DOHA, March 10 – Bernard Lagat will bid to recapture the 3000m title he first won six years ago when the World Indoor Athletics Championships gets under way on Friday.There might not be the likes of Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt to light up the billboards in the Qatari capital but the March 12-14 worlds, with nearly 2.5 million dollars in prize money, will still be brimming with talent.
Lagat, a double gold medallist at the 2007 outdoor world championships and a three-time Olympian – for Kenya in 2000 and 2004 and the United States in 2008 – has been in great form this season.
The 35-year-old bagged the US 3000m title last month and a record-breaking eighth victory in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games but he will be up against defending champion Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia.
Bekele, the younger brother of distance running legend Kenenisa, is himself in good shape and sits second on the world lists after clocking 7:31.78 in Stockholm.
A strong field also features Bekele’s team-mate Abrehem Cherkos, a bronze medallist two years ago in Valencia, Qatari world 5000m bronze medallist James Kwalia, world season leader Augustine Choge (7:31.75) of Kenya and his team-mate Sammy Mutahi.
Lagat leads a strong US team that includes defending world indoor gold medallists Christian Cantwell (shot put), Bryan Clay (heptathlon) and Lolo Jones (60m hurdles), two-time 60m hurdle champion Terrence Trammell, and 2006 triple jump champion Walter Davis.
Outdoor world champions on the team include reigning women’s long jump champion Brittney Reese, 2009 decathlon champion Trey Hardee and 2005 400m hurdle champion Bershawn Jackson, who will be running the flat 400m.
The US duo in the men’s 60m, Ivory Williams and Michael Rodgers, will face stiff competition from world number two Dwain Chambers of Britain, who shared the silver medal at the 2008 world indoors in Valencia and will be hoping to reproduce the form which took him to a stunning European record of 6.42 last year.
Britain will also be bidding for a medal in the women’s pentathlon through event debutant Jessica Ennis, the world heptathlon champion.
Asian interest will be focused squarely on the men’s 60m hurdles, where defending champion Liu Xiang of China is set to make his first appearance at a global championship since withdrawing injured from his 110m hurdles heat at the Beijing Olympic Games.
Liu, who underwent an achilles operation in December 2008, has made just one indoor appearance so far, clocking a modest 8.05sec in Shanghai, and could struggle against Trammell and Cuba’s Olympic 110m hurdles champion Dayron Robles.
American Carmelita Jeter, a two-time 100m bronze medallist outdoors, will be hoping to continue her late form last season, when she clocked a second fastest ever 100m time of 10.64sec, over the 60m.
Jeter will be up against US Virgin Islander Laverne Jones-Ferrette, who timed a sizzling 6.97, the fastest run in 11 years, in Stuttgart last month, raising the prospect of witnessing the first sub-7sec dash at the world indoors since 1999.
Ethiopia will look to dominate the 1500 and 3000m, with reigning champion Geleta Burka favourite for the former and Meseret Defar bidding for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in the latter.
Reigning champion Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia will come into the women’s pole vault as the massive favourite.
Despite letting complacency get the better of her at the Berlin worlds last year, she has jumped more than 15 centimetres higher than any of her rivals and has so far set 27 world records.
The other stand-out performer in women’s field events will likely be Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic in the high jump, which Germany’s European Indoor champion Ariane Friedrich will miss through injury.