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Track Profile Report: Golden League Resumes in Rome

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07/10/2008 - 13:29

warinerRome08pre.jpg July 10, 2008 from Track Profile Report #779 by Bob Ramsak (ROME) With many of the key Olympic trials competitions now history, the AF Golden League series resumes on Friday night in Rome. For many, the Golden Gala Kinder+Sport, the third stop on the six-meet Golden League circuit, will provide a tune-up of the highest order with the Beijing Olympic Games just a month’s glance away. And for five athletes in particular, it will be the resumption of the chase for a slice of the $1 Golden League Jackpot.

-- Wariner-Merritt Chapter 3

But primary attention at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico is likely to focus on a pair of athletes not in the running for a perfect six-for-six record in the run for the jackpot: 400m aces Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt.

Wariner, the Olympic and twice world champion, arrives in the Italian capital after losing his last two outings to Merritt, who first beat him in a thrilling homestretch battle in the Golden League series opener in Berlin last month, and again at the U.S. Olympic Trials a week ago. In the Eugene race, it was all Merritt, who won by a whopping 0.20 seconds in 44.00. But the pair said today that their latest showdown is behind them.

“It makes me know that I’m ready to run,” said Merritt of his victory. “But nothing spectacular happened. Last year at the trials I ran 44.05, this year I ran 44 flat. So I’m ready to run. It gave me a little boost of confidence, but I left that behind last week.”

“At the trials I didn’t execute the right way,” Wariner remarked on his loss. “But the trials are in the past now, I made the team, and that’s the most important thing. From here on out I just have to work on different parts of my race, execute the right way and get better from here on out."

Neither likes to lose, making a sub-44 run at Olympic Stadium tomorrow night a distinct possibility.

-- Jelimo, Vlasic Lead Jackpot Contenders

Among the five still in contention for the Jackpot is the women’s 800m headliner and this year’s breakout talent, Kenyan teenager Pamela Jelimo. The 18-year-old took commanding victories in Berlin (1:54.99) and Oslo (1:55.41) after her international breakthrough in Hengelo (1:55.76), where she notched her first of two world junior records this year. She arrives in the Italian capital on the heels of her 1:57.71 victory at the Kenyan trials, the fastest ever run in the east African nation and considering Nairobi’s altitude, another notable performance. In her last four races, her average winning margin of victory has been 3.39 seconds.

She’ll face reigning world champion Janet Jepkosgei, with whom she handily dispensed in their last two head-to-heads, most recently on Saturday at the Kenyan trials, where she finished three seconds behind the teenager.

Perhaps an even more solid bet to go the distance in the Jackpot chase is Croatian star Blanka Vlasic. The world indoor and outdoor champion brings a 31-meet win streak to the Italian capital, by far the longest in the sport. And no one has yet remotely displayed the form needed to knock Vlasic from her pedestal. Barring major catastrophe, Vlasic, the world leader at 2.06m, will almost certainly take another stab at the 2.09m world record set in this stadium 21 years ago, just a few months before her fourth birthday. To date, Vlasic has tried 36 times.

-- ’08 Outdoor Debut for Isinbayeva

Though not part of the Jackpot chase, superstar Yelena Isinbayeva will formally begin her run-up to her Olympic title defense in the pole vault. The 26-year-old won’t be facing her stiffest current competition, American Jenn Stuczynski, who upped the U.S record to 4.92m (16-1 ¾ ) in Eugene last weekend, but will take on former world record holder Svetlana Feofanova and Anna Rogowska of Poland, respectively the reigning Olympic silver and bronze medallists.

-- Others Gunning for the Jackpot

- Bershawn Jackson, the 2005 world 400m hurdles champion who arrives on the heels of his win at the U.S. trials. Kerron Clement, the current world champion, and 2000 Olympic champion Angelo Taylor, 2-3 at the trials, are in the race as well, along with reigning Olympic champion Felix Sanchez, this year out to prove that he remains more than a fading memory.

- Hussein Taher Al-Sabee of Saudi Arabia in the long jump. If Irving Saladino returns to action fully mended --today he said that after a 15 day break to rest an injured knee, he is-- Al-Sabee’s chance of continuing his streak will prove a difficult chore.

- Spaniard Josephine Onyia, the sprint hurdles spring surprise won’t be meeting the top-three finishers from the US Trials, but she will face Brigitte Foster-Hylton and Delloreen Ennis-London, 1-2 at the Jamaican trials. Swede Susanna Kallur, the European champion, has withdrawn due to injury.

-- Powell, Richards and Felix return to the GL spotlight - Sprints

The focus on the men’s 100 will be Asafa Powell’s third outing since being supplanted as world record holder by compatriot Usain Bolt. On his way back from injury, Powell said the lack of attention at the moment suits him just fine.

“It’s a lot better when the attention is not on me,” said Powell, who’s run 9.90 this year. In Rome his primary challenger will be his distant cousin Derrick Atkins, the Bahamian who beat him to the line at last year’s world championships to take the silver medal. Olympic bronze medallist Francis Obikwelu and Norway’s Jaysuma Saidy Ndure are also in the field.

The women’s 200 includes two of the top three Jamaicans in the world right now, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson, 2-3 at the Jamaican championships where the former dipped under 22 seconds (21.99) for the first time. American 400m champion Sanya Richards is in Rome to work on her speed; this race should provide plenty.

Like Richards, U.S. Trials 200m winner Allyson Felix is switching preferred evetns this weekend, moving up to the 400 in the hopes of impressing the U.S. coaching staff enough to secure a spot on the Olympic 4x400m relay team. Felix ran a near-PB 49.83 in May, the second fastest of the season. Her key challengers should be Jamaican Novlene Williams and U.S. trials runner-up Mary Wineberg.

-- Dibaba Returns - Distances

Tirunesh Dibaba returns to action after a 28 day break to lead the field in the women’s 5000m. On June 6, the 22-year-old twice world 10,000m champion ran a superb 14:11.15 at Oslo’s Bislett Games; in Rome she’ll tackle the distance again for the first time since. A world record pace isn’t expected, but a fairly fast race is.

The 13-minute barrier in the men’s 5000m was first breached in Rome in 1987 when Said Ouita clocked 12:58.39. 13 minutes still remains an honorable threshold, and that will be the target on Friday. Ethiopian Sileshi Sihine returns to defend his Rome title, and he’ll face Tariku Bekele, and Beijing-bound Eliud Kipchoge, and Ugandan Moses Kipsiro. Bekele and Kipsiro finished 2-3 in Berlin last month.

In terms of pure star power, it’ll be difficult to beat the men’s steeplechase. Kenyans Ezekiel Kemboi, Richard Matelong and Brimin Kipruto swept the podium at the world championships in Osaka last summer and last weekend Kemboi again led the trio to the Beijing squad at the Kenyan trials. Kemboi is the defending Olympic champion, and Kipruto the Athens silver medallist.

The men’s 800m too will be primarily an African affair. Alfred Kirwa Yego, the world champion arrives pressure-free after punching his ticket to Beijing last weekend at the Kenyan trials. The field also includes South Africa’s Olympic silver medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Uganda national record holder Abraham Chepkirwok, in a follow-up to their sub-1:43 performances last weekend in Madrid. Chepkirwok defeated both at the Golden League opener in Berlin.

World indoor champion Deresse Mekonnen has already won two races this month, and comes to Rome to lead the men’s 1500m. Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, the Golden Gala winner two years ago, returns after finishing a distant seventh at the Kenyan trials last weekend, and looking to salvage his season with solid outings on the international circuit. His 3:29.02 PB was set here in 2006. Frenchman Mehdi Baala, the European champion and the winner last month at the European Cup, will face an international field for the first time this season.

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