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SA four hope to sparkle

The European track and field circuit kicks into gear in all urgency Friday evening with the inaugural Diamond League meeting in Doha, Qatar.

And South Africans will very much be part of the action in what’s expected to be balmy, warm conditions, perfect for good performances.

World champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi will run the 800 metres, Commonwealth champion LJ Van Zyl goes off in the 400m hurdles,

Olympic finalist Ruben Ramolefi contests the 3000m steeplechase and Tumelo Thagane takes up the triple jump challenge.

The South Africans face a long and drawn-out season with their attention on the faraway Commonwealth Games, in Delhi, India in October and accordingly have to pace themselves rather carefully.

Mulaudzi takes on Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop with the latter looking to make up for his disappointing world championships last year where he didn’t make the 800m final and ended one place outside the medals in the 1500m. Adding spice to the event will be young David Rudisha, 21, who is the early season pace-seter with a 1:43.15 in Australia last month. Mulaudzi’s season best is a 1:45:51 run during the Yellow Pages series.

Van Zyl is up against a quality field in the one-lap hurdles tussle.

Said coach Hennie Kotze on Friday. “It’s all on track with his training and he’s feeling positive and excited about tonight’s race. However, we have to focus on the end of the season and stick to the training plan. But there’s definitely a chance of him dipping under 49 seconds tonight.”

Van Zyl, who boasts a career-best of 47.94, is drawn in the seventh lane for Friday’s event.

He goes into the starting blocks as fourth fastest of the eight in terms of career-bests. Six of his rivals have already run faster than him this season… only Saudi Arabia’s Bandar Al Sharkili’s 53.55sec is behind the 49.45 Van Zyl ran during the Yellow Pages series. Again, his focus is a long way down the road. Likely medal-winners this time out look to be US trio Kerron Clement, Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson.

Ramolefi will also merely be establishing what sort of racing form he’s in and coach Hans Saestad said earlier this week that the aim will simply be to run around the 8.20sec mark.

The field is headed by world champion Ezekiel Kemboi as well as Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto. No less than 11 Kenyans will come under starter’s orders and come the gun Ramolefi will know he’s in a race.

Thagane will also be something of an unknown quantity in the triple jump and his personal best of 17.09m is unlikely to see him on the podium on Friday but it will all be valuable experience to the youngster.

Organisers of the meeting have lured an impressive line-up to the first Diamond League meeting, including 10 reigning world champions and nine Olympic champions.

Worth watching should be leggy Blanka Vlasic in the high jump. Second on the all-time list she has already tried for the world record on no less than six occasions in Doha and will be looking to pick up outdoors where she left off indoors, having won the world indoor title, also in Doha, earlier this year.

The expected warm weather should make for good sprinting and former world record holder Asafa Powell has already indicated that he want’s to “do something to open people’s eyes” in his first 100m of the season.

On paper at least he easily looks a cut above the competition for Friday’s dash.

By Mark Etheridge