On track

The Olympic flame burned so brightly at London 2012, not just for Africa but for sports fans across the whole world, that it seems an impossible act to follow; but athletes heading for Moscow and the 2013 World Athletics Championship are ready to serve up something extra special.

Of course it may well be impossible for the competitors to match the sheer drama and intensity that made the Olympic Games in London one of the best in history. But this time there is more than just medals at stake in Russia – because the greatest athletes in the world are going for records, too.

Kenya’s own David Rudisha – who stormed to a wonderful victory in the 800m final in London in a world record time of 1:40:91 – was one of the few to achieve that combination last year. But there is a feeling in the air in Moscow that others are going to follow suit.

British athletics journalist Richard Lewis of the Daily Express newspaper, for instance, is predicting another summer to remember for track and field fans.

“I think it’s going to be a fascinating world championships,” he said. “It’s the first major event since the Olympics, which were such a big success, and it will be interesting to see the attitude of the athletes.

“The Olympics are the pinnacle of the sport for anyone, and if you have already won gold then the challenge is to keep the focus and think about how you go about keeping that intensity.

“For someone like Usain Bolt, for instance, he’s already talking about going not just for gold medals in Moscow but for world record times as well. At the Olympics it was all about getting over the line first and defending his titles; in Russia he wants to do something extra.

“I can see him winning the 100m in a record time, perhaps even the 200m too. And remember he didn’t win the title in Daegu last time because he was disqualified – Yohan Blake took gold; so there’s an extra incentive for him to put that right.

“I’m also fascinated to see how far behind the rest of the field will be because he and Blake at the minute are a long way in front. The Europeans for instance are nowhere. The Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre is European champion but he didn’t even run the 100m in London because he didn’t think it was worth it – he stuck to the 200m instead. That says a lot.

“But it won’t just be Bolt wanting to break records. The Olympics is the ultimate and those who did well there like Rudisha will want to use these games to make a statement. It wouldn’t surprise me to see another record go in the 800m too.”

Record breakers
It’s a viewpoint backed up by Great Britain heroine Jessica Ennis, one of the stars of the London Games when she won the heptathlon, and someone who is dreaming of breaking the record points total for her event this August.

“Your motivation levels are very different after the Olympics,” she said. “It’s just about getting back into it and looking forward to the next championship. The World Championships are going to be the main focus, preparing and being where I need to be.

“I’m still 26, I’ve got time to achieve a bit more, and it’s about re-setting your goals.

“Now the Olympic thing has been achieved, that’s a great position to be in, but now I have to look forward to trying to get my title back at the Worlds and I’m looking forward to trying to get 7000 points; it’s about just setting yourself new goals.”

It’s a fascinating prospect; and the championships will also be the first chance for athletics fans to catch a sight of their heroes going for gold again after so much excitement in 2012.

Rudisha wasn’t the only one to set pulses racing back home in Africa, of course. His compatriot Ezekiel Kemboi won gold in the 3000m steeplechase and will be battling for medals again in Moscow, while Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar won the women’s 5000m, beating Kenya’s Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot into second in the process.

Cheruiyot has the potential to be one of the stars of the games – just as she was in Daegu two years ago, when she won an astonishing 5000m and 10,000m double; but the competition is so tough that no one can say with any certainty whether she can do it – especially not with Olympic 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia and Kenya’s own Sally Jepgoskei Kipyego also battling for medal glory.

Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, who stormed to a convincing victory in the men’s 1500m in London, will want to repeat his efforts in Moscow while Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich – who won the Olympic marathon – has a similar aim.

“The marathon is a race that is always eagerly awaited in Africa because countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda have such an amazingly strong field,” said Lewis.

“In fact there are so many incredible long-distance athletes in those countries that the marathon is virtually impossible to predict. You can have a runner who wins a big race but then doesn’t even get through the Kenyan trials for the next championship. It would take a brave man to suggest who will win in Moscow!

“Kiprotich was remarkable in London, but how many times do you see back-to-back victories in Olympic and World Championship marathons? It’s incredibly difficult to do.

“But there’s no doubt long-distance races in Moscow will be some of the most competitive. There will be a lot of focus on Mo Farah, I think, because he did so remarkably well in London to win the 5000m and 10,000m double, roared on by the home crowd. And the question is – can he do it away from home too?

