Mo Farah on his way to an assured victory in the 3000m in Birmingham (© Getty Images)
Home star Mo Farah will definitely be the star attraction at the Sainsbury’s Indoor Grand Prix, the fifth and final IAAF Indoor Permit meeting of the season, in Birmingham on Saturday (21).
The last time the world saw Farah in track action was in the same city at the IAAF Diamond League in August last year.
The reigning Olympic, world and European 5000m and 10,000m champion finished a summer campaign abbreviated by illness and injury by smashing Steve Ovett’s 36-year-old European outdoor two mile best with a time of 8:07.85.
Six months on, as Farah prepares to contest his first race of 2015, the watching world must be wondering whether he can again turn the clock back – and in another two mile race in Britain’s second city, this time indoors in the Barclaycard Arena.
Birmingham's indoor meeting has become renowned over the years for its clock-chasing feats, with world records and world bests by Haile Gebrselassie (three), Kenenisa Bekele (four), Wilson Kipketer, Gabriella Szabo and only last year Genzebe Dibaba ran a two mile best.
This time, in a meeting featuring 33 IAAF World Championship medal winners and 14 Olympic medallists, it will be intriguing to see how quick Farah can go over 16 laps at the start of a year in which he aims to defend his 5000m and 10,000m titles at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this coming August.
In particular, can he measure up not to the greats of yesteryear but to the wintering Mo Farah of early 2012?
In the same meeting three years ago, he finished runner up in the two miles race to Eliud Kipchoge in 8:08.07, emphatically demolishing the former British indoor best of 8:17.06 and the European best of 8:13.2 held since 1973 by the brilliant Belgian Emil Puttemans.
That would appear to be the logical benchmark for the 31-year-old Briton, whose last race on any surface was his narrow victory in the Great North Run half marathon last September, and who did not race indoors in 2014.
“It will be great to see where my fitness is at,” said Farah, who has been training in Ethiopia of late. “This is a big year for me; I’ll be defending my 5000m and 10,000m World Championship titles. It would be great to get it off to a strong start in Birmingham.”
Koech the threat
Farah’s hopes of doing that should be helped by the presence in the field of Paul Koech.
Only Bekele (8:04:35) and Gebrselassie (8:04.69) have gone faster over two miles indoors than Koech, both in the Birmingham meeting.
Koech, the 2004 Olympic Games steeplechase bronze medallist, clocked 8:06.48 behind Bekele in Birmingham in 2008.
The field also includes the remarkable Bernard Lagat, the 2007 World Championships 1500m and 5000m winner and three-time world indoor 3000m champion.
Two months after joining the ranks of the fortysomethings, Lagat lopped 3.24 seconds off Eamonn Coghlan’s long-standing over-40 mile best with 3:54.91 at the Millrose Games in New York last Saturday.
Collins on clock watch
Kim Collins will turn 40 in April 2016 and, judging by his form this year, the pencil-slim Peter Pan speed merchant from St Kitts and Nevis could be threatening age records then.
When the IAAF World Indoor Championships were held in Birmingham back in 2003, Collins took the 60m silver medal. Twelve years on, he returns as the 2015 world leader with the three fastest 60m times of the year, including a national record of 6.47 in Lodz on Tuesday.
Collins is unbeaten in seven 60m finals thus far in 2015. The 60m field in Birmingham features four of the five next fastest men this year: Ryan Bailey (6.50), Akeem Haynes (6.51), Trell Kimmons (6.51) and Mike Rodgers (who has run 6.52 twice).
The line-up also includes Britain’s world indoor 60m champion Richard Kilty, who clocked a season’s best of 6.54 in third place in Lodz, and newly crowned British champion Chijndu Ujah (6.53).
There is also the X-factor presence of Jamaica’s Nesta Carter. The 2012 world indoor 60m silver medallist has yet to race in 2015.
Olympic, European and Commonwealth long jump champion Greg Rutherford also makes his first appearance of 2015, although the 28-year-old Briton has added another gold to his collection this year.
Rutherford was out walking his dogs in the Buckinghamshire countryside last month when he stumbled across a seriously injured deer. He carried the stricken creature two miles to his home before driving her to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Trust in Aylesbury.
Sadly, the ailing doe died of her injuries but the long jumper was given a Gold Heart Award by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
It is gold at the 2015 IAAF World Championships that Rutherford now has in mind. In his first test since ending his 2014 campaign on a winning note at the Great City Games in Gateshead five months ago he faces his perennial British rival Chris Tomlinson, the 2008 world indoor silver medallist.
Ortega looking to conquer Birmingham barriers
Fresh from his world-leading 7.45 clocking in Lodz on Tuesday night, Orlando Ortega renews his 60m hurdles rivalry with the two most recent Olympic 110m hurdles champions.
Aries Merritt and Dayron Robles finished well behind the Cuban in Lodz, second and third in 7.54 and 7.64 respectively, but Robles was a close runner-up to his compatriot in Berlin last Saturday, finishing 0.02 behind in 7.53.
The 1500m pits world leader Matt Centrowitz against Kenyans Vincent Kibet, Bethwell Birgen and Nixon Chepseba, plus fellow US runner Ben Blankenship and European bronze medallist Chris O’Hare of Great Britain.
There is also a tasty-looking 800m, featuring Olympic bronze medallist Timothy Kitum, 18-year-old world junior champion Alfred Kipketer and world indoor bronze medallist Andrew Osagie.
Ahoure back on her favourite track
The pick of the women’s events is undoubtedly the 60m. Murielle Ahoure, the Ivorian 2013 World Championship 100m and 200m silver medallist, starts favourite, having clocked a world-leading 7.05 at the Millrose Games.
She set her personal best of 6.99 when winning in Birmingham two years ago.
The third and fourth fastest women of 2015 are also in the loaded field: Michelle-Lee Ahye of Trinidad and Tobago and the 19-year-old world junior 100m champion from Britain, Dina Asher-Smith.
US sprinters Carmelita Jeter and Tianna Bartoletta are also in the mix, so sparks could fly.
Look out too for a world-leading time in the 800m. Britain’s Jenny Meadows tops the list with 1:59.21 and the 33-year-old Briton, back in form after injury, will be chasing her third sub-two-minute clocking of the year.
The mile looks an intriguing prospect, with world indoor 1500m silver medallist Axumawit Embaye up against fellow Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay, the 18-year-old world junior silver medallist, as well as the USA’s Shannon Rowbury.
In the long jump, a week after her 1.97m British high jump record, 2014 heptathlon world leader Katarina Johnson-Thompson could possibly threaten Shara Proctor’s UK indoor long jump mark of 6.89m.
The 22-year-old from Liverpool was only eight centimetres short of it when taking the world indoor silver last March.
In the women’s pole vault, the bar could prove the biggest rival to Fabiana Murer. The 33-year-old former world champion from Brazil cleared an area record of 4.83m at Nevers in France two weeks ago.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF