Sprint hurdler Orlando Ortega (© AFP / Getty Images)
The Moscow Challenge on 10-11 June will be one of the final test events before the IAAF World Championships. After making its debut last year as an IAAF World Challenge meeting, this year’s edition will be hosted in the Luzhniki Stadium, which will host the World Championships in August.
The historical 80,000 capacity arena, built in 1956, now boasts a blue track with the same kind of Mondo surface that was used at the 2012 Olympics in London. Both the track and the natural infield grass have been put in place for the World Championships.
“Based on the results of the Moscow Challenge we will see how fast actually the track is,” said Mikhail Butov, general secretary of the All-Russia Athletics Federation. “And of course those athletes who compete in Moscow will gain the unique chance to be the first to test the stadium.”
Cubans Ortega and Reve eager to regain their world leads
Rising Cuban stars from Orlando Ortega and Ernesto Reve, both 21, are among the more notable athletes set to compete in Moscow. Ortega currently holds the second-best 110m Hurdles performance in the world this year with his 13.08 PB, having briefly led the season lists in May with a 13.17 clocking.
Coming fresh from the Eugene IAAF Diamond League where he finished second, Ortega will face a strong field that includes 2007 World youth champion Shane Brathwaite and top Hungarians Balasz Baji and Daniel Kiss. European champion Russian Sergey Shubenkov will miss the event, opting instead to focus on the Diamond League.
Reve’s 17.46m Triple Jump PB from earlier this year recently lost its world-leading status after his countryman Pedro Pichardo improved to 17.69m. In Moscow Reve will face Haiti’s Olympic finalist Samyr Laine, who is currently third on the 2013 world list with 17.36m. Danger may come also from the Russian duo Ruslan Samitov and Alexey Fedorov, the silver and bronze medallists respectively at the 2013 European Indoor Championships.
Elsewhere in the jumping events, World Pole Vault silver medallist Lazaro Borges of Cuba will take on Spain’s Olympic finalist Igor Bychkov and Russia’s Olympic Games fourth-place finisher Dmitriy Starodubtsev.
Strong field in women’s Hammer
The women’s Hammer has probably the strongest field of any event in Moscow with all the top names there, including World record-holder and current world leader Betty Heidler of Germany, 2008 Olympic champion Aksana Miankova of Belarus, former World record-holder and 2009 World champion Anyta Wlodarczyk from Poland, and of course the home star, World and Olympic champion Tatyana Lysenko.
Because of the Rugby World Cup Sevens being held at the same arena later this month, the throwers will not compete on the infield of the Luzhniki Stadium and will instead throw at the reserve stadium on 10 June, the eve of the main competition.
“The field is going to be very strong, so I’m treating the Moscow Challenge as one of the main tests of my preparation towards the World Championships,” said Lysenko. “Fortunately I don’t have to qualify as I’m the reigning champion, so I have a chance to compete now free of pressure.”
Borzakovskiy puts new training plan to the test
Yuriy Borzakovskiy, the 2004 Olympic 800m champion, is one of the top draws in the men’s track events in Moscow. Following his recent performance in Velenje where he won in 1:45.72 – his fastest 800m season opener since 2010 – Borzakovskiy will face a strong field headed by Britain’s in-form 2010 European silver medallist Michael Rimmer and 2010 World indoor silver medallist Boaz Lalang of Kenya.
For 32-year-old Borzakovskiy, the Luzhniki Stadium holds fond memories. Back in 1998 at this venue he won his first international title at the World Youth Games, the forerunner of the Youth Olympic Games. The Russian, who is still in search of the optimum training plan, intends on competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio in what would be his fourth Games!
“This year I had an unusually long altitude training camp,” said Borzakovskiy. “I spent three months training at altitude all together – first in Kirgiziya and then in Kislovodsk. Actually, based on my first two meetings – the Russian Team Championships in Sochi where I ran 1500m in 3:42.27 and Velenje – my new preparation scheme fits me well.
“At the Moscow Challenge I will try to win, as the field is quite strong and it’s my home soil,” added the European champion. “The time here is not so important, although I hope our race will be quite fast.”
World champion Mariya Abakumova is another top Russian name to compete in Moscow. For Abakumova, who set an early-season world lead of 69.34m in March, this is her first season under her new coach, Estonia’s 1982 European silver medallist Heino Puuste.
Now training in the same group as her husband Dmitry Tarabin, this summer Abakumova has not yet managed to beat her main opponent, Christina Obergfoll of Germany. Obergfoll will not be at the Moscow Challenge, giving Abakumova a good chance for the home win over Germany’s World and Olympic finalist Kathrina Molitor.
Natalia Maryanchik for IAAF