Men’s 800 and 1500 Metres Previews
For much of the summer, there was no clear front runner for the European title, not until the Monaco meeting in late July, that is. On that evening, world-record holder Wilson Kipketer of Denmark emerged from almost two years of injury-induced invisibility with a world-leading 1:43.76 to move unquestionably to the front of an event sorely in search of a leader. After a poor showing (eighth place) at the 1998 Championships in Budapest because of malaria, which was then followed by a bout of pneumonia, it is understandable that Munich stands as an important career stop for the Dane.
Kipketer and Czapiewski had another matchup in Gdańsk one week later, which Kipketer won by a slim 0.11 second. In these two races, perhaps Czapiewski has seen enough of the Dane’s style to fashion a knockout race strategy for Munich. It should be one of the highlights of the final day.
The supreme iconoclast of world athletics, Russia’s Yuriy Borzakovskiy, has opted for the 400 rather than for the 800. In so doing, he seemingly has tossed away a sure chance for a medal, not only because of his proven ability in the longer race but also due to this year’s thin list of front-runners in that event.
This appears to leave the final medal up for grabs. Reigning world champion Bucher has been sidelined since April with a fracture in his left heel, and his form-evaluation race in Monaco—a 10th-place 1:46.38-- was not encouraging. Still, he is on the entry list and presumably will make a last-minute decision about participating. Even so, the event’s three scheduled rounds would most likely not work in his favour.
One should also not ignore the defending champion, who is also the reigning Olympic champion, Nils Schumann of Germany. Although not possessed with great speed (PB is only 1:44.22), Schumann has shown great running aptitude in the past and is a master at getting through preliminary rounds with minimal energy expenditure.
Ironically, Schumann’s first 800m win of the year came in his final tune-up for Munich, a season-best 1:45.11 in Leverkusen. But with only two runners on the European start list ahead of him timewise, he is a definite medal threat. Since Sydney, he has had a lot to prove to his German fans, and he would like nothing better than to do it in a stadium full of them on the championships’ final day.
Schumann’s countryman René Herms could also employ such a home-track advantage for an overachievement. The 20-year-old reigning European junior champion defeated Schumann at the German championships in a PB 1:45.85, and during his short career he has also shown an ability to tailor his strategy to suit the situation. If the pace is slow, the two Germans should be part of the decision-making process.
Others who have outside chances include a youthful trio, all with 1:45.53 bests for the year—the French pair of 21-year-old Florent Lacasse and 22-year-old Nicolas Aïssat, as well as 21-year-old Antonio Reina of Spain. Belgium’s Joeri Jansen (1:45.59) and the Dutch duo of Bram Som (1:45.86) and European junior runner-up Arnaud Okken (1:46.02) could also emerge as surprises.
The European runners with the top three times achieved them in the same competition while following Hicham El Guerrouj at the Monaco meeting. All gave supreme efforts, as national records for Rui Silva of Portugal (3:30.07) and France’s Driss Maazouzi (3:31.45) preceded the 3:32.43 of Anthony Whiteman. The British runner was only 0.09 off the PB he established five years ago.
Only three Europeans have ever run faster than Silva--Record-holder Fermín Cacho of Spain, and the legendary British duo of Steve Cram and Sebastian Coe—and all three won gold in the event at either the Olympics or the European Championships. Silva is definitely at the peak of his form and seems to be the man to beat.
Right behind those three stands another Frenchman, Sydney fourth-placer Mehdi Baala, with a 3:33.18 and 3:33.55 on his 2002 record.
France’s third runner, Bouabdallah “Bob” Tahri, who finished fifth in Edmonton, dropped almost two seconds from his PB with a 3:34.85 in Lausanne, and can conceivably be in the final sprint for medals.
And then there are the Spanish runners. As is their usual wont, they have been comparatively inactive on the main European circuit, preferring to concentrate on training and competing at home. The fact that Reyes Estévez comes to Munich with only a 3:35.00 can be misleading. Although only second to Juan Carlos Higuero in the Spanish national championships, the defending European champion and two-time world bronze medallist is still expected to be a significant factor.
Other than two-time European Championships finalist Vyacheslav Shabunin of Russia (3:36.07 this year but with a 3:32.28 PB from only two years ago), there appears to be little remaining medal material around, unless the pace of the final is leisurely, which is usually is.