In an Olympic year, athletes in track and field are yearning for outdoor competitions to gain a psychological advantage over their opponents heading into the London Games.
But even indoor meets can serve that purpose. For sprinters, it’s a chance to see who’s fastest out of the starting blocks. For shot putters, it’s an early chance to play mind games with the big men who will likely be in the Olympic final.
The indoor world track and field championships start Friday in Istanbul, Turkey and all Canadians who make up the small contingent team will be in action.
Shot putter Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., should qualify for Friday’s shot put final, and will try to maintain the bragging rights he earned last year when he had 2011’s world leading throw, won the elite Diamond League series and was silver medallist at the 2011 outdoor world championships.
Armstrong, who rewrote the Canadian record at 22.21 metres in Calgary last June, is Canada’s best hope to come back with medal. But he will have tough competition from outdoor world champion David Storl of Germany, Poland's Tomasz Majewski and U.S. veterans Reese Hoffa and Ryan Whiting.
In the past two years Armstrong has defeated all of his competitors, but this year has thrown only 20.63 metres. The Americans are coming on strong with four of the top five shot putters indoors this season.
Defending champion Christian Cantwell didn’t make the U.S. team, but Hoffa and Whiting sit atop the world list with throws of 21.87 metres and 21.60 metres, respectively. Storl, outdoor world champ, is next at 21.40 metres and is described as the future of the shot put.
Olympic champion Majewski is the other man over 21 metres this year. Others coming in medal contention include Russian duo Maksim Sidorov and Ivan Yushkov, Portugal’s Marco Fortes and Rutger Smith of the Netherlands.
Canada will also send out one of it’s women hurdlers for the 60-metre barrier race in Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont., who last year had a breakout outdoor season and was sixth in 100-metre hurdles at the world championship final in Daegu, South Korea.
Holder will hope to be in Saturday’s final again against Australia’s brilliant Sally Pearson, track’s 2011 female athlete of the year. Britain's Jessica Ennis and Tiffany Porter and American Kristi Castlin should also be in the mix.
Pearson has run indoor hurdles once in her career, two years ago, but is still favoured. She’s been warming up the outdoor track in the Australian summer season and with a season’s best clocking of 12.66 for the 100-metre hurdles.
Absent is defending champion Lolo Jones the United States.
Canada send out two men in the 60-metre flat race, Michael Leblanc of Riverview, N.B., and Justyn Warner of Markham, Ont., mainly for bigtime experience.
Top contenders in the men’s short sprint will be from Jamaica and the United States. While super-sprinter Usain Bolt is at home cavorting on a track with British royalty’s Prince Harry, new princes of sprint get to shine. Jamaicans Nesta Carter and Lerone Clarke have seasonal bests of 6.49 and 6.47 seconds respectively. Clarke's 6.47 established a new Jamaican record.
Americans Justin Gatlin has 6.47, and Trell Kimmons 6.45, and Britain's Dwain Chambers, 6.58, also have medal potential. Chambers has been on the indoor world top podium twice before, whereas only one Jamaican has ever win a men’s sprint medal -- Michael Green took a silver in 1997 -- in 13 indoor worlds.
One big name that pulled out of the indoors because of injury is men’s Olympic hurdle champ and world record holder in the 110-metre hurdles Dayron Robles of Cuba. He was expected to duel with China’s Liu Xiang . The Cuban smashed into a hurdle training in Spain and hurt his back.
But still on among other head-to-head battles at the IAAF world indoors which will set the stage for summer:
Women’s Pentathlon: Britain’s Jessica Ennis is the reigning world indoor champion and Russian Tatyana Chernova the world champion in the heptathlon, unseating the Briton last summer. On paper the pair are fairly close in the five-event grind.
Men’s 3000 metres: He may be 37, but that shouldn’t keep anyone from betting against Bernard Lagat’s quest for a second successive and third world indoor title. The U.S. record holder will face Briton Mo Farah who beat him in the world championship 5,000 metres. They’ll both have to watch out for the Kenyan 1-2 punch provided by Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi, who are the season’s only sub-7:30 runners.