Martinot-Lagarde looks to turn times into gold

Martinot-Lagarde looks to turn times into gold
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It will be a rematch from Gothenburg in the men's 60m hurdles as France's Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (right) and Russia's Sergey Shubenkov (centre) go at it again at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot.

The men's 60m hurdles at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot this weekend has the prospect of becoming a private European party - and the athlete who could find himself sitting at the top table is a Frenchman who has been a leading star this winter. 

Two years ago in Istanbul, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde ran a personal best of 7.53 to own bronze at this championship, but now his quickest times have made him the world number one.

Martinot-Lagarde has arrived in Poland as the sprinter the rest have to catch after a fabulous few weeks which he will hope to end with the first senior gold medal of his career.

At 22, Martinot-Lagarde has dominated the indoor rankings this year, his 7.45 from Mondeville at the start of the month being a personal best that is just quicker than the USA's Jeff Porter who has run 7.46.

Significantly, it was not just one fast time but a series of them. Martinot-Lagarde has also twice clocked 7.49 and his biggest threats could be from within his own camp or across Europe.

Porter, and Cuba’s Dayron Robles, who has run 7.51, are not in Sopot which means the next fastest man on 2014 times is another Frenchman, Garfield Darien, with 7.53 while Russian Sergey Shubenkov can never be ruled out.

Shubenkov might have run a slightly slower 7.55 this winter but 12 months ago in Gothenburg he took gold as Martinot-Lagarde finished third, again, at the European Athletics Indoor Championships.

In 2012, Russia came back with only one gold medal thanks to Yelena Isinbayeva’s victory in the pole vault.

It should be a different story this time.

Not only is Shubenkov one of their main hopes, but in the field they have an Olympic champion who is preparing to rewrite history.

If Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie - who is not in Sopot as he recovers from injury - has been the outstanding athlete this winter with his pole vault world record of 6.16m, high jumper Ukhov is not far behind.

He has equalled the European record with 2.42m and now is ready to break the world record of 2.43m which has been the property of Cuba's Javier Sotomayor since 1989.

In fact, Ukhov, 27, is in Sopot with the record as a his aim ahead of a gold medal.

He said to Sport-Express: "We need to get titles at the major summer competitions. During the indoor season, strong results are more important.

"I want to set a world record and all other things are just an aftermath.”

Even though he was in stunning form when he jumped his 2.42m in Prague last week, he was still left with regrets.

Ukhov, who won the World indoor title with 2.36m in Doha in 2010, said: “It was a strong and good attempt but 2.42 only equals the European indoor record. If I would have jumped over 2.44, I would be much more satisfied."

The final is on Sunday afternoon - qualifying is the day before - and his main opposition should come from Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim, the silver medallist from last summer's World Championships in Moscow who has a 2014 best of 2.36m.

Russia will also be looking for gold in the men's long jump with Aleksandr Menkov, 23, the reigning World champion from Moscow and European indoor champion.

He is the favourite but is battling with a groin injury that could play a big part in the outcome of an event where qualifying is on the opening day, on Friday, with the final on Saturday night.

Menkov said: "Maybe I should not talk about my shape and just wait for the start. This season, I competed only twice and both times it was difficult. The problems with the groin, unfortunately, are still not solved. As a result I could not train as I wanted, so for the moment I am not sure about my shape for Sopot."

Menkov still tops the world rankings with 8.30m from Greece's Louis Tsatoumas with 8.23m and it could be a case of him going for it with one big jump if his injury allows.