Tag Archives: Jenny Meadows

Are the Russians cleaning up their act?

Are the Russians cleaning up their act?

Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell’s positive drug tests marked an arguable nadir for the sport’s reputation in recent years but while lacking the sporting currency to make an impact on the back-pages, the Russian track and field team has been a perennial fixture at the forefront of doping controversies over the past decade.

Jenny Meadows and Lynsey Sharp have been outspoken critics of Russian athletics after being denied major 800m accolades by subsequently-busted Russians while UK javelin record-holder Goldie Sayers was the latest name to publicly question whether the country is fit to host the World Championships with a banned list nudging the wrong side of the half-century mark.

The country’s inauspicious anti-doping record in all sports has led to similar questions surrounding next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi and scepticism about the country’s credentials to host such renowned global events have been fuelled further by Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay legislation recently coming into force.

Even though Russia swept the medals at the World University Games and what was in effect a B-team retained their European Team Championships title in Gateshead, it hasn’t been a memorable year for Russian athletics – so far, at least. Their leading athletes have not performed with the same distinction and many have kept very low-profiles. It was largely thought they were being kept under lock-and-key with the purpose of keeping their powder dry for the main events.

However, one couldn’t help but notice an alarming drop in standards across the board to last year at the Russian Championships. Granted, one or two medal contenders were pre-selected but regardless, the difference in standard was eye-catching. Eleven sub-50.5 and five sub-50 400m performances were recorded last year while the winning time in the 400m this year was a comparatively modest 50.55. The whole championships just produced a solitary sub-2:00 800m compared to eight in 2012, and twelve in 2004, while the winning time in the 200m this year was slower than the eighth-placer’s from last year.

So, what can we conclude from these results? Perhaps the Russian coaches are peaking their athletes in time for the World Championships rather than their domestic championships, as has sometimes been the case? Russian athletes do have a propensity for running fast domestically before failing to produce the same calibre of performance at the major championships.

Or are the testers starting to catch up with arguably the world’s most notoriously consistent, and persistent offenders? The biological passport system has proved a particularly effective innovation in catching out cheats while lauded medal-winners such as Svetlana Krivelyova and Tatyana Kotova (pictured) have recently been brought under disrepute with retrospective testing of samples from previous championships.

The much-maligned Russian system has been placed firmly under the spotlight and has such pressure combined with the growing militancy of anti-doping procedures acted as the much-needed push to start the clean-up of the Russian system which has sadly clouded the reputation of their athletes? Or will normal service be resumed once the focus shifts away post-Moscow and post-Sochi?

Let’s hope it’s the former and we can enjoy a controversy-free World Championships next month.

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European Indoor Championships – women’s preview

Britain won three gold medals in Paris but out of that triumvirate, only Jenny Meadows will be defending her European indoor title this weekend. The 800m runner is among the team’s leading aspirants for medals along with Asha Philip, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Holly Bleasdale and Shara Proctor in Gothenburg. 

Women’s sprints

Gothenburg has twice hosted these championships and on both occasions, British athletes have come away with medals in the 60m through Andrea Lynch in 1974 and Bev Kinch in 1984. Surely this is a good omen for Asha Philip, who is ranked second in Europe this year with a 7.15 PB?

Unlike some events, most of Europe’s best are giving the 60m their due regard and this should ensure a high-quality final. Mariya Ryemyen is the fastest with a 7.12 PB and the Ukrainian will be looking to upgrade her silver medal from 2011 in the absence of team-mate Olesya Povh. Fellow sub-7.2 performers Verena Sailer, Ivet Lalova and British-based Norwegian Ezinne Okparaebo, who is gunning for a hat-trick of European indoor medals, will also be in title contention.

Perri Shakes-Drayton and Eilidh Child started the season with scant indoor experience but the 400m hurdlers have both enjoyed fruitful campaigns on the boards which should climax with medals over 400m. They ran 51.37 and 51.50 respectively in Birmingham which ranks them a close second and third in Europe to Ksenia Ustalova’s 51.31. Ustalova is the sole Russian representative in the individual with no doubt most of her team-mates choosing to keep their powder dry with the World Championships in Moscow on the horizon.

The Russians have named a strong relay-pool but Christine Ohuruogu’s inclusion in the British team might give our quartet a marginal edge.

