After her debacle at the world championships last year, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva is sensing she’ll redeem herself with a gold medal at the world indoors, which open on Friday.
Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang is happy just to be competing again, two years after an ankle injury at the Beijing Olympics started an all too long road to recovery.
Even now, the former world and Olympic champion says only that making the final is his goal, not winning. The role of favourite in the 60-metre hurdles belongs to Liu’s rival Dayron Robles, the Cuban who took over his reign as Olympic champion in the 110 hurdles.
In the women’ hurdles, Lolo Jones will seek to become the first woman to successfully defend her indoor title but will face tough challenges from fellow U.S. hurdler Ginnie Powell and Canada’s Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, the season’s top performer.
In a season without a major outdoor global championship, victory at the three-day world indoors could go a long way to defining a season for many of the world’s greatest stars.
Some though, are not made for indoor competition - with its short straights and tight, banked curves of the 200-metre oval. It means the sport’s outstanding star Usain Bolt, with the long stride, will be watching from a distance.
Add to that the no show of Ivory Williams, who has been cut from the American team after testing positive for marijuana after winning the U.S. indoor championships, and the sprint hardly compares with the outdoor U.S.-Jamaican rivalry.
The women’s sprint could add some gloss with U.S. champion Carmelita Jeter facing in-form Laverne Jones-Ferrette of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The indoor season was initially meant to span the cold winter months, so it comes as somewhat of a surprise that air conditioning will be needed to keep the beating sunshine and the 30 Celsius heat outside of the Aspire Dome in the Qatari capital.
Isinbayeva has proved she can jump in about any conditions all through her career as she added multiple European, world and Olympic titles to her resume. And she has capped it with 27 world records so far.
Yet she has to bounce back from one of her only setbacks. She embarrassingly failed to clear a height at the world championships last year, yielding her title to Poland’s Anna Rogowska. As consolation, she cleared 5.06 meters at the Weltklasse meet in Zurich a week later to improve her world record.
The indoor mark stands at 5 metres and she has cleared 4.85 twice this season. The mark is closely followed by that of Brazil’s Fabiana Murer, who cleared 4.82 in Birmingham last month. Extra competition, and motivation, could well make for another record setting championship for Isinbayeva.
Blanka Vlasic is almost as dominating in the high jump over the past few years but she has a tendency to lose her poise on the big occasion. In Beijing two years ago, she was surprised by Belgium’s Tia Hellebaut. Since though, the Croatian has held her own. And she will not have to face her chief rival Ariane Friedrich, who is out injured.
Still, the Russians have a long tradition of producing good jumpers and Irina Gordeeva could well spring a surprise in Doha.