There are no Olympics or World Outdoor Championships for track and field this year, making this weekend’s World Indoor Championships a major highlight on the 2014 calendar.
The competition in Sopot, Poland, lacks sprint stars such as Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Justin Gatlin and Allyson Felix. But the athletes who traveled to the Baltic Sea city include Olympic and world champions and rising stars who could be medal threats come Rio 2016.
The U.S. won 18 medals at the 2012 World Indoors, twice as many as any other nation, including 10 golds (no other nation had three). It is in line to win the medal count again.
World Indoor Championships broadcast schedule
Here are five events to keep an eye on:
1. Men’s Heptathlon, Friday and Saturday
Two years ago, Ashton Eaton won his first major international championship at World Indoors in Istanbul, doing so in world-record fashion. It catapulted Eaton to unprecedented outdoor success, a decathlon world record at the Olympic Trials followed by Olympic gold.
Eaton, 26, is back to defend his heptathlon title. His still-standing world record from 2012 in the seven-event competition is 6,645 points.
The top total from the rest of the eight-man field in Sopot is 6,372. It would be a shock if Eaton doesn’t win his fourth straight major multi-event championship.
Eaton’s wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, will compete in the pentathlon Friday.
Don’t take your eyes off Eaton the rest of the year, either. He’s said he wants to try running the 400m hurdles in the outdoor season.
2. Men’s 60m final, Saturday, 2:57 p.m. ET
The World Indoors schedule is smaller than the Olympics or World Outdoor Championships, with 13 events each for men and women. In sprinting, this means no 100m or 200m, but there is a 60m.
The men’s field is missing not only Bolt, Blake and Gatlin, but also the two fastest 60m sprinters this year — Great Britain’s James Dasaolu and France’s Jimmy Vicaut.
That makes American Marvin Bracy the frontrunner. Bracy, 20, won the U.S. Championship in a personal-best 6.48 seconds in Albuquerque, N.M., on Feb. 23.
Bracy is a former Florida State football recruit who turned professional in track in 2013, after his freshman year. He could very well be the future of U.S. sprinting with Gatlin and Tyson Gay being 32 and 31 years old.
The key for Bracy’s star will come in the outdoor season in the 100m, where his personal best is 10.09. He needs to be able to run sub-10 consistently to make waves there.
In Sopot, Bracy’s biggest competition will come from fellow American Trell Kimmons, who lost to Bracy by .01 at the U.S. Championships, as well as 2012 world silver and bronze medalists Jamaican Nesta Carter and Brit Dwain Chambers.
3. Women’s Pole Vault, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET
U.S. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr could win her first World Championship with 2012 and 2013 World Indoor and Outdoor champion Yelena Isinbayeva on a break.
But Suhr will face stiff competition from Olympic silver medalist Cuban Yarisley Silva, 2012 World Indoor bronze medalist Brit Holly Bleasdale and crowd favorite Anna Rogowska, the 2009 World Outdoor champion and one of Poland’s most decorated track and field athletes ever.
Suhr broke the world record last year, but Rogowska owns the top mark of 2014.
4. Men’s 3000m final, Sunday, 10:10 a.m. ET
Bernard Lagat is still running at 39, and he’s the two-time defending champion in this event. Lagat won the 3000m title at the U.S. Championships in Albuquerque, two seconds better than Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp, who is 27.
If Rupp can’t challenge Lagat in Sopot, look for Kenyans Augustine Choge and Caleb Ndiku and Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet. Choge took silver behind Lagat at the 2012 World Indoors. Gebremeskel won silver in the 2012 Olympic 5000m. Gebrhiwet, 19, is the 2013 World Outdoors silver medalist in the 5000m.
The women’s 3000m final (Sunday, 10:50 a.m. ET) could also be exciting as Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba has already broken the world record this season.
5. Women’s 60m final, Sunday, 12:05 p.m. ET
This field is loaded. It includes Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who swept the 100m and 200m at the 2013 World Outdoor Championships, 2014 world 60m leader Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast and American Tianna Bartoletta, who won 60m bronze in 2012 as Tianna Madison.
Most eyes could be on the defending champion, though. Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown is competing for the first time since it was revealed June 14 that she tested positive for a banned diuretic May 4.
Campbell-Brown, the most decorated Jamaican Olympic champion of all time with seven Olympic medals, was cleared to resume competing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February. In June, a spokesman for track and field’s international governing body told The Associated Press the case appeared to involve a “lesser” offense of unintentional use of a banned substance.
“I press on,” Campbell-Brown, 31, said in a February statement. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the redemptive quality of unearned suffering, and I must say I am redeemed.”
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