Two-time European outdoor champion Nevin Yanit concluded her preparations with a 7.98 Turkish 60m hurdles record to win the Balkan Championships. A quartet of athletes led by Yuliya Kondakova’s 7.93 have run slightly faster but Yanit is a championship specialist as illustrated by her fifth-place at the Olympics.

Women’s middle-distances

Team captain Jenny Meadows made an auspicious comeback after eighteen months out and a 2:02.86 performance a fortnight ago in Birmingham convinced her to defend the title she was retroactively handed after Evgeniya Zinurova’s disqualification due to a doping violation.

Russian athletes hold the ten fastest times in Europe but their selectors have adopted an approach of prioritising quality rather than quantity. Despite an embarrassment of riches to choose from, Yelena Kotulskaya (nee Kofanova) is their sole representative and she’ll be the Brit’s greatest danger as her outdoor PB of 1:57.77 is marginally faster than Meadows’ 1:57.93.

Many events lack a resounding favourite but the home-crowd will be pleased this is not the case over 1500m as Abeba Aregawi arrives in fearless form. The 1500m in Stockholm last week was her first race for her adopted nation and the 22-year-old made an emphatic statement with a 3:58.40 national record. Her time was just 0.12 shy of Yelena Soboleva’s world indoor record and even though Soboleva’s in the Russian team, don’t expect her to be a threat as she hasn’t broken the 4:10-barrier in 2013.

The 3000m is much more difficult to call though. Yelena Korobkina’s 8:50.42 leads the way but sole British representative Lauren Howarth, who ran 8:52.00 in Birmingham, could cap her breakthrough campaign with a major title. European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton from Ireland, fourth-placer Almensch Belete from Belgium and former silver medallist Sara Moreira from Portugal are also among the dangers.

Women’s field

Holly Bleasdale has a great chance of claiming her first major title as she is the holder of the two best vaults in Europe with 4.75m and 4.77m. She had a minor setback in Stockholm finishing fourth with 4.45m but she tweeted afterwards the run-up was her best ever which hopefully bodes well for Gothenburg.

She will need to rediscover her 4.70m-plus form in order to fend off the Russian threat of Anastasiya Savchenko, who has improved markedly since crashing out in Olympic qualifying last year. Savchenko has upped her PB from 4.60m to 4.71m and what’s more, she’s also beaten Bleasdale in their last two encounters in Bydgoszcz and Stockholm.

Shara Proctor produced a season’s best of 6.78m to win in Birmingham and the UK record-holder now comes up against a field including some of her likely rivals at the World Championships this summer. Two of Russia’s finest in reigning champion Darya Klishina and world outdoor silver medallist Olga Kucherenko, who holds the world-leading mark at 7.00m, are set to start along with European outdoor champion Eloyse Lesueur from France.

Two-time European outdoor triple jump champion Olha Saladuha makes her first appearance at these championships and the Ukrainian starts as the comprehensive favourite. An operation in the off-season accounts for Yamile Aldama’s slow start to the winter but a 13.91m season’s best in Birmingham indicates she’s rounding into competitive form.

Yevgeniya Kolodko is one of the few Russian A-listers making the trip but the Olympic silver medallist might play second-fiddle to Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, the holder of the three best puts in 2013 including a world-leading 19.79m.

Alessia Trost is unbeaten in the high jump this year and the Italian starts as the favourite ahead of former Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut and Spanish veteran Ruth Beitia. 

Pentathlon

The pentathlon lacks some lustre with Jessica Ennis, Tatyana Chernova and Nataliya Dobrynska all absent but the competition should be intriguing nonetheless. Antoniette Nana Djimou Ida will defend her title against a line-up including world-leader Yekaterina Bolshova, who will be looking to convert her best form to the major events this year.

The field also contains up-and-comers such as Kristina Savitskaya and Laura Ikauniece, who were eighth and ninth aged 21 and 20 respectively at the Olympics, and 18-year-old Nafissatou Thiam from Belgium, who recently broke Carolina Kluft’s world junior record.

Published in Athletics Weekly on February 28

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Farah to bring house down

The British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham is widely regarded as the world’s premier indoor meeting and the gathering of global superstars for the 2013 edition confirms this accolade. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Carmelita Jeter and Lerone Clarke will headline the sprint events while double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah rounds off the programme over 3000m.

12.47pm – women’s 400m national (world-lead 51.31, Ksenia Ustalova, UKA qualifying standard 53.25)

Margaret Adeoye has excelled over 200m this winter but the UK indoor champion will try her hand over twice the distance. She faces Laura Wake, Meghan Beesley and Christine Ohuruogu’s younger sister Victoria in what will be just her third ever indoor race at the distance.

12.55pm – men’s 400m national (WL 45.83, David Verburg, UKA 46.90)

This domestic race is always of a very high standard and the outcome will no doubt prove decisive in determining individual and relay berths for the European Indoor Championships. Richard Buck, the winner last year in a 45.88 PB, is in the line-up along with Jack Green who hasn’t raced since dislocating his shoulder in a collision on this track at the start of the month.

1.03pm – women’s pole-vault (WL 4.77m, Holly Bleasdale, UKA 4.50m)

Holly Bleasdale goes head-to-head with Olympic silver medallist Yarisley Silva from Cuba who cleared a national record of 4.76m in Donetsk on the same day Bleasdale won the UK Indoor Championships in a world-leading 4.77m. The two protagonists met for the first time this season in Moscow and Bleasdale prevailed with a 4.75m clearance to Silva’s 4.65m although Silva turned the tables on the Brit midweek in Bydgoszcz.

1.08pm – women’s long jump (WL 7.00m, Olga Kucherenko, UKA 6.65m)

Shara Proctor broke the UK indoor record in this arena last year with 6.80m and while the world indoor bronze medallist isn’t perhaps in this form just yet, the 24-year-old will be looking for a repeat victory as the field isn’t the strongest in the absence of the Russians who dominate the world-rankings. However, it does contain Melanie Bauschke from Germany whose recent indoor PB of 6.68m is more than 20cm in excess of Proctor’s season’s best of 6.44m.

1.13pm – men’s 60m heats (WL 6.51, Yuniel Perez, UKA 6.60)

Lerone Clarke has struggled to establish himself on the Jamaican team for global outdoor championships but the 31-year-old has excelled on the boards, winning this meeting last year in a Caribbean record of 6.47. Nesta Carter, who was a close second to his team-mate last year in a PB of 6.49, will be among his main rivals along with former world 100m champion Kim Collins. Last year’s final was devoid of British participation but Dwain Chambers should ensure domestic interest based on the sub-6.6 form he’s already displayed in 2013.

1.32pm – men’s 400m (WL 45.83, David Verburg, UKA 46.90)

The British pair of Nigel Levine and Richard Strachan have a great chance of making an impact on this race as Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos is yet to break 47-seconds indoors this year. However, Olympic bronze medallist Lalonde Gordon will be a danger and looks set for a fast season’s debut after a world-leading 200m of 20.60 last month.

1.42pm – women’s 60m hurdles (WL 7.78, Brianna Rollins, UKA 8.10)

Eline Berings’ withdrawal leaves Tiffany Porter with a great chance of grabbing a high-profile victory on home-soil as she’s the only hurdler to dip below the eight-second barrier in 2013. Danielle Carruthers, the runner-up to Jessica Ennis last year, is the fastest 100m hurdler in the field with 12.47 so cannot be disregarded.

1.52pm – women’s 60m heats (WL, 7.00, Murielle Ahoure, UKA 7.30)

The organisers have arranged a lip-smacking line-up headed by world 100m champion Carmelita Jeter and two-time Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who will be racing indoors for the first time. However, considering Jeter’s defeat to Verena Sailer in Glasgow and Fraser-Pryce’s inexperience indoors, the pre-race favourite is arguably the American-based Ivorian Murielle Ahuore, who set the yardstick with a 7.00 world-lead last month and holds the six fastest times in the world in 2013.

2.11pm – men’s 1500m (WL, 3:34.78, Galen Rupp, UKA 3:42.00)

Sub-3:30 outdoor performer Silas Kiplagat boasts the impressive credentials but the world silver medallist will still need to run close to his indoor PB of 3:35.26 to ensure victory as team-mate Bethwel Birgen has already clocked a marginally faster time for the distance this winter. Also watch out for 18-year-old world youth champion Teshome Diressa from Ethiopia as he looks set for a breakthrough season.

2.21pm – men’s 60m hurdles heats (WL 7.50 Kevin Craddock and Sergey Shubenkov, UKA 7.65)

Despite the withdrawal of Olympic 110m hurdles champion and world record-holder Aries Merritt, the field is still of a very high calibre including the joint world-leaders Kevin Craddock and Sergey Shubenkov, and the world’s next fastest Omo Osaghae. Andy Pozzi, who pulled out of the trials final as a precaution, is also due to start.

2.36pm – men’s high jump (WL 2.37m, Mutaz Essa Barshim, UKA 2.29m)

Robbie Grabarz renews his rivalry with Aleksey Dmitrik, who looks set to be his greatest rival at the European Indoor Championships next month. The Russian beat Grabarz last month in Glasgow and has since set an indoor PB of 2.36m which is two centimetres in excess of Grabarz’s corresponding indoor lifetime best. However, Grabarz showed commanding form at the UK Indoor Championships with a 2.31m victory before two respectable attempts at 2.39m. Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov is also in the field although his form has fluctuated this winter and might not pose as much of a threat.

2.40pm – women’s 1500m (WL 4:02.25 Genzebe Dibaba, UKA 4:14.00)

Genzebe Dibaba won last year by more than eight-seconds and expect the Ethiopian to deliver another solo demonstration as a 4:02.25 world-lead in Karlsruhe shows she’s back in shape after a hamstring injury compromised her Olympic campaign. The field also contains world silver medallist Hannah England, who races for the first time in 2013.

2.50pm – men’s 60m final (WL 6.51 Yuniel Perez, UKA 6.60)

The world-leading mark currently stands at 6.51 to Yunier Perez from Cuba. Could we see the season’s first sub-6.50 clocking in the final?

2.56pm – women’s triple jump (WL 14.52m, Olha Saladuha, UKA 14.10m)

Despite having never surpassed 15m, Olha Saladuha from Ukraine has been the world’s leading exponent over the past two seasons and she confirmed this by opening her campaign with a world-leading 14.52m in Dusseldorf. The scrap for the minor placings looks set to be between the veterans including 2001 and 2003 world champion Tatyana Lebedeva, 2005 world champion Trecia Smith and reigning world indoor champion Yamile Aldama who turns 41 this summer.

3.03pm – women’s 3000m (WL 8:35.28 Meseret Defar, UKA 8:51.00)

Domestic interest in this race includes Eilish McColgan, Helen Clitheroe, Jessica Judd and UK indoor champion Lauren Howarth and they face a sold field including steeplechase specialists Ancuta Bobocel and Polina Jelizarova.

3.22pm – women’s 60m final (WL 7.00, Murielle Ahoure, UKA 7.30)

Only LaVerne Jones-Ferrette in 2010 has achieved a sub-seven second performance this millennium but this statistic might be revised based on the depth of the line-up. Even if this barrier proves elusive, the stadium and UK all-comers’ record of 7.04 does look ready for an improvement.

3.32pm – men’s 800m (WL 1:46.72, Kevin Lopez, UKA 1:48.00)

Abubaker Kaki races indoors for the first time since 2011 and with Matt Scherer on pacemaking duties, the modest world-leading mark of 1:46.72 should be within the world silver medallist’s grasp. All of the leading British athletes including UK indoor champion Joe Thomas, runner-up Mukhtar Mohammed and Olympic finalist Andrew Osagie are pencilled down to compete.

3.42pm – women’s 800m (WL 1:59.58, Yekaterina Kupina, UKA 2:03.50)

Jenny Meadows’ name is on the entry-list and if the reigning European indoor champion competes, this will be her first competitive outing since September 2011. She will come up against a field including Olympic bronze medallist Ekaterina Poistogova from Russia and UK outdoor champion Lysney Sharp.

3.53pm – women’s 400m (WL 51.31, Ksenia Ustalova, UKA 53.25)

Eilidh Child and Perri Shakes-Drayton have both displayed sharp form on the flat with indoor PBs of 52.06 and 52.13 respectively and the 400m hurdlers could take the scalps of some very good 400m flat specialists.

4.04pm – men’s 60m hurdles final (WL 7.50, Kevin Craddock and Sergey Shubenkov, UKA 7.65)

Merritt’s withdrawals means Colin Jackson’s stadium and UK all-comers’ record should last into 2014 but a revision of the world-leading mark should be an attainable target.

4.15pm – men’s 3000m (WL 7:32.87, Hagos Gebrhiwot, UKA 7:50.00)

Mo Farah only has two races on his itinerary for the time being and the first of them should be a formality as the field is comprised largely of domestic athletes. Frenchman Florian Carvalho could offer a modicum of opposition as he’s run sub-3:34 for 1500m but the double Olympic champion looks destined to make a winning start on the track where he’s set UK indoor records at 3000m, two-miles and 5000m. 

Published in Athletics Weekly on February 14

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