Women's 800 and 1500 Metres Previews
After Jolanda Ceplak's magnificent world-record run at the European Indoor Championships last winter, it was to be expected that she would provide even more headlines during the summer. Her 1:55.19 win at Heusden two weeks before the Championshipsthe fastest performance in almost five yearsall but puts her in the Munich winner's circle.
Ceplak's countrywoman, Brigita Langerholc, spent much of the early season at her US training base. The Universiade champion from last year had only five races during the season, three of them during the early season in North America. But her final competition prior to Munich was a season-best 1:58.97 in Monaco, which augers well for reasonable medal hopes.
Finishing just behind Langerholc in Monaco was Ludmila Formanová in 1:59.09her best time since mid-season 2000--giving a glimpse at the form which won the 1999 World Championships before injury forced her out of the Sydney Games. The prevailing question in the case of the Czech is whether she is capable of holding up through three rounds of competition.
Two French athletes having banner years are European indoor bronze medallist Elisabeth Grousselle (1:59.65) and Virginie Fouquet (1:59.78), both of whom had their yearly bests in the all-telling Monaco competition.
And mention should be made of Belgium's Sandra Stals, who chased Ceplak in the Heusden race and posted a 2002 best of 1:58.92, her fastest time in four years.
This is an extremely deep event at the European level, with twenty runners already having run under 4:05, compared with only sixteen during the entire world championship 2001 season. Team roster restrictions will limit the Munich participation to only fourteen of the twenty, but the winner may not even come from that group.
Knowledgeable sources in Romania have tipped that Gabriela Szabo may bypass the 5000 and concentrate only on the 1500, a distance she has yet to run this season. [The existing time schedule would have made a 1500/5000 double almost impossible.] Ironically, her qualifying time for Munich (4:00.57) comes from her gold-medal 1500 performance last year in Edmonton, which was also her sole outing in the event in 2001. Will history repeat itself?
If Szabo is to again wear a gold medal, she will have to get past some formidable opponents, possibly to include 800-metre standout Jolanda Ceplak of Slovenia, who has left open the question of doubling in Munich. Her current best is 4:05.59, which she clocked in her only truly competitive attempt at the event this year, an indication that she has not yet been put to the test in the longer race.
European indoor bronze medallist Alesya Turova , the current world leader at 4:01.02, is in peak condition at the moment. The 22-year-old from Belarus also carries a 4:01.70, as well as two steeplechase world records among her three lifetime attempts at that event.
Britain will have two strong entrants in Helen Pattinson (4:01.10) and freshly re-crowned Commonwealth Games champion Kelly Holmes (4:01.91), who also won the Empire's title eight years ago. Holmes is a scrappy competitor who managed a bronze medal in the Sydney 800 after only limited racing due to injury.
A strikingly-improved Judit Varga of Hungary, with a PB of 4:01.38 and three other races under her pre-2002 best of 4:08.60, will attempt to challenge for a place on the victory stand. And two of Varga's neighbours to the south--Maria Cioncan (4:02.10) and Elena Iagar (4:02.90) of Romania--should also be a part of the race for medals.
Lingering illness this year has delayed the decision of former world champion Carla Sacramento of Portugal. But a 4:03.18 in Monaco, just a week after her season-opening 4:04.62 in Rome, would indicate that her malady has cleared.
Strange to say, Russians do not appear to have their usual key roles in the event this year. Their top entry, national champion Tatyana Tomashova (4:04.90), is only that nation's sixth-best this season. Two of those ahead of her will be running the 5000, but there is no obvious explanation for the absence of Natalya Gorelova (4:02.33), Yuliya Kosenkova (4:03.66) and Olga Nelyubova (4:03.69) from Moscow's team list.