Pole vault winner Renaud Lavillenie in Ostrava (© AFP / Getty Images)
Three planned world record assaults and appearances by world leaders Justin Gatlin, Renaud Lavillenie and LaShawn Merritt are just some of the highlights expected at the 53rd Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Tuesday (17).
However, with the Czech Republic home to the reigning world champion on the men’s side and Olympic champion on the women’s, the infield action most eagerly anticipated in Ostrava comes in the javelin.
Indeed, consistently among the main attractions in Ostrava is Czech heroine Barbora Spotakova, who returned to action this season after maternity leave last year.
The two-time Olympic champion, who has won twice here and is the meeting record-holder at 67.78m, has performed admirably already this season, hinting that little, if anything, was lost during her time off.
By her own admission faster and slightly slimmer this summer, she won the IAAF Diamond League fixture in Rome earlier this month with a 66.43m effort and took top honours again four days later in Prague where she reached 64.08m.
The toughest challenge should come from Slovenian record-holder Martina Ratej, winner at the opening 2014 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha last month with a good 65.48m effort.
In the competitive men’s event, world and European champion Vítezslav Vesely won’t need to look too far for his primary threat.
Compatriot Petr Frydrych has a career best that’s nearly identical to Vesely’s – 88.34m for the latter, 88.23m for the former – and, on current form, owns the best throw of those assembled here, an 85.07m effort from his victory Prague last week.
The field also includes Russia’s Dmitri Tarabin, bronze medalist at last year’s IAAF World Championships, and Olympic bronze medallist Antti Ruuskanen of Finland.
Spotakova and Vesely take up two-thirds of this year’s meeting poster; the remaining portion is devoted to Justin Gatlin, currently the hottest 100m sprinter in the world.
Gatlin, the 100m world leader at 9.87 from the Beijing IAAF World Challenge meeting, arrives unbeaten in seven 100m starts this year and has produced the season’s three fastest performances.
“If the weather holds up and if there’s going to be a good fair wind, I think we can go out there do something very special,” said the world silver medallist, who last raced in Ostrava in 2004.
Lavillenie returns to familiar stomping grounds
Olympic pole vault champion Renaud Lavillenie famously soared to 6.16m indoors to finally succeed Sergey Bubka as the event’s standard bearer.
The Frenchman hasn’t let up since, winning each of his six outdoor competitions and arriving as the world leader at 5.92m.
He is familiar with Ostrava too, having cleared meeting records of 5.90m and 5.92m here in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The field includes Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe who upset Lavillenie at the World Championships last year and five others with career bests of 5.80m or better.
Minor ailments have forced Olympic gold and silver medallists Ivan Ukhov and Erik Kynard to the sidelines, so the focus in the men’s high jump will shift to Ukraine’s Andriy Protsenko.
The 26-year-old has been on the rise this season, firstly improving his indoor best to 2.36m to take the bronze at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships. On Saturday, he topped 2.35m to finish third in New York, a personal best outdoors.
The men’s 400m features two-time world champion LaShawn Merritt, the joint 2014 world leader at 43.97.
With seven wins in nine races this spring – most recently in New York on Saturday – the US sprinter is clearly the class of the field, with nearly a full second on the season’s next fastest here, Botswana’s African champion Isaac Makwala, who clocked a national record of 44.92 at altitude in Potchefstroom a month ago.
Meanwhile, the women’s 200m features Olympic and three-time world champion Allyson Felix, who continues her return from an injury-plagued 2013 season.
The 28-year-old Californian arrives in Ostrava on the heels of a confidence-boosting 22.73 win in Oslo this week.
Record ambitions for Aman in the 1000m and Dibaba at 2000m
After setting world bests as a youth and junior, world 800m champion Mohamed Aman is wasting little time in his effort to continue breaking records now that he’s joined the senior ranks.
His first target? Noah Ngeny’s 1000m world record of 2:11.96 set in 1999.
Aman won the 800m in Ostrava last year in 1:43.78, and has run faster than 1:43 twice, but hasn’t contested a 1000m race since the 2010 Youth Olympic Games which he won 2:19.54.
The prospects of a fast time over the rarely-run distance has attracted entrants from more than a dozen countries. France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and multiple European indoor champion Adam Kszczot of Poland will be chasing their national records.
Not to be outdone, also billed as a world record assault is the rarely contested women’s 2000m designed with rapidly rising star Genzebe Dibaba in mind.
The Ethiopian, who set world indoor records this past winter in the 1500m and 3000m, will be targeting Sonia O’Sullivan’s 5:25.36 mark set two decades ago.
