Another 2.00m clearance for Anna Chicherova, this time in Antwerp (Nadia Verhoft) © Copyright
Preview 21 February 2012 – Stockholm, Sweden

Parade of world leaders descends upon Stockholm - Preview

Stockholm, SwedenEver since the inaugural edition in 1990 the indoor gala in the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm has especially featured world class jumping events and races on the oval track. The 23rd XL-Galan to be held on Thursday evening 23 February will fit very well into that tradition with names as Kirani James, Anna Chicherova, Adam Kzczot and Yelena Isinbayeva topping the impressive bill at the final IAAF Indoor Permit meeting of 2012.

James, the reigning outdoor World 400m champion, despite still being a teenager, brings a very impressive PB (44.80, No. 3 all-time!) and is already topping the 2012 world list with his 45.19 about a week ago.  The Globe arena record (45.96) looks doomed, but how much faster can the Grenadian run in this his European indoor premiere?

Chicherova vs. Bergqvist’s arena record

Chicherova is also reigning World champion and heading the 2012 world list by no less than nine centimetres with her 2.06m. But unlike James she is not a newcomer to the European indoor tour or even to the arena. It will actually be her fourth start in this event since 2003 when she had a brilliant debut clearing 2.01m and challenging local Kajsa Bergqvist so strongly that Bergqvist was forced to set the still standing Arena record 2.03m (then also a Swedish indoor record) to get the win.

This time Chicherova (a mother-of-one) carries the role as favourite and the main challenge is expected from re-surging mother-of-two and reigning Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut. Of course the Stockholm spectators are hoping for the duo Emma Green Tregaro and Ebba Jungmark to move closer to the two-metre territory. In the Swedish Championships last Sunday in Örebro they both raised their 2012 bests to 1.95 with Jungmark taking the title on the countback.

Can Kszczot’s momentum continue?

If Chicherova has totally dominated the women’s High Jump so far in 2012 (four meets, four wins and four 2.00m+ performances) the same is true for Poland’s Adam Kszczot in the men’s 800m: In both Düsseldorf (1:45.44) and Liévin (1:44.57 – No. 3 of All-time!) he simply powered away from the rest of the field in the last lap winning both races by about one and a half seconds.

Among those he did leave “standing” were Mohamed Aman, Yuriy Borzakovskiy and Boaz Lalang all of whom will also be on the starting line in Stockholm. But will anyone of them really be able to mount a serious challenge? Aman – who last summer ended David Rudisha’s winning streak - did win Birmingham last Saturday, but only narrowly from European outdoor champion Marcin Lewandowski and Lalang.

It appears that the main challenge for Kszczot rather would be posted by the arena record. But that will be a tall order indeed. Because the record belongs since 2003 to Borzakovskiy and stands at 1:44.34 - the fourth fastest time ever! The Russian by the way seems to have a real love affair with this meet as this will be his ninth appearance in the Globe Arena. From the first eight visits he has compiled five wins and three second places!

Isinbayeva vs Bleasdale

While the trio James, Chicherova and Kszczot already occupy the No. 1 positions on the current world list for this indoor season the greatest female pole vaulter of all-time Yelena Isinbayeva still (?) finds herself in third position with her 4.81m. But she seems on the rise having got that 4.81m in Liévin where she reportedly also had promising attempts at 4.91m. And it should be noted that Isinbayeva has won all her three meets this winter, including the first clash with young Briton Holly Bleasdale who currently is No. 2 on the 2012 World list.

Bleasdale – who won in Birmingham on Saturday - will compete in Stockholm as will Anna Rogowska (second in Birmingham with same height, 4.70m, as Bleasdale) and Cuba’s Yarisley Silva (second to Isinbaeva in Liévin with 4.71). Svetlana Feofanova’s arena record 4.72m (2002 – which was a new World record back then!) will find it hard to survive the Thursday night onslaught!

In addition to the women’s High Jump and Pole Vault there will be two more top quality jumping events at the 2012 XL-Galan: The men’s Long Jump - with Ignisious Gaisah, Louis Tsatoumas and Luis Felipe Meliz facing the Nordic trio of Tommi Evilä (Finland), Morten Jensen (Denmark) and hometowner Michel Tornéus (won last year with 8.13 PB) – and the women’s Triple Jump featuring Olha Saladuha, Yargelis Savigne and Yamilé Aldama.

Strong fields assembled in the middle distances

On the oval the men’s 1500m/3000m have as always strong fields, of course dominated by runners from Kenya and Ethiopia. In the 1500m there is a handful that already has run 3:34/3:35 this winter plus experienced runners like Amine Laalou and Mehdi Baala plus exciting Qatari talent (born 1994) Hamza Driouch. In the 3000m current list leader (7:29.94) Augustine Choge will be up against countrymen Thomas Longosiwa (12:58.67 at 5000m this winter), Isiah Koech and Caleb Ndiku as well as Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel and Abera Kuma.

In the women’s 1500m there is a wider geographic spread among the main contenders: Meskerem Assefa and Tizita Bogale from Ethiopia, Morgan Uceny and Anna Pierce from the USA, Hannah England and Helen Clitheroe from the UK, Ingvill Måkestad Bovim from Norway and Renata Plis from Poland.

From the local Stockholm perspective the women’s 400m will be a main attraction as it features hometown favourite Moa Hjelmer. Last summer at 21 she suddenly lowered her PB by over one and half seconds to break the quarter century old national record and then went on to become the youngest semifinalist in Daegu. Now Hjelmer (pronounced Yell-merr) will be competing against the established top runners like Antonia Krivoshapka and Denisa Rosolova.

Hjelmer on Sunday secured her Istanbul ticket by front running to 53.02 in the Swedish championships on Sunday – and added on an absolutely blistering 200m-relay leg one and a half hour later. So the national indoor record of 52.40 – set to the day 26 years ago at the European Indoors by Ann-Louise Skoglund – is definitely under threat now when Hjelmer will also have some top quality “pacing” ....

Liu Xiang vs Robles, 2012 round two

But despite this truly loaded programme on the oval and on the jumping facilities it is still possible that the sprint straight will provide the most exciting moment of the evening. Because Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles will be up against each other for the second time this winter.  On the first occasion – in Birmingham on Saturday – Liu was very impressive lowering the World leading mark and his five year old national record to 7.41 and winning by about a metre. Can Robles produce a counterstrike on Thursday?

A. Lennart Julin for the IAAF