Previews17 Feb 2022

Thompson-Herah and Duplantis among star athletes in Birmingham


Elaine Thompson-Herah in action at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix Birmingham (© Getty Images)

Three individual gold medallists from the Tokyo Olympics and five other reigning global champions will take starring roles at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix Birmingham as the World Indoor Tour Gold series reaches UK shores on Saturday (19).

World Athlete of the Year Elaine Thompson-Herah hasn’t raced internationally since last year’s Wanda Diamond League final in Zurich, where she capped an incredible season that included three Olympic gold medals and Jamaican records for 100m (10.54) and 200m (21.53), placing her second on the world all-time lists in both events.

The 29-year-old enjoys racing on British indoor tracks. Outside of her two World Indoor Championships appearances, Thompson-Herah’s only indoor races have been at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix: twice when it was held in Glasgow and twice in Birmingham. And both times it was held in Birmingham, she emerged victorious – clocking 6.98 in 2017 and 7.13 in 2019.

But Thompson-Herah will have stiff opposition in the form of world 200m bronze medallist Mujinga Kambundji, who beat Thompson-Herah to world indoor 60m bronze in Birmingham in 2018. Fellow Olympic finalist Daryll Neita, who has improved to 7.15 this year, is also in the field, as is USA’s Destiny Smith-Barnett, who has an identical season’s best to Kambundji, 7.14.

Like Thompson-Herah, Mondo Duplantis also has fond memories of the Muller Indoor Grand Prix. When he last competed at the event in 2020, when it was held in Glasgow, he set a world pole vault record of 6.18m.

Since then, the young Swede has earned an Olympic gold medal. He has also had numerous attempts at increasing his world record – many of which have been close, but ultimately unsuccessful. Being back at this meeting, though, could provide him with just the inspiration he needs.

Thiago Braz, who preceded Duplantis as Olympic champion, British record-holder Harry Coppell and USA’s Nate Richartz are among the other entrants.

Mariya Lasitskene is the third Olympic gold medallist set to compete in Birmingham. The multiple world high jump champion opened her 2022 season with a 1.93m clearance in Banska Bystrica earlier this week. But Australia’s Eleanor Patterson, the winner in Banska Bystrica with an Oceanian indoor record of 1.99m, will also be in action on Saturday in what should be an enthralling rematch between the pair.

Global champions in sprints, hurdles and jumps

Grant Holloway has one of the longest active winning streaks in athletics.

The US athlete hasn’t lost a 60m hurdles race since 2014, when he was aged 16. Eight years, 50 victories, three NCAA titles and a world indoor record later, the 24-year-old will line up for his first ever 60m hurdles race in the UK.

The world 110m hurdles champion and Olympic silver medallist will face a field that includes world indoor champion Andrew Pozzi, world indoor silver medallist Jarret Eaton and 2016 Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega.

Noah Lyles is another US gold medallist from the 2019 World Championships who’ll be making their Muller Indoor Grand Prix debut.

The 200m specialist is stepping down in distance to the 60m and will be expected to do well, given his recent 6.56 PB victory at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. But world indoor bronze medallist Ronnie Baker – the third-fastest man in history for the distance – will be a formidable opponent and will start as the favourite.

The women's 400m features Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson, a sub-50-second performer outdoors and twice a winner at this meeting, among the main contenders, along with Poland’s European champion Justyna Swiety-Ersetic and European indoor 4x400m champion Lieke Klaver.

Ivana Vuleta’s big target for the indoor season will be to retain her long jump title at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 on home soil. Before then, though, the Serbian will test her form in Birmingham as she comes up against European indoor champion Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk and 2016 world indoor bronze medallist Lorraine Ugen, winner at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.

Four-lap competitive clashes

Both 800m races could go down to the wire. In the women’s event, Olympic silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson renews her rivalry with Jamaica’s Natoya Goule. The duo clashed six times last year with Goule winning on four of those occasions, but Hodgkinson fared better in the two biggest races of the year, beating Goule at the Olympic Games and the Wanda Diamond League final.

Hodgkinson, who will turn 20 next month, will be making her 2022 season debut. Goule’s season, meanwhile, is already in full swing, having finished second at the Millrose Games, first at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix and first at the Meeting Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais in a world-leading national indoor record of 1:58.46. Norwegian record-holder Hedda Hynne is also in the field, as is Oceanian record-holder Catriona Bisset, who will be making her indoor debut.

The men’s event is similarly competitive as it features Britain’s Elliot Giles, who has won all but one of his races so far this year. Giles, the second-fastest indoor performer in history, will face world 1500m bronze medallist Marcin Lewandowski, 2019 European indoor champion Alvaro de Arriba, 2020 World Indoor Tour winner Collins Kipruto, and world indoor champion Adam Kszczot, who is using the current indoor season as a farewell tour before hanging up his spikes.

So far this year, Adel Mechaal has set a PB for 10km (27:50), won the Spanish cross-country title, and broken the European indoor 3000m record (7:30.82). He will attempt to further illustrate his versatility by stepping down in distance to the 1500m in Birmingham.

His current indoor PB stands at 3:38.30, set back in 2015. But his recent performances and his outdoor best of 3:30.77, set when finishing fifth at the Tokyo Olympics, suggests he’s capable of smashing his indoor PB.

He will take on world finalist Neil Gourley, who has set outright PBs over 1500m (3:35.32), 3000m (7:48.94) and 5000m (13:34.35) during the indoor season. Olympic fourth-place finisher Abel Kipsang of Kenya and world and Olympic finalist Jake Wightman should also be in contention.

In the women’s 1500m, Romania’s Claudia Bobocea takes on Australia’s sub-four-minute performer Linden Hall, European indoor 3000m champion Amy Elouise Markovc, France’s Aurore Fleury and Spain’s Marta Perez.

Jemma Reekie will attempt to add another national record to her collection when she lines up for the 1000m. Reekie, who finished fourth over 800m at the Olympic Games, already holds the British indoor records for 800m (1:57.91) and the mile (4:17.88) and in Birmingham she’ll have in her sights Laura Muir’s European indoor record of 2:31.93.

Elsewhere, rising Swiss sprint hurdler Ditaji Kambundji will face Zoe Sedney of the Netherlands in the women’s 60m hurdles.

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics