Tirunesh Dibaba leaders her sister Ejegayehu in the Boston 3000m (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
Preview Valencia, Spain

Bekele, Dibaba, Melkamu…3000m events take centre stage in Valencia – PREVIEW

With the 12th World Indoor Championships beginning Friday 7 March (ends 9 March), the Valencia meet on Saturday 9 February - the fourth of the nine meeting IAAF indoor permit series in 2008 - will be very much a dress rehearsal for those Worlds.

The focus in the men’s programme will primarily rest on the three middle-distance races, the 800m, 1500 and 3000, plus the High Jump, while the interest on the women’s schedule should be in the 3000m and the Long Jump.

MEN - Assault on Komen 3000m WR is the goal

Has Kenenisa Bekele any limits?  That’s a question which next Saturday’s 3000m event hopes to try to answer. After his XC win in Edinburgh on 12 January over the reigning World champion Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese, the Ethiopian ace turns to the track eager to chase Kenya’s Daniel Komen’s record of 7:24.90 which celebrated its 10th anniversary yesterday as it was set on 6 February 1998 in Budapest.

The reigning World Indoor 3000m champion for the distance has asked the organisers for pacemakers capable of going through the 2000m point under 5:00 to threaten the World record. However, Bekele’s first task will be to secure the win against a mighty line-up headed by the 2008 world leader in the guise of his own brother Tariku, who notched a brilliant victory last Saturday in Stuttgart with a 7:31.09 clocking to fall just 0.58 seconds short of the family record, a 7:30.51 performance set by Kenenisa last year in Stockholm.

Trying to deny a 1-2 for the Bekele brothers on Saturday night will be their fellow Ethiopian Abraham Feleke Cherkos who recorded the quickest ever time for a junior in Stuttgart thanks to an impressive 7:38.03 run, Kenya’s reigning World Indoor 1500m silver medallist Daniel Kipchirchir Komen (PB of 7:37.47), his countrymen Abraham Chebii, fresh from a 7:44.70 outing also in Stuttgart and top steeplechaser Brimin Kipruto plus Portugal’s reigning Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Rui Silva. The Portuguese is an accomplished runner in every surface having grabbed the World Indoor 1500m title in 2001 and more recently the bronze medal at last December’s European Cross Country Championships in Toro.

Kiprop, Gebremedhin, Higuero…1500 WL in prospect

The men’s 1500m will likely witness a new world leading performance as it also provides a quality field headed by Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, the reigning World Junior Cross Country champion who made a major breakthrough on the senior scene last summer by taking an unexpected fourth spot at the Osaka Worlds over 1500m. Kiprop will be joined by Ethiopia’s Mekonen Gebremedhin, the second fastest athlete of the year following his runner-up place in Stuttgart in 3:38.90.

Former double (800 & 1500m) World outdoor champion Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain and France’s Mounir Yemmouni will also be in contention but the surprise might well come from the powerful Spanish contingent assembled in the guise of Juan Carlos Higuero, Arturo Casado and Diego Ruiz. The latter is fresh from a commanding win over Reyes Estévez – who will tackle the 3000m on Saturday – in a praiseworthy PB of 3:40.33 over a 180m-ring track in Zaragoza last Saturday while reigning European indoor champion Higuero clinched a fine win on that permit in the 3000m with a 7:53.04 clocking and a 10-second advantage on Casado.

Kenya’s Wilfred Bungei is the star name in the men’s 800m, a discipline which features four of the fastest six men so far this season. The 27-year-old current World Indoor champion Bungei, who managed 1:46.38 in Stuttgart, faces the challenge of Latvia’s Dmitrijs Milkevics (1:46.67) and Uganda’s young talent Abraham Chepkirwok (1:47.20). Not to be discounted for the podium places is Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic as the reigning European Junior 3000m Steeplechase champion has startled on this early stage of the indoor campaign by producing  a 1:47:37 800m effort last 29 January in Vienna.

The Spanish charge will be led by the 21-year-old Luis Alberto Marco who beat with ease national record holder Antonio Reina in Zaragoza while Manuel Olmedo, the current indoor and outdoor Spanish champion will open his indoor season in Valencia.

Osaka champions Thomas and Saladino to highlight the infield

Bahamas’ reigning World High Jump champion Donald Thomas will compete for the third time this indoor campaign after his slightly below-par first two outings. In Gothenburg on 29 January he cleared 2.21 and skipped 2.25 before failing three times with the bar raised at 2.28, while in Arnstadt the 23-year-old Bahamian had to settle for eight with a 2.28 clearance. The former basketball player’s toughest opponent should be America’s Jesse Williams, who set a PB of 2.32 last Tuesday (5 Feb) in Banska Bystrica only bettered by Sweden’s Olympic champion Stefan Holm.

The Long Jump offers the 2008 debut of Irving Saladino. The Panamanian Osaka World champion, who holds an indoor PB of 8.31m, will battle against Ghana's reigning World Indoor champion Ignisious Gaisah, Brazil’s Rogério Bispo, fresh from a runner-up appearance in Samara last Saturday with a 8.03 leap and Jamaica’s James Beckford, still looking for his first 8.00+ effort of the year.

Americans Christian Cantwell and Dan Taylor head the cast in the men’s Shot Put alongside Denmark’s Olympic bronze medallist Joachim Olsen in his indoor opener. As for Cantwell, he unleashed a 21.35m toss last 18 January in Nordhausen to rank now second on the year’s season list while Taylor had to settle for a 20.35 heave at the Millrose Games in New York.

Dibaba, Melkamu, Burka…Ethiopian talent on show

The most awaited event on the women’s side will be the 3000m contest as the organisers have been able to bring together up to three Ethiopians of the highest calibre such as Tirunesh Dibaba, Meselech Melkamu and Gelete Burka. Dibaba is the reigning World 10,000m champion and has also proved her ability on the boards as she is the 5000m World Indoor record holder with a 14:27.42 (2007). She holds the 3000m world lead this season thanks to a 8:33.37 clocking in Boston.

However, it’s her fellow Ethiopian Melkamu who is closest to Meseret Defar’s WR of 8:23.72 (Stuttgart 3 February 2007), which is also on Saturday’s agenda as the fight between Dibaba and Melkamu (PB of 8:23.74 on the same day of Defar’s record) could put that mark in jeopardize. As for Burka, the 2006 World Cross Country champion (4km. race) is a debutant indoors and will try to match the XC form she showed in Edinburgh by winning the IAAF permit on 12 January.

The Long Jump will also be another marquee event on Saturday with the clash between Brazil’s Maurren Higga Maggi and Karin Mey of South Africa. That encounter will be a rematch of last Saturday’s in Stuttgart when the 31-year-old Brazilian set an Area record of 6.87 while Mey delivered a 6.84 effort for a National record. The European opposition will be formed by Portugal’s Naide Gomes (SB of 6.79) and Spain’s Concha Montaner (6.63) who took gold and silver respectively at last year’s European Indoors held in Birmingham.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF

NB. At the time of writing the previews of both the Valencia and Karlsruhe meets they each had entry lists showing similar casts in two events, the women's Long Jump and 1500m, and of course who is running where will only become clear when the start lists for both meets are finalised and in the public domain.