“I think the key will be how the Africans react this time. I’m sure they will be thinking of ways to stop him, and it will be interesting to see if they work together, because what they can’t afford is for him to get to the final bend ahead of the pack because he’s already proven he can beat them in a big finish.”

One thing the championships won’t be short of is atmosphere. Because the hosts have a string of medal hopes themselves, particularly in the field events, and home fans are certain to provide partisan support. In fact Russia finished fourth in the medal table at the London Olympics, including eight golds in athletics, which suggests the Luzhniki Stadium will be rocking from start to finish.

It’s all set up for another dramatic, record-breaking week of sport to help push the profile of track and field athletics to even greater heights. And for Africa – whose athletes have proved time and time again they can go the distance – it has the potential to be one of the most thrilling ever.

Daily Highlights
Day One – August 10 The championships kick off in style – with the final of the women’s marathon on the very first day and the men’s 10,000m final in the evening. It’s also the first day of the Decathlon. One to watch: Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeylan up against Mo Farah.

Day Two – August 11 This could be the big day of the games – with Usain Bolt going for glory in the men’s 100m final in the evening. Also the decathlon comes to a climax and there are finals in the women’s 10,000m, women’s long jump, women’s discus and the men’s 20km race walk. One to watch: Who else? It’s Bolt in the big one. But check out the darling of Kenya, Sally Jepkosgei Kipyego, in the women’s 10,000m too.

Day Three – August 12 It’s time for the women to take centre stage. The heptathlon, starring Jessica Ennis, gets underway. Then in the evening the women’s 100m and 400m final take pride of place. It’s also the men’s pole vault, hammer and 110m hurdle finals. One to watch: Jessica Ennis takes on Russia’s Tatyana Chernova.

Day Four – August 13 The men’s 800m and 400m finals get underway in the evening as well as the climax of the 3000m steeplechase. Will Ennis complete an Olympic and world heptathlon double? All this and 5000m heats too. One to watch:  David Rudisha going for glory.

Day Five – August 14 A short day with no evening session. But the final of the 20km race walk for men and the 1500m heats take place and the 5000m women’s event gets started. One to watch: Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar up against Kenya’s own Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot in the 5000m.

Day Six – August 15 The evening ends with four finals in a row – the men’s 3000m steeplechase, men’s and women’s 400m hurdles and the 1500m women’s final. One to watch: Kenya’s Ezekiel Kemboi goes for glory again in the steeplechase.

Day Seven – August 16 The men’s 5000m final is the highlight of the day; but look out for the men’s 4x400m relay final and the women’s 200m final. One to watch: Can Mo Farah keep the African challengers at bay again?

Day Eight – August 17 It’s the men’s turn to run the marathon and there are seven finals in all – including the women’s 5000m. And it all climaxes with the men’s 200m final. Usain Bolt again? One to watch:  Bolt in the 200m, but don’t take your eyes off the marathon.

Day Nine – August 18 The last day takes in both 4x100m relay finals. The men’s 1500m final could be special too. One to watch: Blake and Bolt together take on the world.

Where records could fall
British athletics journalist Richard Lewis of the Daily Express newspaper (@richlew555) predicts where the records will fall:
100m: Usain Bolt has records in his sight this time; don’t be surprised if he really goes for it.
200m: Bolt again – in London it was all about titles, this time you get the feeling he wants records too.
800m: David Rudisha – he looks in fantastic form. Nobody is going to beat him for pace so only a bad day can stop him from taking gold. A new world record could be in his sights.
3000m steeplechase: There are so many top-quality African athletes in this event that anything could happen, the standard is so high. If the athletes decide to run for themselves rather than as a team there could easily be a record set.
Men’s Decathlon: The American Ashton Eaton looks ready to break records and is already Olympic champion.
Women’s 10,000m: This is another strong race; the Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba could break records, but so could two or three others.

The Big Battles
Heptathlon: GB’s Jessica Ennis vs  Russia’s Chernova
Ennis was the darling of London 2012 but Tatyana Chernova is the defending champion – and on home soil. It’s all set for a major battle

Men’s Pole Vault: France’s Renaud Lavillenie vs  Germany’s Bjorn Otto
The Frenchman is reigning European, Olympic and European indoor champion but perennial runner-up
Otto has been fighting back recently. Can he take the crown?

Men’s 100m: Jamaica’s Usain Bolt vs  his countryman Yohan Blake
It’s the biggest battle of the games – with the most predictable outcome. But if there’s a surprise ending it will cause shockwaves throughout world sprinting