The World Indoor Athletics Championships is nearly upon us. They will take place right here in Birmingham, England – so they’ll be on at a nice sociable hour for you to watch with friends and family. As the family’s resident runner, your relatives or flatmates will be expecting you to have a bit of knowhow on the middle distance events. So, in the first of a series of blogs previewing 2018’s big athletics events, here is a rundown on the main contenders for these races. I’ll also cover some of the Brits and global stars to look out for in the other events, so read on, make some notes and get ready to impress!
This event could be wide open. 20 year old American Donavan Brazier has three of the five fastest times in the world this year, but lost his only race against Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir, the third quickest indoor runner of all time. I haven’t seen the Bosnia and Herzegovina team but Amel Tuka could be in with a great shout if selected. His outdoor PB is an exceptional 1:42 and he’s already set a new indoor PB this year. Ethiopia’s Mohammed Aman will be there. He’s 4th on the indoor all-time list and has won the title twice. 5th on the all-time list is Adam Kszczot (pronounced ‘kershot’), an aggressive runner who always mixes with the world’s best indoors. So there are five very strong candidates for this one meaning it will be very difficult for Britain’s Elliot Giles to make the final. Giles won the British trials but had to rely on a host nation nomination for selection meaning last’s year’s World Championship sensation Kyle Langford misses out.
By contrast Britain could have two men in the 1500m final; Jake Wightman had a real breakthrough year last year and he is joined by seasoned championship runner Chris O’Hare. Both men are ranked in this year’s top ten. Kenya have only selected Vincent Kibet. He’s a great runner but potentially they could have selected quicker men, such as the current world number one Edward Cheserek. By contrast Ethiopia hope to have three representatives in the 1500m. (This depends on one of them being given a wild card by winning the World Indoor World Tour.) Their big hope is Samuel Tefera who broke the world under 20 indoor record in January. Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti is another strong candidate. If selected he will be the fastest man in the field this year having won a high quality race in France a couple of weeks ago. Like the 800m this could be wide open – tactics could decide this.
Ethiopia also hope to have three representative in this race. If this happens, don’t bet against an Ethiopian 1-2-3. Their new star is the 18 year old Selemon Barega, who clocked a world leading time when beating the outdoor 5000m world champion (and Mo Farah conquerer,) Muktar Edris. Yomif Kejelcha is the defending champion and Hagos Gebrhiwet is another seasoned performer with vast championship experience. He beat many of his rivals over a high quality 3000m in Karlsruhe at the beginning of February so there really is a case for all three of them. Britain’s lone representative is Jonny Davies after Mo Farah’s nominated successor Andy Butchart fractured a bone in his foot a couple of weeks ago..
The joint world number one over 800m is British and isn’t even running the 800m in Birmingham! However, as Laura Muir is running the 1500m and 3000m we’ll allow that! The main British hope is Shelayna Oskan-Clarke who is currently ranked 5th in the world having set a new indoor PB at the British Championships. However, the women’s 800m is a really tough event globally so she may have to be content to aim for a place in the final. Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu is joint world number one with Muir and will probably start as favourite, although she’ll be challenged strongly by Kenyan Margaret Wambui and the USA’s Ajee Wilson who both won medals last time. All of their chances will be greatly improved by Caster Semenya’s absence. 2016 winner Francine Niyonsaba hasn’t yet been confirmed as an entrant either.
1500m and 3000m Women
Britain has the same two entrants in the 1500m and 3000m – Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan. Unfortunately for them Genzebe Dibaba is also contesting both events and she is literally seconds ahead of everyone else in the world at both distances. If the 3000m race is slow going through 2k McColgan could make the top six. She often finishes very well so don’t be surprised to see her pick off a few people in the last lap or two. Muir is the comfortable running at the front with the best in the world and is learning how to compete with them at ‘non-paced’ races. If she gets her tactics right she could break the African dominance and get a medal in one of the races as could (subject to her selection confirmation,) Konstanze Klosterhalfen who broke the German indoor 3000m record at their recent national championships. Kenya’s Hellen Obiri isn’t quite as at home on the indoor boards as Dibaba but she is very rapid and could push her fairly close to the limit over the 3000m. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands is noted for not enjoying running on a 200m track, although that didn’t stop her taking the 1500m crown last time. She’s run a world leading time on an oversized indoor track this year but with no Dutch team announcement yet, we’ll wait and see whether she makes an appearance.
Other British Medal Hopes
Now Mo Farah has stepped away from the track and Jess Ennis has stepped away from competition altogether, our strong championship medal prospects have been drastically reduced. After winning the recent British Indoor Championships Greg Rutherford will be competing in Birmingham. However after a long injury lay off, his winning distance of 7.80m was short of the qualifying standard and he needed the IAAF to accept a special host nation nomination for him to make the starting line-up. Even by his standards it will take a massive leap in performance to make the final, let alone challenge for medals.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson however, presents a big chance of a British medal. With the heptathlon reduced to a pentathlon indoors and the removal of the javelin – one of her worst events – she is a leading candidate for gold. She is second on the global all-time list for indoor pentathlon and will be particularly pleased Nafi Thiam, the World and Olympic Champion, has chosen to skip the championships.
Andrew Pozzi was the fastest man in the world over 60m hurdles last year and if he can find that form again, he could stand atop the podium and party like Colin Jackson did in 1999.
CJ Ujah stepped up to world class level over the short sprints last year and is ranked 10th over 60m this year. However, with six of the nine ahead of him from the USA (who can only select two athletes) he could snatch a first individual global medal.
Robbie Grabarz is another who needed a special host country nomination. However his big championship pedigree in the high jump can’t be ignored. He followed up a bronze in London 2012 with 4th place in Rio 2016 and was a British success story at the World Indoors that year claiming a silver medal.
Sprinter Asha Philip was 2nd fastest in the world over 60m last year when she also claimed the European title, so it will be worth watching her, as it will the Womens 4x400m team who are lead by the vastly experienced Eilidh Doyle.
There is one name on athleticos lips this year – Christian Coleman. He was ‘the other’ 100m medallist in London last year finishing 2nd between Gatlin and Bolt. This year he has continued to progress setting an unratified world record of 6.37 seconds over 60m before beating it again with an official mark of 6.34. He knows he will have to do everything right to beat his almost-comedically named team mate Ronnie Baker who has run 6.40 this year, just one hundredth slower than the old world record. So who knows – the world record could go again.
Other huge stars to look out for are pole vault world record holder Renault Lavillenie and Mutaz Essa Barshim, who has been threatening to break to world high jump record for a few years. For matchup of the championships look out for the men’s long jump where last year’s world gold and silver medallists – Luvo Manyonga (South Africa) and Jarrion Lawson (USA) – will again go head to head with both in fantastic form.