Natalya Nazarova anchors Russia's 4x400m relay team to a new World record (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Unstoppable Russians – World Indoor Championships

MonteCarloAs the world’s elite make their final preparations ahead of the 11th IAAF World Indoor Championships which begin next week in Moscow, Russia (10 -12 March), the host team looks set to dominate the battle for medals in the Olimpiyskiy Sport Palace Complex.

26 World Indoor titles will be contested over the course of three days in Moscow, and of the 13 men’s and 13 women’s events, Russian athletes currently hold the best marks of the 2006 indoor season in 2 men’s and 9 women’s disciplines!

Is it possible for the first time in history that one nation might win all the women’s flat track events, for at present Russians either tie for the world lead or are outright the best in the world? In recent weeks at the Russian Championships, the 1500m and 3000m World Indoor records were smashed, news which should give even the Ethiopians, Moroccans, Bahrainis, and Romanians, who are their nearest challengers some cause for concern.

Perhaps the Russian women’s chances of gold are most vulnerable at 60m where Mariya Bolikova heads the world list (equal with Jamaican Veronica Campbell – not entered), given that a strong USA pairing (selected from Me’Lisa Barber, Lauryn Williams and Torri Edwards), France’s Christine Arron, and Belgium’s Kim Gevaert seem to be moving into top gear. However, what is to stop Natalya Nazarova winning her third successive individual 400m gold, or the Russian World record quartet taking the 4x400m title? In both the women’s 400m and 800m, Russia has the four fastest athletes of 2006, so these titles seem good medal bets even with Maria Mutola (MOZ) seeking her seventh gold in the latter.

The Russian arsenal of women’s athletic talent is so strong we have yet to mention the other world season event leaders - 2004 / 2005 World Athlete of the Year, Yelena Isinbayeva (Pole Vault), Tatyana Kotova in the Long Jump, and Olga Levenkova who heads the Pentathlon lists for 2006.

Amidst such an array of season leading talent in the women’s division, it is also too easy to forget Russia’s indoor leaders in the men’s events, Yuriy Borzakovskiy and Yaroslav Rybakov, and when the participation of the reigning Olympic 800m champion and European outdoor High Jump gold medallists becomes just a footnote to any story, it is all the clearer that the Russian team on home soil will be exceptionally strong, perhaps even unstoppable in its pursuit of gold.

NB. Reigning Long and Triple Jump champion Tatyana Lebedeva will compete just in the Triple Jump in Moscow, Yelena Slesarenko (women’s High Jump) and Igor Pavlov (men’s Pole Vault) will also return to defend their World titles.

Chris Turner for the IAAF