Dakar grand prix

Friday 27 April 2007
Senegal’s vibrant athletics culture comes into focus as the second meeting of the 2007 IAAF World Athletics Tour is staged at the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium in Dakar on Saturday.

Africa’s only track and field meeting in the World Athletics Tour has over the years stood out for the lively support from fans that fill the 60,000 seater stadium to capacity. They cheer all athletes irrespective of their nationality.

The meeting’s most high profile competitor will be Norway’s reigning Olympic javelin champion Andreas Thorkildsen. The reigning European champion, Thorkildsen will face still opposition in Latvia’s Ericks Rags who is all fired up for the encounter.

“This year I have been in (Potchefstroom) South Africa for warm weather training. It has paid off as I threw over 83 metres in training last week,” said Rags. “I have never achieved such a distance so early in the calendar year. It gives me such joy to know that I will be competing against Andreas. Nothing will make me happier than improving my career best with a throw over 87 metres,” he concluded.

Four South African head 400m Hurdles field

The men’s 400m Hurdles is expected to be the meeting’s draw card track event with four South Africans lining-up in the race. Alwyn Myburgh (48.97), Louis van Zyl (49.01), Pieter Koekemoer (49.04) and Pieter de Villiers ( 49.20) have all achieved the IAAF ‘A’ standard for the World Championships in Osaka but only three will be granted a spot in the team for Japan.

A win in Dakar is likely to be determinant in the selection process especially if athletes improve on their personal bests.

This was best summed up by the vastly improved Koekemoer who is the latest addition to South Africa’s vast pool of elite 400m hurdlers. “Our domestic season gives us an early chance to make an impression on meet directors on the lucrative outdoor European circuit. We have come here to run fast times. This should put us in good stead for invitations to major meets in June and especially July,” says Koekemoer.

Meanwhile making her first trip ever to Africa, Jamaica’s Commonwealth Games 100m champion Sheri-Ann Brooks is enthusiastic about starting her season in Dakar. "I have always wanted to come to Africa. When I received the invitation to compete here I was delighted to come.”

“I have trained hard and I am here to deliver the goods. This is my first race of the year and it will lead up to the World Championships in Osaka. I hope to qualify for the world championships at this meeting,” says Brooks.

Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen - 91.59m - in Oslo
(Getty Images)

African sprinters expected to shine

In the men’s sprint events, the honours are expected to be spread out across the continent as last year’s winners; Nigeria’s Uchenna Emedolu (100m), Gambia’s Jaysuma Saidy Ndure (200m) and Sudan’s Nagmeldin Ali Abukabar (400m) have all returned to Dakar.

At 100m Emedolu’s title defence will not be an easy affair with compatriot and African record holder Olusuji Fasuba, Jamaica’s Christopher Williams and South African Morne Nagel all in the race.
Interestingly, Olympic 400m Hurdles medallist Naman Keita will line up in the flat one-lap race with World Indoor silver medallist California Molefe also in the field.

African Championships medallist Zimbabwe’s Talkmore Nyongani summed up the general mood among sprinters. "Since the 200m and 400m were removed from the Grand Prix meet in Doha (Qatar) next week, this meet remains our best chance of notching up some decent points on the Grand Prix standing.”

“We need to impress so as to secure invitations for some of the top meets in June. That will be a good warm up for the All Africa Games in Algiers (in July) and later the World Championships,” says Nyongani.

Long Jump showdown

South Africa’s Khotso Mokoena starts as the favourite to prevail in the men’s Long Jump. Having a leap of 8.34m to his credit this season, the crowd who are thrilled by huge jumps could propel him to improve his national record of 8.39m.

Mokoene can expect a stiff challenge from his European rivals Louis Tsatoumas of Greece and Christopher Tomlinson of Great Britain who are both capable of a 8-metre plus jump.

Botswana’s African Championship bronze medallist Gable Garenamotse and Triple Jump specialist Jadel Gregorio of Brazil should not be disregarded as potential winners of the event.

Italy’s Elisabetta Artuso gets a chance to translate her rich vain of form on the indoor circuit into some notable outdoor success. Besides Slovenia’s Jolanda Ceplak and Bulgarian Sviatlana Kouhan-Klimkovich, Artuso faces the African trio of Amina Ait Hammou (Morocco), Kenya Faith Macharia and Namibia’s Agnes Samaria.

Returning from a series of injuries Samaria appears to be the fittest of the African challenge with a 2:02.70 to her credit in 800m in eThekwini South Africa last month. In March she also improved her Namibian 1500m record twice. It now stands at 4:09.59. “Besides running a fast time I am to secure valuable points on the IAAF Grand Prix circuit before the European summer season gets underway,” says Samaria.

Special Shot Put display

Prior to Saturday’s thriller at the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium, action gets underway later today (Friday) in the men’s Shot Put on Goree Island a few kilometres off the Dakar coastline. It is here where Reese Hoffa (United States) seeks to retain his title. Italy’s Marco Dodoni who placed third last year has ambitions of his own.

“I have been throwing over 19 metres consistently. Now that the Americans will be offering stiffer competition this is my chance to make my presence felt on the big stage. This is the sort of competition I need ahead of the World Championships,” says Dodoni.

Mark Ouma for the IAAF