Ivana Vuleta (nee Spanovic) in the long jump at the World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018 (© Getty Images)
Every championship needs a home triumph to truly ignite the atmosphere. On Sunday evening (20) the Stark Arena should once again be rocking as Serbian star Ivana Vuleta (nee Spanovic) takes to the runway at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22.
The 31-year-old is the undoubted favourite for the women’s long jump, arriving as the defending world indoor champion and with the best mark in the field this year – the 6.88m she jumped at the World Indoor Tour Silver meeting in Belgrade last week. Vuleta also jumped 6.83m three times in that competition, a mark none of her rivals have hit this year.
What’s more, she has a proven track record when it comes to handling the pressure of a home championships. In 2017, she won her second of three European indoor titles, leaping a Serbian record of 7.24m in front of packed stands in Belgrade. There should be a similarly raucous atmosphere in the arena on the final night of action on Sunday as Vuleta aims to replicate that success on the global stage.
However, there are several worthy challengers that stand in her way.
Chief among them is Lorraine Ugen, who sealed victory on the World Athletics Indoor Tour with a leap of 6.67m in Madrid earlier this month. She jumped 6.75m to take the British indoor title in Birmingham last month and promised there is more to come in Belgrade once she ironed out issues with her run-up.
Nigeria’s Ese Brume was a 7.17m jumper last year, the Olympic bronze medallist sure to feature in the medal hunt if anything close to her best, though this will be her first competition of the year.
Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk jumped 6.92m to win the European indoor title in Torun last year, and while she didn’t record a mark in her two long jump competitions on the circuit this season, she should feature if anywhere near her best.
Sweden’s Khaddi Sagnia has been in fine form this season, jumping 6.70m at consecutive events in Birmingham and Torun and could also be in the hunt for medals. US indoor champion Quanesha Burks will be keen to improve on her fourth-place finish at the last edition of the World Indoor Championships in 2018, and she has a best of 6.65m this season.
Tiffany Flynn was runner-up at the US Championships with 6.49m, and she will be keen to reproduce or surpass the 6.66m she jumped in January.
Akela Jones of Barbados is another worthy of respect, the 26-year-old jumping a national record of 6.80m in Clemson, USA, last month. She had a best of 6.54m in her two outings in Europe since then.
Spain’s Fatima Diame should also be in the hunt, the 25-year-old jumping an indoor PB of 6.64m in Lievin last month, while Italy’s rising star Larissa Iapichino jumped a world U20 indoor record of 6.91m last year and the 19-year-old has a best of 6.59m this season.
Nigeria’s Ruth Osoro is also in the field, and has a best of 6.59m this season.
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics