Feature06 Mar 2014

IAAF Ambassadors Bruny Surin, Allen Johnson and Natallia Dobrynska face the press in Sopot


IAAF Ambassadors Bruny Surin, Natallia Dobrynska and Allen Johnson in Sopot (© Getty Images)

Bruny Surin, Allen Johnson and Natallia Dobrynska are Ambassadors to the IAAF World Indoor Championships Sopot 2014 and all were present at the traditional pre-event press conference ahead of the biggest athletics event of the year on Thursday (6).

The championships start in the Polish city on Friday and continue until Sunday.

The three IAAF Ambassadors will be very visible during their time in Sopot.

Among their activities, they will conduct interviews with local and international media, visit local schools, provide their thoughts on the championships via various social media platforms, provide autograph sessions and be involved with the medal presentations.

Below are the edited highlights of the question-and-answer session with the Ambassadors.

Natallia Dobrynska (UKR)

Q: Two years ago in Istanbul, you became the first woman to score more than 5000 points in the indoor pentathlon, what do you remember about that day?

A: I have always been in love with the winter (indoor) championships, and in Istanbul I showed not the best result I could have done but it was still good enough for a world record.

I’m now retired but if Ashton (Eaton, sitting next to her at the presss conference) sets another world record, that might persuade me to make a comeback, so I wish Ashton good luck and I hope he motivates me!

Q: How do you rate the chances of your compatriot and outdoor heptathlon world champion Hanna Melnychenko?

A: Actually, I support every athlete, not just from my own country as sport brings nations together and helps bring peace. Hanna is a close friend of mine and we’ve been competing together (in the past). I have no doubts Hanna will be among the medals here.

Q: Can you tell us how the events in Ukraine have affected you and will it be a distraction to the Ukrainian athletes here in Sopot?

A: Nobody in Ukraine at all, and in our team, wants to face war. We want to live in peace, as any person in our world. We are very thankful for all countries who have supported us in such difficult times. I hope that the destiny of Ukraine will be resolved in a diplomatic way in the nearest future. In any case, we need to distinguish sport and politics.

Because of some financial problems, we couldn’t organise a traditional training camp for our athletes before this World Indoor Championships, but I believe that all difficulties we have met will just make our athletes stronger.

Certainly, every athlete of our team is not indifferent to the current situation (at home in Ukraine) but we’re professionals and we should be focused on our work to represent our country in the international athletics arena at the highest level. In Sopot, we have a unique mission. Here, we’re not just athletes, we’re peace ambassadors as well.

Allen Johnson (USA)

Q: What did athletics mean to you when you were competing and what does it mean now that you are coaching?

A: First of all, I competed for so long because I really enjoyed running. If I was physically able to compete today, I’d still be competing. Athletics provided me with a lot of friends, a lot of excitement. I got to travel the world and see different cultures and different people.

Because of that, I wanted to give back and now I’m a sprint coach at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It’s a joy for me to watch athletes improve.

I couldn't compete now as a masters athlete. I've only just started lifting some weights again. If I was to run I guess I'd just be able to go below 15 seconds outdoors

Q: Let’s speak about the women’s hurdles. How do you rate Sally Pearson compared to the US hurdlers?

A: Back in 2012, I was with a female American hurdler, who previously won a gold medal, if you don’t know who she is then I’ll leave you to work that out. But I’d say that Sally Pearson is perfect. She has a great start, she is fast, she has great technique. We were joking that Sally would have to fall and break her leg twice to lose at the Olympics in 2012. Unfortunately, last year Sally was injured. Watching her, you could tell, I could tell, she wasn’t in her top form, but when she is, she’s probably the best hurdler I’ve ever seen in person; or one of the best because we also have Brianna Rollins. As a fan of women’s hurdling, I want to see these two go at it because the world record could be in jeopardy.

Q: What about the men’s hurdles? Aries Merritt isn’t defending his title. Is there a new generation coming through in this event?

A: I think so. The men’s hurdles is in a little bit of transition and I think some of the young guys are going to use these championships to establish themselves as one of the front runners, going into the outdoor season, then going on to the World Championships next year and then on to Brazil, Rio 2016. The World Indoor Championships is a great platform to start from.

On paper, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde is the favourite here but, in our event, anything can happen. It’s about getting to the final and being able to deal with the pressure and with the athletes on either side of you running fast. It will be about who competes the hardest. The one who’ll make the fewest amount of mistakes will be the champion.

Bruny Surin (CAN)

Q: I guess your focus of attention is on the 60m, which you won twice, so who is your favourite?

A: This season the young American Marvin Bracy, who ran 6.48, is the favourite. Unfortunately, France’s Jimmy Vicaut and Britain’s James Dasaolu are both injured. Personally, I thought Dasaolu could break the world record this year, after I saw his performance in Birmingham (where he ran 6.47).

Q: You think Dasaolu can break Maurice Greene's world record of 6.39, which has stood since 1998?

A: Yes. He has a great start. From what I saw in Birmingham last month, he ran 6.47 in his semi-final with a poor start and then 6.50 slowing down in the final. Unfortunately, he got injured but if he’d have come here in shape I think the world record would have been in jeopardy. He seems to get injured a lot, but if he can find a solution to his health problems then I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run 9.8 this summer.

Q: What about the women’s 60m in Sopot?

A: I think the experience of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, her fast reaction time, her great start, makes me pick her. I’m going to go for her 100 per cent.

Q: And what about Canadian prospects of medals?

A: I know that Ashton Eaton is a great shape, but hopefully Damian Warner will be right behind him in the heptathlon but Ashton did the right thing and married a Canadian (Brianne Theisen-Eaton).

As for sprinters, Justyn Warner has already run 10.0 (10.09) twice. He can be the next Canadian to go under 10 seconds, to compete with those great athletes and to run 9.7-9.8.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF