Bogdan Bondarenko wins the high jump at the European Championships (© Getty Images)
The men’s high jump clash between Bogdan Bondarenko and Andriy Protsenko will top the bill at the 44th edition of the IAAF World Challenge meeting in the famous Raul Guidobaldi athletics stadium in Rieti on Sunday (7).
The Ukrainian pair – who are familiar foes having faced each other 32 times in a rivalry that stretches back almost a decade to when they were in their mid-teens – fly direct to Italy after competing in Brussels on Friday night. The meeting record of 2.38m, set by Igor Paklin in 1986, could be under threat.
Bondarenko must start as favourite having come out ahead in their last nine head-to-head meetings including, most recently, the European Championships last month when the world champion added a continental title to his collection and Protsenko had to settle for the silver medal.
The Rieti runway first became famous to high jump fans in 1984 when Valery Sereda and Carlo Thranardt broke the then European record, both men clearing 2.37m in a fantastic competition.
The Rieti meeting will also see the conclusion of the 2014 IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge.
The women's challenge came to an end in Berlin last Sunday, with a spectacular world record from Anita Wlodarcyzk. On Saturday afternoon, the day before the main Rieti meeting, this year's men's challenge will be decided.
Hungary’s Olympic champion Krisztian Pars, who won his second European title in Zurich, will square off against world champion Pawel Fajdek, who recently improved the Polish record with 83.48m in Warsaw.
With both men in form, Koji Murofushi’s meeting record of 82.62m from 2007 could be under threat.
Kiplagat and Souleiman out to extend the track's tradition
The Raul Guidobaldi track has always been known as the temple of middle-distance running and this year Rieti will try to live up to that reputation once again.
Kenay’s Silas Kiplagat, the fourth-fastest 1500m man of all time with his 3:27.64 set in Monaco six weeks ago, will be looking for his third win in a row over the distance after clocking 3:31.86 in 2012 and 3:30.13 in 2013, and possibly run under 3:30 again.
Djibouti’s world indoor 1500m champion Ayanleh Souleiman will try to improve his 1:43.69 seasonal best in a great men’s 800m race against Poland’s European champion Adam Kszczot and Algeria’s Olympic 1500m champion Taoufik Makhloufi, who clocked 1:43.53 over two laps of the track in Berlin on Sunday.
The women’s 3000m steeplechase sees Tunisia’s Olympic silver medallist Habiba Ghribi try to continue her late-season run of form after winning at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich a week ago in a season's best of 9:15.23.
The women’s 800m will feature another European champion, Belarus’ Marina Arzamasava, who clocked a personal best of 1:58.15 when she won her continental title in Zurich.
For Italian fans, the women’s 800m also features Federica Del Buono, just 19, who finished fifth in the 1500m at the European Championships. The daughter of former middle-distance star Gianni Del Buono, and coached by her mother Rossella Gramola, she has an 800m best of 2:01.80 but that could be lowered on Sunday afternoon on the fast Rieti track.
US sprint star, and former World Athlete of the Year, Allyson Felix will make her debut on the Rieti track in the women’s 100m.
Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world this year in the 100m and the 200m with 9.80 and 19.68, will provide the highlight of the men’s race in the shorter sprint. Nesta Carter, winner in Stockholm last month in 9.96, will return to the track where he clocked his personal best of 9.78 in 2010.
Another Jamaican, Asafa Powell, who broke the then world record with 9.74 in 2007, will also make his return to Rieti while the field also features this year’s European 100m and 200m silver medallist Christophe Lemaitre, who won in Rieti in 2012.
The men’s 300m will commemorate the former 200m world record-holder Pietro Mennea, who set a 300m world best of 32.23 in 1979 on the Raul Guidobaldi track and competed 11 times in the Rieti meeting. Last year, Jamaica’s Rusheen McDonald broke Mennea’s track record with 31.97.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF