Yomif Kejelcha on his way to winning the mile at the IAAF World Indoor Tour meeting in Boston (© Victah Sailer)
One week after coming within a whisker of the world indoor mile record, Yomif Kejelcha will be one of the biggest focal points of the Muller Indoor Grand Prix Birmingham when he lines up for the 1500m at the penultimate IAAF World Indoor Tour meeting of 2019 on Saturday (16).
The two-time world indoor 3000m champion won the mile at the recent Millrose Games in 3:48.46, just 0.01 outside Hicham El Guerrouj’s world indoor record set in 1997, six months before Kejelcha was born.
The Ethiopian will be targeting another one of El Guerrouj’s marks in Birmingham: the world indoor 1500m record of 3:31.18. El Guerrouj recorded that time just 10 days before his world indoor mile record, so given that Kejelcha is in near identical form as the Moroccan during his record-breaking run in 1997, the 21-year-old stands a good chance of taking down the mark in the shorter distance.
There will be tough opposition, too, including the three other men who have won 1500m races in this year’s World Indoor Tour: Torun winner and world indoor champion Samuel Tefera, Madrid winner Bethwel Birgen, and Karlsruhe winner Vincent Kibet.
Tefera, still just 19 years of age, followed his 3:35.57 Torun victory with a win in Lievin in 3:36.72. Birgen took 3000m bronze behind Kejelcha at last year’s World Indoor Championships and more recently finished second to him in the mile at the IAAF World Indoor Tour meeting in Boston. Kibet, meanwhile, claimed a narrow win over Birgen in Karlsruhe but failed to finish in Madrid after tripping mid-race.
Birgen currently leads the World Indoor Tour standings with 24 points while Kejelcha, Tefera and Kibet are tied in second with 10 points apiece. Düsseldorf will offer one final scoring opportunity in this discipline.
Records will also be under threat in the final event of the afternoon, the women’s mile. Although it’s a non-scoring event in the World Indoor Tour, the home crowd will cheer on double European indoor champion Laura Muir in her bid to break Kirsty Wade’s British indoor record of 4:23.86 set in 1988.
Other athletes in the field – such as Kenya’s Winny Chebet, Morocco’s Rababe Arafi and Uganda’s Winnie Nanyando – will also likely be targeting national indoor records in the rarely-run discipline.
First two World Indoor Tour crowns to be decided
Nine of this year’s 11 World Indoor Tour disciplines will be decided at the finale in Düsseldorf on 20 February when the series winners will be awarded their US$20,000 bonuses and wildcard entries for the IAAF World Indoor Championships Nanjing 2020.
But two scoring disciplines – the men’s long jump and women’s 3000m – will conclude in Birmingham.
Like the 1500m, the men’s long jump in Birmingham also features all of the athletes who have won a World Indoor Tour meeting so far this year, including the world indoor champion for the event.
Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria, one of the breakthrough performers of 2018, sits alongside Thobias Nilsson Montler at the top of the World Indoor Tour standings. Nilsson Montler won on countback in Karlsruhe, while world indoor champion Echevarria gained revenge in Torun.
Both men were absent from Madrid but would have been hard pressed to get the better of European champion Miltiadis Tentoglou, who bagged 10 points with a Greek indoor record of 8.23m. Tentoglou would only be able to win the World Indoor Tour if he is victorious in Birmingham and if Echevarria and Nilsson Montler both finish outside of the top three.
World U20 1500m champion Alemaz Samuel has a comfortable lead at the top of the women’s 3000m World Indoor Tour scoreboard. The Ethiopian teenager won in Madrid in a PB of 8:43.76, shaving 0.02 off the mark she set when finishing second in Karlsruhe.
Samuel will start as favourite in Birmingham and will only lose her place at the top of the standings if she finishes outside the top four and if compatriot Gudaf Tsegay wins the race. Fellow Ethiopians Axumawit Embaye, Hawi Feysa and Meskerem Mamo add further quality to the field.
Thompson faces tough indoor seasonal debut
As she has done for the past three years, double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson will be making her indoor season debut at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix following her usual end-of-January outdoor 60m run in Kingston.
Her indoor 60m runs tend to be a few hundredths faster than her outdoor times, so after her recent 7.24 in the Jamaican capital, Thompson can be expected to run somewhere in the region of 7.20.
A few other women in the field have run faster than that this year, though. European indoor champion Asha Philip has clocked 7.12 while double world silver medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou ran 7.15.
World leader Ewa Swoboda, who has already secured the maximum number of World Indoor Tour points possible, will not be in Birmingham as she’ll be competing at the Polish Indoor Championships.
The non-scoring men’s 60m is just as competitive and includes world indoor silver medallist Su Bingtian, European silver medallist Reece Prescod, Arthur Gue Cisse of the Ivory Coast, and Madrid winner Mike Rodgers.
While Orlando Ortega competes at the Spanish Indoor Championships this weekend, USA’s Jarret Eaton will have a chance to consolidate his World Indoor Tour lead in the 60m hurdles. Winner in Boston and Madrid, another victory in Birmingham would give the world indoor silver medallist a maximum score of 30.
But Milan Trajkovic of Cyprus and US duo Aaron Mallett and Freddie Crittenden, all in the top five in the World Indoor Tour standings, will ensure Eaton is pushed all the way.
Of the athletes lining up for the women’s 60m hurdles, a non-scoring event, USA’s Evonne Britton is the only one to have bettered 8.00 this year and has been consistent in all of her races so far.
World Indoor Tour records the target in vertical jumps
Four of the top five women in the World Indoor Tour standings will contest the pole vault in Birmingham. Of those, USA’s Katie Nageotte has the best mark this season with her 4.86m clearance from Boston.
But the likes of world and Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi, Canadian record-holder Alysha Newman, and European bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw – who recently won the British indoor title with 4.80m off a 12-step approach – will ensure the event will be one of the highlights of the night.
Anzhelika Sidorova won’t be in Birmingham, but her world-leading 4.91m from Madrid – the best ever mark at a World Indoor Tour meeting – could come under threat.
Similarly, Naoto Tobe’s world-leading 2.35m high jump in Karlsruhe was the best ever leap at a World Indoor Tour competition. The Japanese record-holder will be looking to better that mark in Birmingham as he faces 2007 world champion Donald Thomas of The Bahamas and 2.40m performer Andriy Protsenko of Ukraine.
Along with Kejelcha, Tefera and Echevarria, Ivana Spanovic will be the fourth world indoor champion returning to Birmingham. The Serbian long jumper will be aiming to improve on her season’s best of 6.85m as she takes on Britain’s Jazmin Sawyers and world U20 heptathlon champion Niamh Emerson.
Close contests expected at 400m and 800m
With two weeks to go until the European Indoor Championships, many athletes will be using the Indoor Grand Prix to impress national selectors or to chase qualifying times. The all-European women’s 800m is one such event.
World indoor bronze medallist Shelayna Oskan-Clarke leads a quartet of Brits in a field that includes Liga Velvere, who recently reduced her own Latvian indoor record to 2:01.10.
Following victories in Boston and Madrid, if USA’s Nathan Strother wins the men’s 400m in Birmingham, he’ll have gained the maximum possible World Indoor Tour points in his event. Slovenian record-holder Luka Janezic, Millrose Games winner Marcus Chambers and 2012 Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos are also in the field.
The non-scoring women’s event includes world indoor bronze medallist Eilidh Doyle, European bronze medallist Lisanne de Witte and 2013 world bronze medallist Stephenie Ann McPherson.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF