Previews31 Aug 2014

Perkovic, Simic and Vlasic provide big local interest in Zagreb


Blanka Vlasic up and over 2.08m in Zagreb to become #2 all-time (© Zagreb organisers)

Local stars Sandra Perkovic, Blanka Vlasic and Ana Simic will command much of the spotlight in the Croatian capital Zagreb at the Boris Hanzekovic Memorial, the penultimate IAAF World Challenge meeting of 2014, on Tuesday (2).

Perkovic, the reigning Olympic and world champion, won her third successive European discus throw title in Zurich last month with a 71.08m national record and returned to the Swiss city last Thursday to claim her third Diamond Race trophy in the event.

Oddly enough though, she’s not the defending champion in Zagreb, having finished second last year behind USA’s Gia Lewis-Smallwood, her only defeat of 2013.

The US record-holder is not in the field this year but Perkovic will have France’s Melina Robert-Michon and Germany’s Shanice Craft, who took the minor medals behind her at the continental championships, for company as she guns for her 10thvictory of the season.

Given Vlasic’s stature in the sport over the past decade, it’s not surprising that the women’s high jump has played a prominent role in Zagreb in recent years.

In 2003, the meeting played host to her first two-metre leap as well as her sensational 2.08m clearance in 2009 which gave Vlasic sole possession of the number two position on the all-time lists for the event.

However, Vlasic won’t start as the overwhelming favourite this year. Or, arguably, even as Croatia’s number one thanks to compatriot Ana Simic’s steady rise through the ranks.

Simic upped her personal best to 1.99m to capture European Championships bronze and on Thursday she finished second at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich, and ahead of Vlasic for the first time ever outdoors.

A slight injury has slowed Vlasic's second half of the season, but she still has three two-metre clearances to her name this year, and she’ll be looking to end her season on a high note at home.

The pair will also face Poland’s Kamila Licwinko, the 2014 world indoor champion, who hasn’t been able to replicate her two-metre form from the indoor season.

Named to honour Croatia’s inter-war hurdler Boris Hanzekovic, the men’s 110m hurdles is the meeting’s signature event, and again a solid field has been gathered.

USA’s Olympic champion and world record-holder Aries Merritt is the star attraction in a field that includes two-time European champion Sergey Shubenkov of Russia and Cuba’s in-form Orlando Ortega.

In the women’s 100m hurdles contest, two recently-minted European champions are on show: Great Britain’s sprint hurdles winner Tiffany Porter and Antoinette Nana Djimou of France, who won her second continental heptathlon title in Zurich.

USA’s world indoor champion Nia Ali is also in the field.

City centre shot

The meeting begins on Monday night with the men’s shot put near the City Fountains Park in central Zagreb where a large crowd is expected.

Here too a strong field has been assembled including Poland’s two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski and the US trio of Christian Cantwell, who set the meeting record of 22.22m in 2010, 2014 world leader Joe Kovacs, the only man over 22 metres this year with his 22.03m heave to take the US title, and Diamond Race winner Reese Hoffa, who arrives with the momentum of four straight victories.

In the men’s javelin throw, Thomas Rohler of Germany will command at least some of the spotlight after his surprise victory in Zurich last week to snatch the Diamond Race trophy.

The 22-year-old reached a personal best of 87.63m at the Weltklasse to collect the biggest – in terms of both status and cash – victory of his career.

In Zagreb, his primary rival will be Finland’s Tero Pitkamaki, who earned European championships bronze earlier this month, a competition in which Rohler finished a disappointing 12th.

Rounding out the infield action, Ivana Spanovic of Serbia and Darya Klishina of Russia, the European silver and bronze medallists, and USA’s Olympic champion Brittney Reese top the field in the women’s long jump while Russia’s European bronze medallist Aleksey Fyodorov leads the field in the men’s triple jump.

Back on the track, the programme features several intriguing head-to-heads.

The men’s 400m will provide a clash of freshly-minted continental champions, with Isaac Makwala of Botswana facing off against Great Britain’s Martyn Rooney. US champion Gil Roberts, the runner-up in Zurich last Thursday, is also entered.

Weltklasse winner Kemar Bailey-Cole of Jamaica leads the men’s 100m field where he’ll face compatriot Asafa Powell, USA’s Michael Rodgers and Great Britain’s European bronze medallist Harry Aikines-Aryeetey.

The women’s 200m features a rematch between European silver and bronze medallists, Great Britain’s Jodie Williams and France’s Myriam Soumare.

The women’s 1500m stars Dawit Seyaum, one of the year’s breakout performers over the distance. Just 18, the young Ethiopian clocked 3:59.53 to win in Marrakech in early June, finished a strong runner-up at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York, won the world junior title in Eugene and most recently, raced to silver at the African Championships.

She’ll face her 17-year-old compatriot Gudaf Tsegay, who took silver behind her in Eugene, and the USA’s Brenda Martinez, the 800m bronze medallist at last year’s World Championships.

In the men’s 800m, Kenyan champion Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot is the fastest in the field at 1:42.84 but should expect a race from compatriots Timothy Kitum, the Olympic bronze medallist, and Alfred Kipketer, the world junior champion.

In the men’s 3000m steeplechase, Hillary Kipsang Yego is the fastest in the field at 8:09.07.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF