in Beijing when he rewrote Olympic and track & field history with a display that still leaves many shaking their heads in awe. His world records of 9.69 and 19.30 in the 100 and 200m defied the imagination and instantly redefined the perceived limits of human ability. And at 22, Bolt is hardly finished.
Indeed, the way in which he took Beijing 100m gold, shutting down and celebrating when he should have been clamping down and accelerating, clearly indicates that his record is under threat anytime he steps on the track. With ideal conditions in the forecast, tomorrow night included.
Over the years, the Weltklasse has mirrored the financial might of its host city, gaining a reputation as the richest one-day meet in the world. With its menâ€™s 100m field boasting seven of the eight Beijing finalists, that reputation remains intact.
Silver medallist Richard Thompson of Trinidad and American Walter Dix, the 100m and 200m bronze medallist, look to be the ones to once again lead the chase.
â€œRevengeâ€ has been a term used to describe many of Friday eveningâ€™s showdowns, including the menâ€™s 400m, where freshly-minted Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and the man he succeeded, Jeremy Wariner, square-off for the sixth time this season.
â€œTomorrowâ€™s race against LaShawn will be just like an Olympic final,â€ Wariner said this afternoon. But Merritt countered, separately, something Wariner already knows, â€œWhatever happens tomorrow, Iâ€™m still going to be Olympic champion.â€
Pride is, of course, at stake, and the pairâ€™s rematch will be among the most tantalizing on the eveningâ€™s slate. Merritt now holds a 3-2 edge over Wariner this season. All three victories came when Merritt was lined up to the inside of his rival. In Zurich, itâ€™ll be Merritt in lane three, and Wariner in four.
– Jelimo, Vlasic Resume Jackpot Chase
The chase for the $1 million Golden League Jackpot resumes, with two still in the running: Kenyan 800m prodigy Pamela Jelimo and Croatiaâ€™s world high jump champion Blanka Vlasic. Jelimo arrives after the teenager added yet another accolade to her phenomenal breakout season in the event, that of Olympic champion. Yet again, no one seems ready to challenge putting her in the jackpot driverâ€™s seat with just two meets remaining.
The loaded field includes her Beijing teammate Janeth Jepkosgei, the silver medallist, and another compatriot, Nancy Jebet Lagat, whose 1500m triumph in the Chinese capital was one of the major surprises of the Games. The race also features the final Zurich outing for retiring Maria Mutola, who has won here a staggering 12 times. But with Jelimo, the woman who as a teenager succeeded her as African record holder and who has requested a blazing 56 second pace for the first lap, Mutolaâ€™s swan song will most assuredly not be a 13th Weltklasse victory.
Meet director Patrick Magyar conceded that finding an adequate pacesetter for Jelimo is a difficult task. He settled for Russian Svetlana Klyuka, who finished fourth in Beijing. Such is the rise of Jelimo: a near Olympic medallist is needed to help set her tempo.
For Vlasic, who took easy victories in Berlin, Oslo, Paris and Rome, the Jackpot chase is a little less cozy. The popular jumper from Croatiaâ€™s charming Dalmatian coast arrives in Zurich on the heels of a shock defeat by Belgian Tia Hellebaut in Beijing, and can expect another stiff challenge not only from Hellebaut, but from a reunion of almost the entire Olympic final field. Vlasic said she hasnâ€™t lost any confidence from her silver medal performance â€“or the end of her 34-meet win streakâ€”and added that she has found new motivation to win her remaining competitions.
– Bekele Returns to Action in the 5000m
As is the case for Jelimo, finding adequate pace-making for Kenenisa Bekele is one of the most thankless chores for meet directors. Fortunately for Magyar, Bekele has already said that any more world record assaults are out of the picture this year. Tired from his historic Olympic 5000 and 10,000m triumphs, heâ€™s simply happy to race. Although the 5000m field is a formidable one â€“Olympic bronze medallist Edwin Soi of Kenya and Ugandan Moses Kipsiro, the fourth place finisher will take to the lineâ€”nobody in the world right now seems capable to remotely challenge the Ethiopian.
Bekele nearly didnâ€™t make it to the start line. His departure for Zurich forced an early end to celebrations of his triumph in Addis Ababa, and only after a direct plea from IAAF President Lamine Diack did the Ethiopian federation allow Bekele to race.
-Robles Looking to Continue Impeccable ’08 Momentum
Dayron Robles returns to action after his dominating victory in Beijing and is reportedly still exhibiting amazing form. Like Bolt, given the right conditions, the young Cuban too is a world record threat anytime he steps on the track. He lowered the mark this year, running 12.87 in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in June. The field includes five of the eight Beijing finalists, including bronze medallist David Oliver of the U.S., who joined the sub-13 club with his 12.95 in Doha, Qatar, in May.
The womenâ€™s sprint hurdles are among the eveningâ€™s most eagerly anticipated Olympic rematches. Then again, rematch isnâ€™t quite the right word. Olympic champion Dawn Harper, along with silver and bronze medalists Sally McLellan of Australia and Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, top the field, which includes pre-Beijing favorite Lolo Jones, the seasonâ€™s fastest who famously ruined her gold medal run after clipping the ninth hurdle in the Olympic final carrying a big lead. European champion Susanna Kallur, who went out in the first round after falling over the first hurdle, also returns to action.
From the deepest start list of the season, a few other items of note include:
– Yelena Isinbayeva in the pole vault, in her follow-up to a second successive Olympic gold. In Beijing she raised the world record for the 24th time, clearing 5.05m. There is no reason to believe that she canâ€™t set her fourth record of the summer on Friday.
– Americans Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards in the 200 and 400m respectively, looking for confidence-boosting runs after disappointment in Beijing. Both strong favorites, Felix instead won her second Olympic silver, and Richards took the bronze.
– Olympic champion Rashid Ramzi returns to action in the 1500, where heâ€™ll face silver medallist Asbel Kiprop, but this time in a paced race.
– A reunion of the American 400m hurdles sweep: Angelo Taylor, Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson.
– World leader Paul Kipsiele Koech, who didnâ€™t run in Beijing, will be aiming for the seasonâ€™s first sub-eight minute run in the 3000m steeplechase.