Sandra Perkovic at the 2015 IAAF World Challenge meeting in Zagreb (© Organisers)
Eight freshly minted individual Olympic medallists will be the key attraction at the 66th edition of the Boris Hanzekovic Memorial in Zagreb, Croatia on Tuesday (6), the final meeting of the 2016 IAAF World Challenge series. But none will be as boisterously welcomed as Croatia's Olympic champions Sandra Perkovic and Sara Kolak.
Last month Perkovic, the world's most dominant discus thrower of the past half decade, became the first back-to-back Olympic discus champion in 36 years. More recently she wrapped up a perfect seven-for-seven IAAF Diamond League campaign to win a fifth Diamond Race trophy in the event, and will be looking to end her season at home on a high. The Zagreb native extended the meeting record to 69.88m last year, so a late-season assault on the 70-metre line is certainly within the realm of possibility.
Kolak, on the other hand, arrived in Rio with more modest aspirations; aiming to build on her bronze medal finishes at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships and July's European Championships, a spot in the final and a top-eight finish there would have been a solid step forward in the 21-year-old's first international season. Instead, she sprung one of the biggest surprises of the Games after her 66.18m national record propelled her to the top of the podium.
Both will receive a hero's welcome.
Perkovic will face Olympic silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon of France and Germans Nadine Muller and Shanice Craft, both Olympic finalists. Kolak's chief opposition will include Slovenia's Martina Ratej and Finn Jenni Kangas.
Rio shot put podium reunion
The meeting gets underway with the men’s shot put on Monday night near the City Fountains Park in central Zagreb where a large crowd is expected to welcome another reunion of this Olympic podium trio.
Post-Rio momentum has clearly been with New Zealand’s bronze medallist Tom Walsh, who has improved the Oceanian record twice in the past two weeks: first to 22.00m in Paris and again to 22.20m in Zurich where he lifted the Diamond Race trophy.
Olympic champion Ryan Crouser hasn't reached the level of his 22.53m career best from Rio, but he's certainly been competitive and consistent, producing 21.99m and 22.00m efforts behind Walsh in Paris and Zurich.
Olympic silver medallist Joe Kovacs and Frank Elemba of Congo, who finished fourth, are also in the field along with Poland’s two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski, who will be making his final career appearance.
Other infield action will see Ivana Spanovic of Serbia, the recent Diamond Trophy winner and Rio bronze medallist in the long jump, going up against Jazmin Sawyers of Great Britain, an Olympic finalist and winner on Saturday in Berlin.
Local eyes will also focus on Ana Simic in the high jump who'll be looking to bounce back from a disappointing Olympics where she failed to reach the final.
Martinot-Lagarde vs Oliver
The meeting’s signature events are the sprint hurdles contests named to honour Croatia’s inter-war hurdler Boris Hanzekovic. This year the men's 110m hurdles race features Frenchman Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, who was fourth in Rio and arrives with a 13.17 season's best, and 2013 world champion David Oliver, who has clocked 13.09 this year.
The women’s 100m hurdles contest includes Germany's world silver medallist Cindy Roleder and Jasmin Stowers and Dawn Harper Nelson of the US. Stowers is the fastest in the field this season at 12.55; Roleder, the European champion, has clocked 12.62.
Meanwhile, two-time world champion Zuzana Hejnova leads the 400m hurdles field in the Czech’s first appearance since her fourth-place finish in Rio.
Lemaitre back in action
The men's 200m features Christophe Lemaitre's first race since his Rio bronze medal run. A bad cold forced the Frenchman to the sidelines for the Paris IAAF Diamond League fixture last week.
He will face Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, who set the meeting record of 19.88 last year.
In the 100m, Asafa Powell will be gunning for the 98th wind-legal sub-10 of his career. The Jamaican, who has clocked 9.92 this season, has shown strong late-season form with back-to-back victories in Lausanne and Zurich. He’ll take on 2016 sub-10 men Aaron Brown of Canada and Joel Fearon of Great Britain along with another Briton, Adam Gemili, who finished fourth in the Olympic 200m final.
Natasha Hastings of the US, fourth in the Rio 400m, will start as the favourite in her specialist event, the only sprint on the women’s programme.
In middle-distance action, Australian Ryan Gregson and Kenyan Bethwel Birgen lead a competitive field in the men's 1500m. Kenya's world cross-country champion Agnes Tirop tops the field in the women's 3000m.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF