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Previews01 Jun 2022

Olympic hammer champions target triumphs on home turf in Bydgoszcz


Anita Wlodarczyk in Bydgoszcz (© Pawel Skraba)

Three-time Olympic hammer gold medallist Anita Wlodarczyk returns to a venue brimming with fond memories this week.

The Polish sporting icon is one of the standout names set for the Irena Szewińska Memorial in Bydgoszcz on Friday (3), the latest Gold meeting on the World Athletics Continental Tour.

It was at the same meeting last year where she threw 77.93m to put behind her two injury-hit years and lay the foundation for her successful Olympic defence.

She is now unbeaten since last year’s win in front of her adoring fans in Bydgoszcz – her most recent success being at last month’s Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi, Kenya. And few would bet against her on Friday.

But in a field that also contains international teammate and Olympic bronze medallist Malwina Kopron, Finland’s Krista Tervo and multi-talented New Zealander Lauren Bruce – all capable of throwing 73 metres and more – Wlodarczyk cannot afford any complacency.

"I have a lot of questions about my motivation," said Wlodarczyk. "I still have a lot of aims. One of them is the Olympic Games in Paris in three years. I also have a lot of fun competing.

"It’s not like it was when it was the start of my career and I was focused on being competitive. I have fun during the competitions."

The men’s hammer throw brings together the top four from last year’s Olympic Games. Poland’s Olympic champion Wojciech Nowicki and Tokyo bronze medallist and four-time world champion Pawel Fajdek will be keyed up to deliver in front of their home crowd. 

But Norway’s Eivind Henriksen and Ukraine’s Mykhaylo Kokhan, silver medallist and fourth placed in Tokyo respectively, will be looking to spoil the party, as too will Hungary’s world bronze medallist Bence Halász in a high quality field.

Another athlete returning to a happy hunting ground is Olympic pole vault silver medallist Chris Nilsen of the USA. He won at last year’s event with 5.92m as he opened his European season. 

He starts his European campaign in Bydgoszcz again this summer and having exceeded six metres for the first time in 2022, both indoors and outdoors, meeting organisers will be optimistic he can reach new heights again on Friday.

Asked at the pre-event press conference about the meeting record of 6.01m and whether he would attempt to beat it, Nilsen replied: "6.01m is already an extremely high bar and right now my personal best outdoors is six metres. Recently we have been changing some things in my technique and in my run up for fun, trying to figure things out a little better. 

"I think it’s definitely possible if the conditions are right. And when I’ve been to Bydgoszcz before – last year and in 2016 – the crowds have always been really good for us."

The home challenge will be led by multiple world medallist Piotr Lisek and 2011 world champion Pawel Wojciechowski. Nilsen’s compatriots Jacob Wooten and Matt Ludwig could also pose a threat.

The men’s shot put is teeming with quality. Much interest will centre on world indoor champion Darlan Romani, who is unbeaten so far this calendar year. But the Brazilian will likely have to produce a season’s best to see off two-time world champion Joe Kovacs of USA and double Olympic bronze medallist Tom Walsh of New Zealand in a stacked field.

"This is a venue I have always wanted to compete at," said Kovacs. "With the World Junior Championships and different meets, almost every person I know in the track circuit has competed here. So, I am excited to finally be able to say I have competed at the blue track."

In the sprints, the men’s 100m field is headed up by African Games gold medallist Raymond Ekevwo of Nigeria, who has a 10.04 clocking to his name so far this year. In the women’s event, world and Olympic finalist Michelle-Lee Ahye of Trinidad and Tobago is looking to repeat last year’s victory in Bydgoszcz.

In the women’s 100m hurdles, African record-holder Tobi Amusan of Nigeria and 2018 world U20 champion Tia Jones of USA look the pick of the field. 

Meanwhile in the men’s 100m hurdles, multiple Polish champion Damian Czykier has South American champion Eduardo Rodrigues among the opposition in a strong cosmopolitan field. 

There is always plenty of intrigue around the women’s 400m at this meeting, as it is the event in which Irena Szewinska won Olympic gold in 1976. Plus, it is a discipline in which Poland has enjoyed enormous success on the international stage in recent years.

With a 50.49 clocking last week in Huelva, Modesta Morauskaite of Lithuania could be a slight favourite. But in world U20 silver medallist Kornelia Lesiewicz, the home crowd have a huge prospect to get behind as the conveyor of world-class Polish 400m runners continues to roll.

In the 400m hurdles, Olympic finalist Viktoriya Tkachuk of Ukraine will be favoured in the women’s race and fresh from second place at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Khallifah Rosser of USA has a strong chance in the men’s event.

In the middle-distance events, Olympic finalist Michal Rozmys and European indoor silver medallist Mateusz Borkowski carry home hopes in the men’s 1500m and 800m respectively. Meanwhile in the women’s 800m, 2014 world indoor silver medallist Angelika Cichocka will start as sentimental favourite.

Finally, the men’s high jump is an all-domestic affair with European U23 bronze medallist Norbert Kobielski at the head of the field.

The action gets under way at 17:10 local time (CEST).

Chris Broadbent for World Athletics