Femke Bol at the FBK Games (© FBK Games)
Joint meeting director Hans Klosterman expects the FBK Stadion in Hengelo to be “a sell-out for the first time since the glory days of Haile Gebrselassie” for the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold event, on Monday (6).
A full house on the return of spectators to the traditional cradle of Dutch track and field would be fitting in every respect.
For one thing, the stadium and the meeting named in honour of the greatest athlete of all time from the Netherlands, the wonder woman who bagged four gold medals at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, will be graced by several of the rising Dutch stars who contributed to a national record haul of eight Olympic medals in Tokyo last year – not least Femke Bol, who makes her 2022 debut over 400m hurdles just six days after smashing the 300m hurdles world best in Ostrava.
Then there is the likelihood of this tranquil town in the east of the Netherlands being turned into a small corner of East Africa once again as Gebrselassie’s compatriots chase selection for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 – and, doubtless, threaten to rewrite the world record book too.
The women’s 10,000m, which doubles as the Ethiopian trial for Oregon, features three of the top six women on the world all-time list, raising the prospect of the kind of fireworks Gebrselassie produced when he earned the moniker ‘Mr Hengelo’ with his world record feats at the FBK Games over 5000m in 1994, 10,000m in 1995 and 1998, and two miles in 1997.
Kenenisa Bekele also broke the 5000m world record at the 2004 meeting and on 8 June last year Letesenbet Gidey set the current women’s 10,000m world record of 29:01.03 in the Ethiopian Olympic trial race on the Hengelo track, two days after the Ethiopian-born Dutch-naturalised Sifan Hassan had set the all-time global mark at 29:06.82 in front of empty stands in the 2021 FBK Games.
In the aftermath Gidey spoke of “trying to run maybe 28:56” and, such is the competition this time round, the Olympic 10,000m bronze and 2019 world silver medallist might have to emulate Emil Zatopek to prevail. In June 1954 the great Czech soldier took the men’s world record through the 29-minute barrier with a 28:54.2 clocking in Brussels.
Letesenbet Gidey sets a world 10,000m record in Hengelo (© Global Sports Communication)
Gidey has raced just once since her sensational 62:52 half marathon world record run in Valencia last October. A touted attack on her 5000m world record at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Eugene on 28 May fell short when the 24-year-old tailed off in the last 1000m, finishing a distant runner up (14:24.59) to fellow-Ethiopian Ejgayehu Taye, who won in 14:12.98.
Perhaps, when the record slipped out of reach, Gidey was saving herself for Hengelo, where Taye, world indoor bronze medallist over 3000m in Belgrade in March, will be making her 10,000m debut.
A near-novice at the distance is Gudaf Tsegay, another intriguing Ethiopian entrant. The world 1500m and Olympic 5000m bronze medallist, who clocked 3:54.21 as runner up to flying Kenyan Faith Kipyegon over 1500m in Eugene, recorded 29:39.42 on her debut at the distance in Maia, Portugal, in May last year – the sixth fastest of all time.
The field also includes 2015 world and 2016 Olympic champion Almaz Ayana, No.3 on the all-time list with 29:17.45, and Yalmzerf Yehualaw, who clocked a 29:14 world record on the roads at Castellon in Spain in February.
In-form Eilish McColgan leads the European challenge. The 31-year-old Scot broke Paula Radcliffe’s 19-year-old European 10km road record with 30:19 in Manchester on 23 May and will doubtless be looking to take her track PB (30:58.94) closer to Radcliffe’s 20-year-old European record of 30:01.09.
Hassan, who struck gold over 5000m and 10,000m in Tokyo last year, will be a notable absentee from the home contingent competing in this 41st edition of the FBK Games but Bol will be firmly in the spotlight following her sensational season opener in Ostrava.
If the Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medallist can clock 36.86 over three-quarters of the distance first-time out, obliterating Zuzana Hejnova’s nine-year-old global mark by 1.30, then what might she do over a full lap backed by a raucous home crowd?
The European record figures Bol set in Tokyo, 52.03, might even come under threat. There will be no Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad blasting ahead at world record pace this time but the 22-year-old world indoor flat 400m silver medallist will be fuelled by the roars of the home crowd and the adrenaline of her gold-topped performance in the Golden Spike meeting.
“The time in Ostrava was a crazy surprise,” Bol said. “I hit two of the hurdles a bit on the way and had to say to myself, ‘Come on, Femke.’
“The first race of the season over 400m hurdles is always exciting. There are 10 hurdles and in training I never train beyond seven.”
There were seven over the 300m distance in Ostrava and Bol did not clear them all in text-book fashion. In Hengelo, as well as the barriers, she will face 2015 world silver medallist Shamier Little of the USA and Ukraine’s Anna Ryzhykova, a distant third in Ostrava.
