Previews27 Jan 2021

Global champions set to converge in Karlsruhe


Beatrice Chepkoech in action at the World Indoor Tour meeting in Karlsruhe (© Andreas Arndt / organisers)

Dozens of the world’s best athletes will be in action at the Indoor Meeting Karlsruhe on Friday (29) for the first World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting of 2021.

World champions Beatrice Chepkoech and Dina Asher-Smith lead an all-star cast that also features several other winners of major titles, including 2012 Olympic pole vault champion Renaud Lavillenie, 2015 world shot put champion Christina Schwanitz, three-time world indoor 400m champion Pavel Maslak, world indoor long jump champion Juan Miguel Echevarria, and 2017 world 800m champion Pierre-Ambroise Bosse.

Given the ongoing restrictions brought on by the global Covid-19 pandemic, meeting organisers continue to face near unprecedented challenges as they work to ensure their meetings take place in the safest possible settings and circumstances.

“I have been in a process of constant idea sharing with international colleagues to collect as much experience for the Indoor Meeting as possible,” said Alain Blondel, the athletes' liaison for Karlsruhe. “We have a major responsibility towards our fans, the athletes as well as the numerous helpers, to carry out the meeting as best we can."

A meeting ‘bubble’ has been formed for Karlsruhe – as will be the case for all other World Athletics Indoor Tour meetings – and the total number of people allowed access to Karlsruhe’s Europahalle has been capped at 200, 120 of those athletes, and no spectators.

Such arrangements have, of course, become the norm over the past nine months, and it hasn’t prevented the world’s best athletes from producing stunning performances.

World steeplechase champion Chepkoech, who was able to piece together a respectable string of performances throughout 2020, will be making her 2021 debut in Karlsruhe and leads a strong 3000m line-up.

The 29-year-old Kenyan has raced in the German city twice before, both times over 1500m, finishing third in 2018 and fourth in 2020. She holds the Kenyan indoor record for 1500m (4:02.09) and has the fastest outdoor 3000m PB of the entire field (8:22.92, set last year).

Compatriot Gloria Kite and Ethiopia’s Fantu Worku will provide stiff opposition. Kite has an outdoor PB of 8:29.91, while Worku has notched up sixth-place finishes in her two most recent global championship appearances.

European indoor bronze medallist Melissa Courtney-Bryant, steeplechase specialist Mirusa Mismas and Germany’s Elena Burkard should all be in contention too.

World 200m champion Asher-Smith is another standout athlete set to race in Karlsruhe.

The 25-year-old, who hasn’t competed indoor for three years, has raced in Karlsruhe on three previous occasions, winning in 2015, placing third in 2016 and finishing second in 2017. She set her lifetime best of 7.08 when finishing second at the 2015 European Indoor Championships in Prague, and she matched that time in Glasgow in 2018 in what was her most recent indoor appearance.

Asher-Smith’s opponents in Karlsruhe will include Ajla del Ponte of Switzerland, 2017 European indoor champion Asha Philip and world indoor finalist Carolle Zahi.

Philip, the British record-holder, is the fastest in the field with a PB of 7.06. Del Ponte will be looking to revise her indoor PB of 7.17 after enjoying a breakthrough during the 2020 outdoor season. Zahi, meanwhile, recently clocked 7.19, her fastest time for three years.

Schwanitz last weekend returned from a 15-month break – during which she had knee surgery – and went straight to the top of the shot put world list with a 19.11m victory in Chemnitz.

The 35-year-old, who won in Karlsruhe in 2017, will face her first big test of the year as she takes on a field that includes 2020 world leader Auriol Dongmo of Portugal, three-time US champion Chase Ealey and 2016 Olympic fifth-place finisher Raven Saunders of the US.

Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria will return to the scene of his first ever indoor long jump competition. Three years ago, still aged just 19, Echevarria won in Karlsruhe with 7.97m, then one month later went on to win the world indoor title with 8.46m. His momentum continued outdoors and he flew to a wind-assisted 8.83m and a wind-legal PB of 8.68m.

After a shortened season in 2020, the 22-year-old hopes to return to winning ways in Karlsruhe when he lines up against European champion Mitliadis Tentoglou of Greece, European indoor silver medallist Thobias Montler of Sweden and European silver medallist Fabian Heinle of Germany.

Eaton and Mallett take on top French trio

Two men’s sprint events are among the 11 scoring disciplines on this year’s World Athletics Indoor Tour, and both will be contested in Karlsruhe.

The 60m hurdles features world indoor silver medallist Jarret Eaton and his US compatriot Aaron Mallett, who enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2020. But they face a formidable French trio in the form of European champion Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, world indoor bronze medallist Aurel Manga and 2016 European bronze medallist Wilhem Belocian.

In the 400m, world indoor champion Pavel Maslak takes on Spain’s Oscar Husillos. It will be just the second time they’ve faced each other indoors since the fateful 2018 World Indoor Championships final, where Husillos was first to cross the line but was later disqualified for a lane violation, promoting Maslak to gold.

Asian champion Yousef Karam of Kuwait and Spain’s Samuel Garcia, winner in Madrid last year, should also be in contention. Germany’s Marvin Schlegel, who set a PB of 46.66 last weekend, is the fastest in the field based on times this year.

The women’s triple jump, another World Indoor Tour scoring discipline in Karlsruhe, has a similarly strong line-up featuring North American record-holder Tori Franklin, European champion Paraskevi Papachristou, European indoor champion Ana Peleteiro and Cuba’s Liadagmis Povea.

Strong fields for pole vault, hurdles and middle-distances

Along with the seven scoring disciplines, there will be five non-scoring disciplines taking place in Karlsruhe.

Former world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie, world bronze medallist Piotr Lisek and 2013 world champion Raphael Holzdeppe headline a strong men’s pole vault field. Lavillenie got his season off to a flying start earlier this month, vaulting 5.92m in Bordeaux.

The women’s 60m hurdles will feature African champion Tobi Amusan, 2015 world bronze medallist Alina Talay, European indoor champion Nadine Visser and European champion Elvira Herman.

France’s 2017 world 800m champion Pierre-Ambroise Bosse doesn’t often race indoors, but he has fond memories of Karlsruhe as it is where he set his indoor PB of 1:46.25 in 2016. On Friday the 28-year-old will line up against 2016 European bronze medallist Elliot Giles, Swedish record-holder Andreas Kramer and two-time European indoor medallist Kevin Lopez.

Elsewhere on the track, Kenya’s Bethwell Birgen takes on French steeplechaser Djilali Bedrani and Morocco’s Abdelaati Iguider in the 3000m, while Uganda’s Winnie Nanyondo will clash with Ireland’s Ciara Mageean and world steeplechase medallist Gesa Felicitas Krause in the 1500m.

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics