07 May 2009 - The 2009 Osaka Grand Prix – IAAF World Athletics Tour is scheduled to be held in Nagai stadium, the venue of the 2007 IAAF World Championships, on Saturday May 9th. Thirteen men’s events (including three non-GP events, 1500m, 4x100m Relays, and 4x400m Relays) and nine women’s events (including two non-GP events, 4x100m Relays and 4x400m Relays) are scheduled.
Since Japanese sprinters are in form this season, much of the fans’ attentions may be focused on sprint events, especially in the women’s 100m.
Will the Japanese 100m record fall?
Chisato Fukushima and Momoko Takahashi, who finished first and second in both Hiroshima (100m) and Fukuroi (200m), dipping under the previous 200m national record in the latter race, will resume their rivalry in Osaka at 100m. Since they were more than 0.1 second under the national 100m record with 2.2m/s aiding wind a week ago, if the wind is right, the national 100m record is likely to fall in Nagai stadium. The fastest sprinter from abroad is Brianna Glenn, but her season’s best, wind-assisted 11.35, is not as fast as those of Fukushima or Takahashi.
The two best domestic sprinters – Shinji Takahira and Naoki Tsukahara – will not run in the same race in Osaka. Tsukahara will run the 100m, where the favourite may be Rodney Martin, who has a personal best of 9.95. Martin is also scheduled to run the 200m, the event where he has run 19.99 at the 2008 US Olympic Trials.
The favourite in the event is likely to be Brendan Christian, the 2002 World Junior silver medallist who recorded a slightly wind assisted 19.98 this season. At 200m, Martin and Christian will give stiff competition to Takahira, who seems to be in form, having set a personal best of 10.20 at 100m recently. Osaka may be the venue for him to improve his personal best at 200m, which currently stands at 20.35.
Wariner Vs Neville in one-lap race
The best race of the meet is likely to be the men’s 400m, because Jeremy Wariner and David Neville, Olympic silver and bronze medallists are scheduled to run. Wariner, the most dominant one-lapper since Michael Johnson until last year, already ran 45.06 this season but Neville may not be in form yet, for his season best is only 46.26.
Sean Wroe, who set a personal best of 45.07 already this season, is also scheduled to run the race. The best Japanese in the field is Yuzo Kanemaru, former high school sensation. He has run 45.27 this season, the second best of his career. A former high school sensation he clocked 45.47 as a 17 years old. He is now 21 and it is about time he cracked the 45 seconds barrier.
Clement also returns to World title venue
Because of Dai Tamesue, two-time World Championships bronze medallist, the 400m Hurdles is another event that is popular in Japan. Although Tamesue will not be running in Osaka, because he is currently training in Southern California, his apparent heir Kenji Narisako will be present. Narisako, the defending Osaka GP champion, already ran 48.99 this season, faster than Kerron Clement’s season best of 49.10. Clement, of course, is the reigning World champion and an Olympic silver medallist, and thus must be considered as the strong favourite.
Andra Manson, who has cleared 2.35m at the Texas Relays last month will be jumping in Osaka, along with 2007 World champion Donald Thomas, and Japanese national record holder Naoyuki Daigo. Manson, 2002 World Junior champion and a bronze medallist at the 2008 World Indoor Championships, won the US Indoor Championships with 2.32m. He jumped over 2.30m five times this season. Thomas on the other hand is an enigma. Although he jumped 2.30m in early April, in his latest competition in Fukuroi, he could manage only 2.16m, good for fifth place. Like Thomas, although Daigo, the defending Osaka GP champion, cleared 2.28m in Wakayama in mid-April, in his latest competition, Daigo could clear only 2.16m, tied for fifth with Thomas.
Four of the top five pole vaulters in Japan have assembled for the Osaka GP. Daichi Sawano, national record holder, is still the best vaulter in Japan. He already vaulted 5.70m, matching last year’s season best. However, recently young vaulters are breaking Sawano’s age group records. Hiroki Sasase broke Sawano’s high school record, while Takafumi Suzuki broke Sawano’s collegiate record, which in turn was broken by Hiroki Ogita. The gap between Sawano and his young pursuers is closing, and the gap may close even further in Osaka.
Olympic medallists clash at women's 400m Hurdles
The national 400m record holder Asami Tanno completely dominates her event, and fans expect another national record this season. Her season best is 52.87, about a second off her own national record. The favourite in the race may be Tamsyn Lewis, 2008 World Indoor champion at 800m. This season, Lewis ran 51.42 at 400m and earlier in the week she won a 400m Hurdles in Fukuroi.
The event, where the best field is assembled is most probably the women’s 400m Hurdles, where three of the eight Beijing Olympic finalists including silver medallist Sheena Tosta and bronze medallist Tasha Danvers are expected. Of the three Olympic finalists, Tiffany Williams, eighth in Beijing, has the fastest season best of 55.36. On the other hand, Danver’s season best is 57.15, and Tosta is yet to run a 400m Hurdles this season. The best domestic hurdler is Satomi Kubukura, national record holder, who set a national 300m record last month.
The women’s Long Jump field appears to be quite strong too. Americans Grace Upshaw and Hyleas Fountain finished first and second in Brutus Hamilton last month, separated by only 1 centimetre. They are expected to resume their battle in Osaka. The domestic field is quite strong also. National record holder Kumiko Imura, formerly Kumiko Ikeda, and Sachiko Masumi, who jumped a personal best of 6.60m this season, are the main domestic challengers to Upshaw, eighth in the Beijing Olympics and Fountain, Beijing Olympic Heptathlon silver medallist.
Finally, a national record may be a possibility in the women’s Javelin Throw where Yuki Ebihara threw a personal best of 60.84m last month, just 31cm short of the national standard. The favourite in the event will probably be Vira Rebryk, 2008 World Junior champion with the best of 63.01m. Her season best is 59.43m.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF