Moskva Match-Ups, Epic Showdowns Will Spice World Championships by Dave Hunter

Ashton Eaton, A Day in the Life, 
photo by Doug Pensinger, Getty Images/IAAF, April 12, 2013

Moskva Match-Ups
Epic Showdowns Will Spice World Championships

August 4, 2013

Can you feel it? It's a sense of anticipation. The 2013 track & field season is about to reach its apex, After four months of outdoor competition which has featured the gala early-season relays, some sensational Diamond League meetings, and an array of stunning individual performances, the preliminaries are now over. All eyes have turned toward Moscow as the 2013 IAAF Outdoor Track & Field Championships are poised to commence this coming Saturday.

The biannual competition for global crowns is always a majestic affair - orchestrated with pomp and reverence, but generally devoid of the political under-current and dilution from other sports which have occasionally dulled the luster of the Olympic stage. It is the purest Dave_Hunter_Right_On_Track.pngpresentation of championship track & field: no distractions; no issue-oriented side-shows; just the best athletes in the world competing for world titles on the track and in the field. It is this pristine athletic environment that has prompted many to proclaim the IAAF world championships as the best track & field competition of all.

Without exception, each championship battle in Moscow will feature spirited contests among the world's finest performers. But looking ahead, there are several selected competitions which are expected to be particularly keen - where long-awaited showdowns will finally take place. Here are some of the top marquee match-ups that the sport's aficionados are eager to witness:

m400:  LaShawn Merritt vs. Kirani James. This has all the earmarkings of a potential classic. Merritt - the 2008 Olympic  and 2009 World 400m champion - and James - the reigning Olympic and World 400m champion - together have the top 11 performances of 2013. While James holds a 5-2 lifetime edge over the American, recent 400 meter showdowns have been more evenly-matched. The pair has battled three times this year. The 22-year old Grenadian defeated Merritt rather handily early this spring in Shanghai and then later again in Paris where his WL 43.96 nipped Merritt by .13. In between his two losses to the James, Merritt took the measure of the defending world champion at the Pre Meet, 44.32 to 44.39.  The Moscow final should a two-man race which could feature a gladiator-like battle down the home stretch.

wPV:  Elena Ishinbaeva vs. Jen Suhr vs. Yarisley Silva. This three-way tussle in the women's pole vault has been anticipated for the better part of a year. Ishinbaeva - the legendary vault pioneer with Olympic golds from 2004 and 2008 and the current outdoor WR holder at 5.06m [16'7"] - will have home field advantage against her two formidable rivals:  USA's Jen Suhr - reigning Olympic champion and indoor WR holder at 5.02m [16'5½"] - and Cuba's Yarisley Silva - this year's world leader with a vault of 4.90m [16'¾"]. A review of the trio's 2013 outdoor performances suggests a rock-paper-scissors showdown of epic proportions. Early this spring, Ishi tagged Silva with her only 2013 loss in Ostrava, edging the Cuban star 4.78m [15' 8"] to 4.72m [15'7"]. And Silva recently handed Suhr her lone loss this year in London, bettering the American, 4.83m [15'10"] to 4.73m [15'6"]. Yet in last year's Olympic final - when the chips were on the table - Suhr's winning leap of 4.75m [15'7"] defeated both Silva [silver medalist at 4.75m/15'7"] and Ishinbaeva [bronze medalist at 4.70m/15'5"] for the gold medal. This final should be one for the ages.

mHJ:  Bohdan Bondarenko vs. Mustaz Barshim vs. Erik Kynard vs. Derek Drouin. Streakiness can be an important factor in the ever-fickle high jump. And Ukraine's Bohdan Bondarenko - with this year's WL at 2.41m [7'10¾"] - is jumping hot. Fresh off a London win at 2.38m [7'9½"] where he vanquished Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard [2.36m/7'8¾"], Bondarenko looks like the favorite. But his competition in Russia should be fierce. In addition of the American Kynard [the #3 2013 performer at 2.37m/7'9¼"], look for Qatar's Mustaz Barshim [the #2 2013 performer based upon his clearance of 2.40m (7'10¼") to win the Pre HJ] and Canada's Derek Drouin [Oly bronze medalist, Penn Relays record-setter, NCAA champion and the #4 2013 performer with a leap of 2.36m/7'8¾"] to be in the thick of the medal chase in what should be a highly competitive final. The championship record of 2.40m [7'10¼"] - set in Stuttgart in 1983 by Cuba's Javier Sotomayor - could be in danger.

wHJ:  Anna Chickerova vs. Brigitta Barrett. This event should be an outstanding competition from all angles as the Russian gold medalist and the American silver medalist engage in a much-anticipated rematch of the London Olympic final. Since crowd favorite Blanka Vlasic was forced to be a late and reluctant withdrawal due to a lingering foot injury, the wHJ should be a two-athlete square off as only Chickerova [2.02m/6'7½"] and Barrett [2.04m/6'8¼"] have 2013 clearances of 2 meters or higher. With the widely-covered Edward Snowden incident increasing strain between the United States and Russia, the women's high jump has the potential to be one of the most visible and highly-publicized events of these championships. Might this east-west high jump showdown be the 21st century version of the earlier cold war high jump skirmishes between Valeriy Brumel and John Thomas?

Decathlon:  Ashton Eaton vs. Trey Hardee. This heavyweight bout between two incredible decathletes should be a major highlight of these championships. As occasionally happens when two great athletes are in their prime in the same event [e.g. Coe vs. Ovett; Lewis vs. Conley; Yang vs. Johnson;], defending world champion Hardee and Olympic champion and WR holder Eaton push each other to new heights of performance. Hardee is a proud athlete who wants desperately to repeat as world champion. The Olympic champion - who scored 8291 points to capture the national deca crown while recovering from a slight knee strain - might be vulnerable if not fully healed.  Eaton - who holds the world decathlon record in the first two decathlon events [the 100m and the LJ] - is an accomplished Day One performer. And he'll need that big first day in Russia, as 10 decathletes have posted 10-event scores this year which are superior to the Olympic champion's Des Moines total. But if Eaton's recently-improved throws performances sag, any early lead he might be able to forge could slip away faster than Bob Kraft's Super Bowl ring.

Each of these showdowns should provide drama-packed competitions. And as terrific as these contests are likely to be, there undoubtedly will emerge yet additional battles in other events - equally gripping - that will feature head-to-head duels that will include lesser-regarded athletes not anticipated to contend for world titles. It will be all of these tense match-ups - both the expected and the unexpected - that will have the attention of the track & field world riveted on Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium during the coming weeks.

~Dave Hunter

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