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Brussels Golden League Distance Preview: Jelimo on Verge of Golden League Jackpot
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2008 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

BRUSSELS (04-Sep) -- The six meet ÅF Golden League series comes to anend at the Memorial Van Damme here on Friday night, with Kenyan teenager Pamela Jelimo a strong favorite to win at least a share of the $1 million Golden League Jackpot.

So sudden has been Jelimo’s rise that the 18-year-old hadn’t even contested the 800m when the discipline was designated a Golden League event last December. She has since rewritten the all-time lists, set four world junior records, and lowered the African record several times as well, most recently to 1:54.01 in Zürich a week ago, elevating the Kenyan to No. 3 all-time. She also compiled an undefeated season and claimed Olympic gold. With an average margin of victory hovering above three seconds --unparalleled at this level-- nothing short of major catastrophe will end the 18-year-old’s charge towards the pot of gold.

Her rival in the hunt, Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic, has produced a season similar to the Kenyan’s with her only lapse coming at the Olympic Games where she finished second behind bespectacled Belgian Tia Hellebaut. Although the Belgian’s form was not remotely close in Zürich last week, she’ll have a crowd of 47,000 behind her at Roi Baudouin stadium, the meeting’s 12th consecutive sell-out. If both Jelimo and Vlasic prevail, the pair will split the pot.

Brussels has traditionally witnessed fast 800m races, and this year’s should be no exception. Olympic champion Wilfred Bungei leads the field in his second outing since his Beijing triumph. A multiple winner here, the Kenyan is aiming for a season’s best to follow-up his sub-par outing in Lausanne on Tuesday where jet lag caught up with him.

He’ll face world champion and Beijing silver medalist Alfred Kirwa Yego and Youssef Saad Kamel, the former Gregory Konchellah who returns to the 800 after a pair of solid 1500m PBs in Zürich and Lausanne. A pair of pacesetters have been employed to bring the leaders through the half in 50.5 seconds.

After suffering a bitter disappointment in Beijing, Meseret Defar will be looking to end her season on a high note in the 5000m. The world champion has asked for a world record pace with the hopes of reclaiming the standard, particularly after her bid in Stockholm in late July, where she clocked 14:12.88, fell about a second-and-a-half short of the 14:11.15 record set by Tirunesh Dibaba in Oslo in June. Russian Olga Komyagina, the best pacer on the circuit, will assist for the first two kilometers, while Wude Ayelew, the winner in Monaco, will try to bring her compatriot through 3000m in 8:38.

Behind her the race promises to be competitive as well, with Kenyans Linet Masai and Lucy Wangui Kabuu and Russian Liliya Shobukhova in pursuit.

The men’s 5000m features Olympic silver medalist Eliud Kipchoge, whose primary goal, outside of crossing the line first, is Bekele’s week old world-leading 12:50.18. At that pace, only Moses Kipsiro of Uganda, fourth in Beijing, can be expected to keep pace with the Kenyan.

In the men’s 1500m, organizers are hoping for the season’s first sub-3:30 run. The field includes Olympic silver medalist Asbel Kiprop, who followed up a lackluster Zürich performance with a victory in the 800 in Lausanne, and Beijing bronze medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand.  Zürich winner Haron Keitany is also in the line-up dominated by Kenyans.

With double world record holder and now double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele already having concluded his European season, the focus in the 10,000m shifts to his Ethiopian compatriot, the perennial bridesmaid Sileshi Sihine. In each major championship in recent years, Sihine has finished second to Bekele in the longest track race, but here he won’t be sharing the spotlight and has indicated that he’s prepared to run very fast.

His career best of 26:39.69, set back in 2004, currently places him on the doorstep of the event’s all-time top-10.

According to meet director Wilfreid Meert, Kenyans Micah Kogo and Moses Masai also have ambitious plans. The pair finished third and fourth, respectively, in Beijing behind Bekele and Sihine.

The three have asked for a 13:10 to 13:12 pace for the first 5000m, but as is often the case, pacesetters in that sort of shape in early September are extremely difficult to find. Complicating matters is that Kenyans won’t generally pace for Ethiopians, and vice versa.

Also in the deep field are Kenyan-born Qatari Abdullah Ahmad Hassan, who was eighth in the Olympics, and American record holder Meb Keflezighi.

The goal in the steeplechase is the season’s first sub-8:00. The primary battle is expected between a pair of Kenyans: Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto and Paul Kipsiele Koech, who missed the Olympics after finishing fourth at the Kenyan trials. The latter has produced the year’s three fastest performances, topped by an 8:00.57. Frenchman Bob Tahri, fifth in Beijing, and Tareq Mubarak Taher, the season’s third fastest, may also be factors.

  

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