By Bob Ramsak
STUTTGART -- World record attempts by Meseret Defar and Abubaker Kaki will hope to attract the headlines at Saturday’s 23rd edition of the Sparkassen Cup in Stuttgart.
Seven world records have been set in the middle and long distance events at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle over the past quarter century, most recently Defar’s sensational 8:23.72 in the 3000m in 2007 where she was surprisingly chased to the finish by compatriot Meselech Melkamu who finished just a scant 0.02 seconds behind. An assault on that record here last year came up short, but her 8:27.93 run was nonetheless the fourth fastest in history.
Much like last year, when she won by nearly 12 seconds, Defar isn’t expected to face any substantial opposition from the eight-woman field. On paper, the closest is Zakia Mrisho from Tanzania, the only other runner in the field who has dipped below 8:40 over the distance indoors or outdoors.
Another race billed as a record assault will come in the men’s 1000m, with Kaki, the 800m world indoor champion, chasing Wilson Kipketer’s nine-year-old 2:14.96 mark in his 2009 indoor debut. Kaki, still 19, tore up the indoor circuit last winter, running 1:44.81 for 800m and 2:15.77 for 1000m, to become the fifth fastest ever over both distances in just his first indoor campaign. The Sudanese star continued his momentum outdoors when he broke the world junior record in Oslo with a dazzling 1:42.69 before running out steam later in the summer.
The field includes perennial French threat Mehdi Baala and Ugandan 800m star Abraham Chepkirwok.
Bernard Lagat, who last weekend won a record-equalling seventh Millrose Games mile title, will move up in distance this weekend where he’ll take on a solid field in the 3000m. Given solid pace-setting and if he’s “feeling good”, Lagat’s manager James Templeton said, Lagat may give chase to his 7:32.43 U.S. record set in 2007.
Lagat’s last race over the distance also came here in Stuttgart, a tactical victory outdoors at last September’s World Athletics Final. His chief rival, 15 years his junior, looks to be Abreham Cherkos, the Ethiopian teenager who ran to bronze at last year’s World Indoor Championships and finished a solid fifth in the Olympic 5000m final. Kenyan Shedrack Korir, who defeated Lagat over the mile in London last year, could also be a factor.
Olympic 800m champion Wilfred Bungei will make his first appearance of the winter, again tangling with the man he succeeded as Olympic gold medallist, Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia. A year ago at this meet the Russian ran away from Bungei with a comfortable victory and again arrives in solid form. Last Sunday he set a national record in the 1000m in Moscow, running 2:17.10. Surprise Olympic silver medallist Ismail Ahmed Ismail of Sudan will also make his first start of the season.
In the 1500m, world indoor 1500m champion Deresse Mekonnen opened with a world-leading 3:39.12 victory in Leipzig last weekend, and will start as the favorite here. Kenyan Augustine Choge and Christian Obrist of Italy, both Beijing finalists, are in the line-up as well.
Yesterday's withdrawal of world indoor bronze medallist Gelete Burka has left the women’s 1500m wide open. The star name is Gulnara Galkina, the Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion, who’ll be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 1000m performance last week in Moscow.