The first three 2018 IAAF World Indoor Tour series winners will be crowned when the six-meeting series resumes with the Copernicus Cup in the northern Polish city of Torun on Thursday (15).
This city of 200,000 is best known as the birthplace of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, the famed Renaissance polymath who formulated a model of the universe that revolutionised the way we look at the stars by placing the sun at its centre.
On Thursday the city's centre of attention, and that of the athletics world courtesy of a near-global live stream, will fall on the Torun Arena for the fourth edition of the meeting, the World Indoor Tour’s penultimate stop, as the overall winners in three events -- the men’s shot put, triple jump and pole vault-- will be determined. Those who triumph will take home a $20,000 check as Tour winners and a wild card entry into next month’s IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018.
Pressure on Lisek
No events will be more attentively followed by the sell-out crowd of 5200 expected than the pole vault where Polish jumpers Piotr Lisek and Pawel Wojciechowski will be key players in the highly-charged battle for the title.
Lisek, the winner of the Dusseldorf leg, arrives as the Tour leader with 17 points, two ahead of Konstadinos Filipidis of Greece, with a 5.86m season's best to his credit. Filipidis meanwhile, the 2014 world indoor champion, is riding high after equalling his 5.85m national record when winning in Madrid last week.
Raphael Holzdeppe, the Karlsruhe winner, and Wojciechowski each arrive with 10 points, mathematically still in the hunt --but lots of stars will have to align for things to go their way. Besides an outright victory for either, Lisek will have to finish no better than fifth and Filipidis no higher than fourth.
For Stanek, a ceremonial bow
In the shot put, which kicks off the early evening programme, Tour leader Tomas Stanek will make his Tour victory official following the late hour withdrawal of Croatia's Stipe Zunic, the only man with a mathematically possibility of upsetting the rising Czech star. But even before Zunic’s withdrawal, unseating Stanek would have been exceedingly difficult, Undefeated in three competitions this winter, Stanek’s winning efforts of 22.17m, 21.69m and 21.61m are all better than anyone else has thrown this season.
Keep an eye out however for Poland's Konrad Bukowiecki, the European indoor champion, who’s rounding into form and who’ll have the crowd on his side.
In the triple jump, former world and Olympic champion Nelson Evora will start in pole position courtesy of the seven points he banked with his 17.30m jump for second in Madrid, the second best leap of the season and just three centimetres shy of his indoor lifetime best set a decade ago.
The sole challenger the Portuguese legend will come up against is Alexis Copello who's banked three points. But much will have to go his way to steal the overall title: he has to win the competition out right with Evora finishing outside of the top-two.
Lasitskene targeting 36th straight victory
The biggest favourite, and arguably the biggest international star to make her way to Torun this week, is two-time world high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene.
The 25-year-old arrives as the world leader at 2.04m, riding a 35-meeting win streak. Yet despite that formidable tally, she's not sitting atop the Tour standings. At least not alone, sharing the lead instead with Boston winner Erika Kinsey of Sweden and Mirela Demireva of Bulgaria, the winner in Karlsruhe. With two-metre clearances all but a chore for Lasitskene, that should change by about 8pm local time on Thursday.
On paper her nearest challenger is Ukraine’s world outdoor silver medallist Yuliya Levchenko who's topped 1.97m this season. In the high jump, that's a massive divide.
Then there's Adam Kszczot, a multiple world and European medallist, who is expected to pad his lead in the men's 800m. The popular Pole has collected 20 points with his back-to-back victories in Karslruhe and Dusseldorf; another victory would clinch the series title for him, a triumph that will be bathed in the vociferous Polish celebration in the stands. The race also features the 2018 debut of Burundi's Antoine Gakeme, the silver medallist at the World Indoor Championships two years ago.
Obiri in rare 1500m outing
World 5000m champion Hellen Obiri will be making a rare indoor 1500m appearance, her first since 2014. While she's made her career over longer distances, she's hardly a slouch in the metric mile, boasting bests of 3:57.05 outdoors and 4:05.82 indoors, both from 2014. Back in action after a training stint at home in Kenya, Obiri is targetting the World Championships 3000m, so keep an eye on her speed here.
Dawit Seyaum of Ethiopia and compatriot Guday Tsegay, first and third in Saturday's Boston leg, also return to action. Sweden's Meraf Bahta, the 2014 European 5000m champion, is also entered.
Jockeying for points in the sprints
There's plenty of action in store in the sprints and on the straights as well, both on and off the World Indoor Tour programme. The women's 400m features Lea Sprunger of Switzerland and Slovenia's Anita Horvat, currently 1-2 in the Tour standings.
With women's 60m hurdles Tour leaders Sharika Nelvis and Christina Manning focusing on the this weekend's US championships, the focus in Torun will fall on German Pamela Dutkiewicz and Alina Talay of Belarus, respectively the fourth and sixth fastest this season at 7.83 and 7.88.
Meanwhile, Jamaican Everton Clarke is the fastest in the men's 60m field. A victory for the 25-year-old would catapult him into third place in the series standings, just two points behind leader Su Bingtian, who is sitting out this meeting. His best race this season came in Karlsruhe, where he clocked a personal best 6.54 to finish second.
Ben Youssef Meite of Ivory Coast has been nearly as fast this season, clocking 6.55 in Metz on Sunday.
For local eyes, the key race off of the Tour programme is the men’s 1500m, a race that will serve as one of Marcin Lewandowski's final tests prior to Birmingham. The reigning European indoor champion will take on Czech Jakub Holusa, the world indoor silver medallist two years ago.
Likewise in the women’s 800m, where the focus will be Polish 1500m star Angelika Cichocka, who’ll be testing her speed.
The men's 400m includes two-time defending world indoor champion Pavel Maslak, the 2012 world indoor champion Nery Brenes of Costa Rica, and Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, the 2012 Olympic champion.
Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, the joint world leader at 7.07, leads the women's 60m.
Cypriot Milan Trajkovic (7.55 season's best) and Hungary's Balazs Baji (7.61) lead the field in the 60m hurdles.