Renaud Lavillenie, winner of the pole vault at the Indoor Meeting Karlsruhe (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
Compelling match-ups in the women's high jump and men's pole vault will be among the key attractions on Friday (31) as the World Athletics Indoor Tour resumes with the 36th edition of the Indoor Meeting Karlsruhe in this southwestern German city.
Mahuchikh vs Levchenko, 2020 chapter 2
In the women's high jump, the focus will fall on Ukrainian duo Yaroslava Mahuchikh and Yuliya Levchenko who sailed to silver and bronze medal finishes, respectively, at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 four months ago - nearly to the day.
Mahuchikh, 18, raised the world U20 record to 2.04m in Doha, a performance which landed her the World Athletics Rising Star award for 2019. Mahuchikh kicked off her season in style 11 days ago by breaking the world U20 indoor record (pending ratification) with a 2.01m leap.
Levchenko, 22, has also started well, topping 2.00m on 11 January at home in Kiev in her season's debut. That was also her best ever start to a season. In their budding rivalry, Levchenko has a 9-2 edge head-to-head. They'll square off for the first time this season tonight in Cottbus.
The field also includes Iryna Gerashchenko, a third Ukrainian who improved to 1.99m outdoors last year and 1.97m indoors, and Imke Onnen of Germany, a 1.96m jumper indoors last year.
41st meeting between Kendricks vs Lavillenie
The highlight on the men's programme is the pole vault where Sam Kendricks and world record holder Renaud Lavillenie, the reigning world champions outdoors and indoors, will again butt heads. Kendricks will be making his 2020 indoor tour debut after a sensational 2019 campaign which saw the 27-year-old successfully defend his world title and add two more six-metre clearances to his resumé. His best, a 6.06m effort at the US championships in July, elevated him to the No. 2 position outdoors on the all-time list.
Lavillenie, who opened his campaign with a 5.80m clearance in Bordeaux on 18 January, is a three-time winner in Karlsruhe, most recently in 2016 when he set the 5.91m meeting record. The pair have met 40 times in competition since April 2013, with Kendricks carrying a 23-17 advantage.
The local focus will fall on rising German star Bo Kanda Lita Baehre who finished fourth at the World Championships last October and earlier in the season struck gold at the European U23 championships. Both of the 20-year-old's career bests - 5.72m outdoors and 5.70m indoors - came last year.
Another sell-out crowd
The jumpers will share the infield in front of another sell-out crowd at the Messehalle Karlsruhe, a meeting that's become a regular fixture from the outset of the World Athletics Indoor Tour.
Now in its fifth season, this year’s tour kicked off in Boston last Saturday with the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, the start of an action-packed 27-day stretch that includes further stops in Dusseldorf (4 Feb), Torun (8 Feb), Glasgow (15 Feb) and Liévin (19 Feb) before the finale in Madrid (21 Feb) where the series winners in 11 point-scoring disciplines will be crowned and awarded their US$20,000 prize bonuses.
In addition to the women’s high jump and men’s pole vault, six other scoring disciplines are on the programme in Karlsruhe.
Chepkoech’s indoor return
Beatrice Chepkoech, the world record holder in the 3000m steeplechase, will be among the marquee attractions on the track.
The 27-year-old Kenyan took the 2019 indoor season off, but has competed well on the indoor circuit, winning two of three Tour 1500m contests in 2018, breaking the national indoor record twice. Her 4:02.21 from Glasgow that season still stands as the Kenyan indoor record.
She'll race the 1500m again here, taking on 2014 world indoor silver medallist Axumawit Embaye of Ethiopia, who'll be competing on the Europahalle track for the sixth time. She won in 2016 and was a distant third two years earlier when Genzebe Dibaba set the existing world record with a 3:55.17 run.
Ugandan Winnie Nanyondo, who had a breakout 2019 season over the distance, is also in the field.
Clemons vs Amusan
Karlsruhe always attracts strong hurdles fields. Susana Kallur clocked a sizzling 7.68 here in 2008, another world record set here that still stands.
Christina Clemens, the 2018 world indoor silver medallist, came reasonably close to Kallur’s mark with her 7.73 lifetime best, an altitude-assisted mark set two years ago that places her equal-sixth on the all-time list. The 27-year-old was second in Boston last weekend in 7.98 but isn't the field's fastest this season.
That superlative rests with Nigeria's Tobi Amusan, who opened her season with a 7.87 personal best at altitude in Albuquerque last weekend where she too finished second. With a seventh place finish at the 2018 World Indoor Championships and fourth place showing in the 100m hurdles at last year's World Championships in Doha, the 22-year-old is clearly a steadily rising force.
Norway's Isabelle Pedersen, another 2018 world indoor finalist, and Germany's Cindy Roleder, the silver and gold medallist at the last two European Indoor Championships, are also in the field.
The scoring programme also includes two men’s track events, the 800m and 3000m.
Bethwell Birgen, the bronze medallist at the World Indoor Championships two years ago, leads the field over the longer distance. The 31-year-old Kenyan opened his season on a high with a convincing victory in the Boston 3000m where he won by more than two seconds in 7:44.21.
He'll face Birhanu Balew of Bahrain, the Asian 5000m champion and Spain's Adel Mechaal, the 2017 European indoor champion over the distance.
Mechaal's compatriot Saul Ordonez is the stand out in the 800m. The 25-year-old raced to bronze at the 2018 World Indoor Championships and holds the national record outdoors with 1:43.65. Ordonez , who opened his campaign with a third place finish in the Boston 1000m, will face Moroccan Mostafa Smaili who finished sixth over the distance at the last two editions of the World Indoor Championships.
Meanwhile, Lea Sprunger of Switzerland will start as the woman to beat in the 400m. While better known as a 400m hurdler, the 29-year-old cruised to the European indoor title in the event last year. She'll face Dutchwoman Lisanne De Witte, the winner over 500m in Boston, and the reigning European 400m bronze medallist indoor and out.
Rounding out the scoring events is the women’s long jump, where another Ukrainian, Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, will start as favourite. The 24-year-old jumped to world silver in Doha, and arrives with a 6.85m indoor career best set last year. Khaddi Sagnia, who extended the Swedish record to 6.92m in 2018, and Éloyse Lesueur-Aymonin of France, the 2014 world indoor champion, are also on the start lists.
The reigning world champion in the long jump, Germany's Malaika Mihambo, also features on the programme, but she'll instead be trying her luck in the 60m, a non-scoring event in Karlsruhe. Mihambo will likely need to approach or beat her career best of 7.34 to reach the evening's final, where she can expect to take on compatriots Lisa Mayer and Rebekka Haase, with 7.12 and 7.14 career bests, the fastest in the field. Shania Collins, the 2019 US indoor 60m champion, also brings sub-11 100m credentials to the line.
The women's 3000m features Fantu Worku, who at just 20 already has two World Championship sixth place finishes to her credit: over 3000m in 2018 indoors and 5000m in 2019 outdoors.
She'll face Kenyan Gloriah Kite whose recent appearances include a second place finish at the Cinque Mulini Cross Country race last weekend and third at the Bolzano 5km on New Year's Eve. She lowered her 3000m best on the track to 8:29.91 in Doha last May.
And in the men's long jump, four-time German champion Julian Howard takes on 2017 European U23 champion Vladyslav Mazur of Ukraine.
Bob Ramsak for World Athletics