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Golden action for Khotso

By Mark Etheridge

Olympic silver medallist Khotso Mokoena heads a small South African contingent at Sunday’s opening IAAF Golden League track and field meeting of the season.

And there’s no doubting long-jumper Mokoena takes some good form into the DKB-ISTAF meeting at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Late last month he leapt an impressive 8.33 metres for victory at a meeting in Greece. That’s only six centimetres off his personal best. A few days prior to that he jumped 8.17m to place second in Rabat, Morocco.

He’s part of an 11-strong provisional long jump line-up and will be comforted by the knowledge that none of his opposition have jumped as far this year.

Joining Mokoena in Berlin will be Estie Wittstock in the women’s 400m. Runner-up at SA nationals earlier this year, she’s been on the European circuit with some regularity this season and goes into the race with a 52.30sec season best, the slowest in the provisional field of eight.

But she’s up against some top dogs this time out and will battle for a place with America’s Sanya Richards already having gone under 50sec this season.

Then there’s sprinter Hannes Dreyer and Tshegofatso Meshoe in the men’s 100m B race. The pair boast bests of 10.24 and 10.47 respectively. Both will battle to make themselves felt on this stage.

The two will be joined by former national 100m champion Morne Nagel and Thuso Mpuang in the men’s 4x100m race later in the programme.

Main stars of the day should be Ethiopian distance runner Kenenisa Bekele and Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva as the world’s top athletes go in search of the one-million dollar jackpot if they win their event at all six of the Golden League meetings. If no athlete wins six times then five-time winners can win or share $500 000.

Only three athletes have claimed the full prize in more than a decade since the introduction of the Golden Four which was later expanded to the Golden League: Mozambican 800m runner Maria Mutola in 2003, Russian long jumper Tatyana Lebedeva in 2003, and more recently Kenyan 800m runner Pamela Jelimo.

No man has ever become a millionaire at the series which also takes place in Oslo (July 3), Rome (July 10), Paris (July 17), Zurich (August 28) and Brussels (September 4).

The men’s 100 metres is one of the 10 Golden League disciplines but three-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt, who ran 10.00sec in Toronto, Canada this week, is not competing.

Still, Bekele and Isinbayeva, women’s 100m Olympic champion Kerron Stewart of Jamaica, as well as world champion Blanka Vlasic of Croatia in the high-jump will be there.

Bekele has ruled the long distance track races over the past years with three Olympic titles and world records over the 5 000 and 10 000m. He will run the 5 000m in Berlin but his current form is unclear as injury kept him out of the indoor season. He got a share of the jackpot in 2006 when five-time winners were also eligible.

Isinbayeva has been on top in the past as well, previously sharing the million dollars with Sanya Richards in the past. Isinbayeva has redefined women’s pole vault and should be unstoppable again in Berlin. But whether she can also further raise her world record of currently 5.05m is unlikely at this early stage of the outdoor season.

The men’s field events will see a huge javelin duel between two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway and Finnish world champion Tero Patkamaki.