On paper the mark should be within the 23-year-old’s reach; in her 8:16.60 3000m record, she covered the final 2000m in 5:27.95.
Dibaba was a well-beaten sixth in the Doha 3000m last month, her outdoor debut, but bounced back in Rome on 4 June where she won the 5000m with a world-leading 14:34.99.
Kiplagat to chase 20,000m and one hour world records
The first advertised world record assault will come early in the programme with Florence Kiplagat’s looking for new global standards in both the women’s one-hour run and 20,000m.
Given her form this year – in February she broke the world record in the half marathon with a 1:05:12 performance and took down the 20km mark en route – there’s little reason to doubt that two more records are not within the two-time Berlin Marathon champion’s reach.
The Golden Spike has successfully hosted the distances in the past. Haile Gebrselassie broke both world marks here in 2007 and a year later fellow Ethiopian Dire Tune followed his lead when she improved the world record in the one-hour event with 18,517m. Tegla Loroupe has held the 20,000m world record of 1:05:26.6 since September 2000.
Rounding out the middle-distance action is the featured Zatopek Memorial 3000m, where Caleb Ndiku, the recently minted world indoor champion in the event, has his sights set on the 7:31.68 meeting record.
The 21-year-old will start as favourite, landing in Ostrava on the heels of a world-leading 13:01.71 5000m run in Eugene and a narrow runner-up finish over the same distance in Oslo.
“If everything goes well, it will be easy for me to break this record,” Ndiku said.
The solid field includes the ever-young Bernard Lagat of the US, Kenyan Augustine Choge, and 2008 Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis of New Zealand.
In the women’s 3000m steeplechase, Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew is the class of the field and will be chasing the 9:17.92 meeting record set last year.
Robles returns to world record setting
Ostrava’s strong tradition in the sprint hurdles continues. Pascal Martinot-Lagarde arrives as not only the fastest sprint hurdler of the season, but the most consistent. The 22-year-old Frenchman won his last two outings in 13.13 and 13.12 in Eugene and Oslo respectively, the two fastest performances of the year.
The field also includes Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment, the Olympic bronze medallist, who has clocked 13.14 this season and will be gunning for his third win of the year.
Meanwhile, Cuba comes armed with the prodigious Yordan O’Farill and Dayron Robles, the 2008 Olympic champion who returned to action this season after sitting out last year to injury.
Robles knows the Ostrava track well; he broke the world record here in 2008, clocking 12.87.
As has become tradition, the meeting kicks off the day prior to the main programme when it makes the world’s finest hammer throwers centre stage as part of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge.
The men’s event features a podium reunion from last year’s World Championships, headed by gold medallist Pawel Fajdek.
The 25-year-old Pole set his 82.45m career best last year in nearby Dubnica nad Vahom, Slovakia, and is rounding into 80-metre form.
But two men in the field have already breached that barrier this season: reigning Olympic champion and current world leader Krisztian Pars (81.31m) from Hungary and Mostafa Al-Gamel of Egypt, who extended the African record to 81.29m in March.
The local favourite is Czech star Lukas Melich, the world bronze medallist. Pars set the meeting record of 82.28m in 2012.
On the women’s side, Germany’s Betty Heidler leads the field. The world record holder and 2007 world champion has reached 76.91m this season, the second farthest in the world. She is also the meeting record-holder at 78.07m from 2012.
Former world record-holder Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland, whose impressive medal haul includes world gold in 2009, European gold in 2012, and world and Olympic silver in 2013 and 2012 respectively, will be making her season’s debut.
The programme also includes two competitive 400m hurdles contests. In the men’s race, the attention will fall squarely on Ashton Eaton, the Olympic champion and world record-holder in the decathlon who is turning his attention to the full lap hurdles this season as a break from the combined events.
Eaton arrives in Ostrava fresh from a 49.07 personal best in Hengelo and a 49.16 victory in Oslo in little more than the past week.
On the women’s side, the favourite is Bahrain’s Kemi Adekoya, the surprise Doha winner in 54.59 and runner-up in Oslo.
In the men’s shot put, Kurt Roberts of the US will arrive on the heels of a 21.47m outdoor best, just shy of his 21.50m indoor best, to lead the field.
The spotlight will nonetheless fall on two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski. The Pole has reached 21.04m this season but has yet to notch a victory.
Meanwhile the crowd could push rising Czech star Tomas Stanek, who recently reached a personal best of 20.93m, into new territory.
Bob Ramsak (organisers) for the IAAF