By Bob Ramsak
OSTRAVA, Czech Republic (16-Jun) -- While Usain Bolt’s evening-capping appearance in the 100m will guarantee a full house and plenty of international media attention, it is the middle and long distance portion of the program that will provide some of the hottest competition at tomorrow’s 48th edition of the Golden Spike here in this sprawling eastern Czech city.
Among the most intriguing races will the men’s 800, with a field stacked with two-lap aces and a pair of the hottest current milers on the circuit. The line-up of heavy hitters includes world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, Afred Yego of Kenya; Sudan’s Olympic silver medalist, Ahmed Ismael; and another two swift Kenyans, David Rudisha and Boaz Lalang. Moving down in distance from their more regular routines will be Olympic 1500m silver medalist Asbel Kiprop and the versatile Augustine Choge. Kiprop took an impressive mile victory at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene nine days ago and lowered his 800m PB to 1:43.17 in Doha last month. Choge arrives on the heels of sub-3:30 1500 victory in Berlin, his second fast 1500m of the season.
With Kiprop and Choge busy with the two-lap race, rising star Haron Keitany will certainly have an easier time in the meet’s inaugural mile run. Over the past two weeks, the 2008 Zurich and World Athletics Final 1500m winner lowered his career bests in both the mile and 1500, while finishing second to Kiprop and Choge, respectively.
In the women’s 800m, Gulnara Galkina-Samitova, who produced history’s first sub-nine minute performance when winning the inaugural Olympic title in the steeplechase, will also be testing her speed. The Russian clocked a 2:00.29 PB in May and has spent the spring producing solid front-running wins in the 1500. Others in the hunt for victory include Briton Jenny Meadows and Ukrainian Tetyana Petlyuk who finished 1-2 in Prague on June 8.
There’s a fast trio entered in the men’s steeplechase, with the current world leader, Ezekiel Kemboi, feeling particularly ambitious. After his 7:58.85 victory in Doha, the 2004 Olympic champion has requested a 7:55 pace, within striking distance of Saif Saaeed Shaheen’s 7:53.63 world record set in 2004. He’ll be taking on Brimin Kipruto, who succeeded him as Olympic champion, and Paul Kipsiele Koech, arguably last year’s best steepler, whose lone off-day in 2008 cost him a spot on the Kenyan Olympic team. Koech finished second in Doha after doing most of the leading, while Kipruto most recently kicked to an impressive victory in Hengelo two weeks ago.
A strong three-way battle in the women’s 5000m possibly took a hit on Sunday when one of the favorites here, Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu, produced a sensational 29:53.80 10,000m performance in Utrecht to become only the fourth woman ever to dip under 30 minutes. She was expected to join 2007 World 5000m silver medalist Vivian Cheruiyot, and Linet Masai, the Olympic 10,0000m fourth place finisher, in an assault on Meseret Defar’s 14:30.18 meet record. As of this evening Melkamu hasn’t withdrawn from the Golden Spike, but racing again on just two days rest would be difficult.
Last year the meet began with Ethiopian Dire Tune picking up where compatriot Haile Gebrselassie left off the year before, with a successful assault on the world record in the One Hour Run. The 24-year-old covered 18,517m in 60 minutes, adding 177 meters to the previous record of 18,340m set by Tegla Loroupe 10 years earlier. Tune returns this year to try to add to that mark, but will also forge ahead in an effort to take another of Loroupe’s records, the fabled Kenyan’s 20,000m mark of 1:05:26.6 set in 2000. Three pacesetters will assist in the bid which begins at 16:20 local time, an hour and a half prior to the main program.
The Golden Spike is the only eastern European stop on the IAAF Grand Prix circuit. With the new Diamond League format taking over next year, this will be its last. While organizers continue to cling to a faint glimmer of hope, the meet was not among the 14 announced today by the IAAF.