Chaunte Howard Lowe clears 2.05m Area record in the 2010 USATF Nationals in Des Moines (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Madrid, Spain

Lowe vs. Hellebaut takes centre stage in Madrid – IAAF World Challenge - PREVIEW

Largely due to the presence of Chaunte Lowe of the US and Belgium’s Tia Hellebaut, the women’s High Jump will take centre stage at the ‘Meeting de Madrid 2010’, the 10th meeting of the IAAF World Challenge, on Friday (2).

World leader Lowe a major obstacle in Hellebaut’s comeback

The 26-year-old Lowe is the reigning World indoor bronze medallist from Doha but more recently the 2005 World silver medallist has proved to be in stellar form by setting two Area records, first to 2.04m in Cottbus on 30 May and again to 2.05m to take the national title in Des Moines last Saturday. The in-form 1.75m tall American also managed a career Long Jump best of 6.90m on the same day at the US championships.

As for Hellebaut, the reigning Olympic champion, the 32-year-old will be contesting her first competition since becoming a mother. Her daughter Lotte was born in June 2009 and earlier this year the Belgian star announced her intention to come back to the world’s elite.

Hellebaut took the gold medal in Beijing thanks to a 2.05m career best, and last competed at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart on 14 September 2008 finishing third.

Obviously, Hellebaut’s fitness should reasonably be quite far from her peak in Beijing, when she produced a major shock by clinching an unexpected gold.  The 2008 World indoor Pentathlon champion has declared to organisers , “My training is going well, let’s see what happens. My first aim is to get the qualifying standard to compete at the European Championships in Barcelona which is set at 1.90 and then I would like to jump as high as possible.”

Watch out too for the local heroine Ruth Beitia. The reigning World indoor silver medallist is still looking for her first 2.00+ outdoor jump and should be regarded as Lowe’s stiffest opponent.

Mokoena vs Noffke in the Long Jump

Still fresh with the memories from last year’s men’s Long Jump contest when South Africa’s Godfrey Mokoena produced an impressive Area record of 8.50m, the World (indoor & outdoor) silver medallist returns to Madrid although his form doesn’t seem similar to that of a year ago. Mokoena has leapt to a SB of 8.15m at his last outing in Hania on 31 May.

Trying to deny Mokoena the top spot will be Chris Noffke as the 22-year-old Australian has made an impressive breakthrough this spring to jump a massive PB of 8.33m at the National championships in Perth, only bettered by the World indoor champion Fabrice Lapierre.

Hat trick for Mulaudzi?

As has become tradition the men’s 800 should provide one of the highlights of the athletics session as the current World champion will be in contention in the guise of South Africa’s Mbualeni Mulaudzi. On his 2010 form, the former World indoor champion posted a SB of 1:43.78 at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Doha in mid-May finishing fourth, but he later clinched wins in Daegu (1:45.60) and New York (1:44.38).

The 29-year-old already collected convincing wins both in 2008 and 2009 and should be eager to keep his winning streak against the Kenyan triumvirate formed by Reuben Bett (SB of 1:45.19), Richard Kiplagat (1:44.80) and Jackson Kivuna (1:45.75), the latter fresh from a third place  at the Kenyan championships last Saturday in Nairobi.

In addition,  some of the strongest Spanish athletes will be in contention including reigning European indoor silver medallist Luis Alberto Marco, Manuel Olmedo and Arturo Casado.

Urtans looking to keep momentum

Latvia’s Maris Urtans will be the overwhelming favourite in the men’s Shot Put. The 29-year-old unleashed an impressive 21.63m toss, the second best effort by a European so far this season, at last weekend’s European Team Championships (2nd League) in Belgrade.

Urtans’ improvement in 2010 has been massive as he kicked off the season with 20.64m, nearly a full metre shorter. America’s Noah Bryant, Portugal’s Marco Fortes and Jamaica’s Dorian Scott have also surpassed the 20m barrier this year and will try to break Urtans’ six-competition winning streak.

Bulgaria’s Vania Stambolova is the undisputed star in th women’s 400m hurdles. The reigning World indoor 400m bronze medallist – also an accomplished 400m flat runner who holds the European outdoor title – clocked a fine 54.57 time in her only appearance over the barriers this season in early June.

Britain’s reigning European U-23 silver medallist Eilidh Child should be a dangerous outsider as she is in the form of her life after a 55.17 PB in June and a fine runner-up spot at the European Team Championships in Bergen a fortnight ago.

Benhassi and Rodríguez look set to rule middle distance events

World indoor 1500m silver medallist Natalia Rodríguez of Spain should provide the local crowd something to cheer about.  On her outdoor 1500 debut, the 31-year-old will be looking for a fast time in the 4:04 region she accomplished last year on the same track, although winning won’t be a piece of cake. She’ll be taking on Britain’s World junior champion Stephanie Twell, the Moroccan pair of Siham Hilali (SB of 4:03.89) and Btissam Lakhouad (4:04.23) plus Ethiopia’s Meskerem Assefa (4:05.62).

Morocco’s current Olympic bronze medallist Hasna Benhassi leads a group of top 800m specialists. The 32-year-old is still on a quest for her first sub-2:00 of the season, which only Neisha Bernard Thomas of Grenada has been able to achieve (1:59.60 for a NR) among tomorrow’s line-up. The field also includes 1500m specialist Christin Wurth-Thomas of the USA, recently fourth in her distance at the US Championships; Spain’s 2007 World bronze medallist Mayte Martínez; Russia’s Yekaterina Kostetskaya; Yvonne Hak of The Netherlands; and Britain’s Marilyn Okoro, fresh from a 2:02.44 SB to take third at the UK championships last Sunday.

The women’s programme also includes an interesting 3000m event led by Kenya’s Ines Chenonge and Portugal’s Jessica Augusto and a Discus Throw contest topped by Cuba’s Yarelis Barrios. On the men’s side Spain’s Mario Pestano and Frank Casañas will fight against Russia’s Bogdan Pishchalnikov in the Discus while the 200m promises to be a close clash between Jamaica’s Steve Mullings and South Africa’s Simon Magakwe.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF