Seven 2018 world leaders and ten world champions, including Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim, will converge on the eastern Czech city of Ostrava for the 57th Golden Spike, an IAAF World Challenge Meeting, today.
Indeed, hot names of early season standouts appear throughout the main programme at the city’s Mestsky Stadium which in September will play host the IAAF Continental Cup.
At the moment, premiere among those is Juan Miguel Echevarria, the 19-year-old who set the athletics world alight on Sunday when he flew 8.83m through the Stockholm mid-afternoon sky, the longest jump in the world for almost 24 years.
The wind gauge was brutal, registering the leap at 2.1 m/s, a scant one-tenth of a metre per second too strong to render the young Cuban’s leap eligible for record purposes.
Nonetheless, only five men have ever sailed farther in the event under any conditions, marking Echevarria as the next great hope to breach the nine-metre barrier. Echevarria has yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, so he hardly needs the burden of expectations to weigh upon his every appearance.
Particularly in Ostrava this week where the strong field assembled includes world champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa, who’s already jumped 8.58m this season, and Olympic champion Jeff Henderson of the US, who’s gone 8.44m.
But you can’t help but let your mind wander just a little bit after watching several replays of Echevarria’s phenomenal leap. Among the sell-out crowd of 15,000 expected will be world record holder Mike Powell and Robert Emmiyan, the European record holder (8.86m). You know they’ll be watching intently.
Another rivalry in the making will be on display in the men’s high jump where Mutaz Barshim and Danil Lysenko, the reigning world champions outdoors and indoors, face off once again.
The pair have squared off twice since Lysenko upset Barshim to steal the world indoor title, the Qatari prevailing on both occasions with 2.36m efforts. Barshim, the world leader at 2.40m, is also gunning for another addition to his meet record crossbar collection. In Ostrava that stands at ‘just’ 2.33m, suggesting a trip to the airport’s over-sized item check-in desk is likely in his future. “I’m watching this event for so many years, the last five times I saw it even live. I always adored the sold out stadium, loved the supporting crowd. I’m very positive about being here for the first time,” said Barshim.
“I’m happy to jump about 2.40m this year. I feel no bad pressure, sometimes if you feel to comfortable, it is good to be reminded about the world record and to deal with a little bit pressure,” he added. Barshim said athletics’ popularity has shot up in Qatar. “In the past five years track and field have become very popular in Qatar. For me it is a good pressure, I like meeting people on the streets. My performances have become a national thing. I work very hard, and when you see people appreciate it, you know it is worth all the work.”
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