The meeting features four Olympic champions across the sixteen events: Mondo Duplantis in the pole vault, Kipyegon in the 800m, Milaika Mihambo in the long jump and Peruth Chemutai in the 3000m steeplechase. In addition to Mihambo, there are three other reigning world champions: Anderson Peters (javelin), Nia Ali (100m hurdles) and Hamila Nakaayi (800m).
As well as Gidey, Duplantis also happens to be a world record-holder. The organisers have taken out insurance of 25,000 Euros in case the 22-year-old Swede improves on the 6.20m he vaulted at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade in March.
“If the weather permits, I’ll do everything I can,” Duplantis said, when asked about the possibility of a global mark at the track where he nailed the highest outdoor vault of 2021: 6.10m. “I know from last year that Hengelo has everything you need to jump high.
“I only have three meetings before the World Championships – Hengelo, then the Diamond Leagues in Oslo and Stockholm – so I’m going to try and hit it as hard as I can.”
Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis (© AFP / Getty Images)
Belgium’s Ben Brooders, fifth in Belgrade, will be among those hoping to push the young Superman of the vault, who cleared 5.91m to win on his outdoor debut in Eugene, the only Duplantis dip below 6.00m thus far in 2022.
The young Swede arrives in Hengelo on a roll of 10 victories outdoors and in. Peters is unbeaten in five javelin competitions out of five in 2022.
The Grenadian returned to the scene of his 2019 World Championships success to nail a 93.07m area record in the opening Wanda Diamond League fixture of the year in Doha on 13 May and backed that up with an impressive 87.88m in Ostrava.
Germany’s 2017 world champion Johannes Vetter has withdrawn from the field but Trinidad and Tobago’s 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott, second in the Golden Spike meet, and European silver medallist Andreas Hoffman are both in the line-up.
Hoffman’s German teammate Mihambo leads the long jump world list with the 7.09m that took her victory in the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Birmingham on 21 May. The world, Olympic and European champion has a PB of 7.30m and the only other 7.00m-plus jumper in the field is Australia’s Oceania record-holder Brooke Buschkuehl (7.05m).
Mihambo will be making her Hengelo debut, her only previous competition in the Netherlands having been the 2016 European Championships in Amsterdam, where she took bronze behind Ivana Spanovic, as the Serb was then known, and Britain’s Jazmin Sawyers. “That was my first major senior major medal, so I have special memories of it,” said the 28-year-old.
The men’s 100m has lost Canada’s Olympic 200m champion Andre De Grasse but gained Reece Prescod, the Briton who scorched to a 9.93 PB into a -1.2m/s headwind in Ostrava. Jamaica’s 2011 world champion Yohan Blake, runner-up in the Czech Republic on Tuesday in 10.05, and China’s 2018 world indoor 60m silver medallist Su Bingtian are also in the field.
Following her commanding 3:54.21 win in Eugene, Kipyegon steps down from the 1500m to face world champion Nakaayi of Uganda over 800m. Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza is quickest in the field, courtesy of her 1:56.28 victory on Wanda Diamond League action in Stockholm eleven months ago.
Faith Kipyegon wins the 1500m at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Eugene (© Matthew Quine / Diamond League AG)
Chemutai has not won a 3000m steeplechase since her Olympic triumph in Tokyo, having placed seventh in Eugene and Zurich at the tail-end of last season and third at the Kip Keino Classic and fourth back in Eugene this May. The 22-year-old Ugandan faces Commonwealth silver medallist Celliphine Chespol of Kenya.
The 100m hurdles pits world champion Ali of the US against Tokyo fifth-place finisher Nadine Visser, although the former heptathlete is on the comeback trail after injury. In the flat 100m, Visser’s Netherlands teammate, two-time world 200m champion Dafne Schippers, takes on Britain’s Olympic finalist Daryll Neita, while Dutch world indoor shot put bronze medallist Jessica Schilder faces the two women who finished ahead of her in Belgrade: Portugal’s Auriol Dongmo and Chase Ealey of the US.
In the men’s 400m US stalwart Vernon Norwood lines up against three members of the Dutch Olympic silver medal winning 4x400m relay squad: Liemarvin Bonevacia, Jochen Dobber and Terrence Agard. A fourth member of the squad, Ramsey Angela, lines up in the 400m hurdles.
The women’s 400m features Wadline Jonathas of the US, who finished fourth in the 2019 world final, and Lieke Klaver, a member of the Dutch quartet who took world indoor 4x400m silver in Belgrade. Kenya’s 2014 Commonwealth silver medallist Ronald Kwemoi heads the entry list for the men’s 1500m
Simon Turnbull for World Athletics