Africa set to dominate IAAF World Indoor track

Ivory Coast's Marie Josee Ta Lou was the bridesmaid in both the sprints at the IAAF World Championships but will he go one better in the indoor worlds in Birmingham? ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

Six months on from the outdoor IAAF World Championships in London, the world's best athletes will again be in England chasing gold, but this time indoors in Birmingham.

Notwithstanding last-minute withdrawals through injury, some 632 men and women from 144 countries are scheduled to compete inside Arena Birmingham from Thursday, 1 March to Sunday, 4 March.

WHAT IS MISSING?

While an outdoor track meeting can have as many 21 events on the schedule (if you exclude the marathon and walks outside the stadium), indoor meetings are -- of course -- confined by space constraints.

As a result these championships will only have 13 events for men and women. Gone are the obvious ones, like discus, javelin or hammer throw, and there's also no place on the roster for the 200m, 5 000m, 10 000m, 400m hurdles, 3 000m steeplechase, or 4x100m relays.

Some of the events also have 'unusual' distances, like the showpiece sprint which is run over 60m rather than 100m (same as the short hurdles), and the 3000m replaces the 5 000m/10 000m as the longest race.

Incidentally, African athletes did quite well in London in some of the now absent events (4 gold medals, 6 silvers and 3 bronze), so that cuts down the continent's medal potential in Birmingham.

WHO TO LOOK OUT FOR...

It's not a given that the world's best athletes compete both indoors and out, and that fact is borne out by the number of reigning outdoor world champions who will be absent from Birmingham's festivities.

In total, only 15 London gold medallists will be attempting to 'double up' over the next four days -- six men and nine women.

Luvo Manyonga is the lone African among the men, and his chances of doubling up were enhanced earlier this week when 2015 world champion Greg Rutherford was forced to withdraw through injury.

That said, USA's Jarrion Lawson has indoor form in 2018, Marquis Dendy has a better indoor PB (8.41m) and Manyonga's fellow South African Ruswahl Samaai was arguably the most improved jumper of 2017.

Of the other men, Mutaz Essa Barshim would be shoe-in for high jump gold based on the fact that the Qatari had a perfect season in 2017 and he has the best height of 2018 (2.38m), but Danil Lysenko should push him all the way.

Pole vault world champion Sam Kendricks was almost as dominant as Barshim in 2017 but is going into the championships off-the-pace in ninth place on the season's 'best' list. Piotr Lisek (Poland) and Renaud Lavillenie (France), his podium mates from London, lead that list and have personal bests of 6m or more, which the American has yet to achieve.

Much like the men, it's mostly field world champions who are attempting to double up in Birmingham. All of Maria Lasitskene (high jump), Katerina Stefanidi (pole vault), Brittney Reese (long jump), Yulimar Rojas (triple jump), and Gong Lijiao (shot put) will be looking to add indoor golds to their outdoor versions.

The USA's Reese and Rojas, the Venezuelan triple jumper, both head to Birmingham as defending indoor champions too, but have differing current form. Rojas, in fact, has not competed indoors this year but she has far and away the best PB of the entrants (14.79m).

Reese, meanwhile, has been in action but Ivana Spanovic (6.93m) has the season's best by five centimetres. As the only two entrants to have jumped further than 7m before, theirs could be one of the standout battles in Birmingham... especially after Serbian Spanovic was denied a medal in London because of her name tag.

WHICH AFRICANS STAND OUT?

At the previous IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, USA, only nine medals were won by athletes from the continent -- three of them gold.

All three of those athletes will aim to defend their titles, namely Ethiopians Yomif Kejelcha (men's 3000m) and Genzebe Dibaba (women's 3000m), as well as Francine Niyonsaba (women's 800m) from Burundi. Dibaba will also attempt to claim the top step in the 1500m.

Kejelcha will have compatriots Selemon Barega and Hagos Gebrhiwet for company in Birmingham and both have run quicker indoors than him in 2018, so he will do well to win gold again. On the other hand, Dibaba is leading the season's best lists in both the races she's entered for and she has a day between her races to recuperate.

Niyonsaba will be glad for the absence of Caster Semenya, who has been her nemesis in recent years, including beating her into second place at London 2017... the only question mark around her defence stems from the fact she hasn't set an outdoor time this year.

The aforementioned Manyonga is one of two Africans, alongside Kenya's Hellen Obiri, who will be looking to add indoor gold to their outdoor ones from London 2017.

Obiri focussed her attentions on the 5000m last year and duly won a deserved gold ahead of Almaz Ayana, but she may find the challenge ever more difficult this time around in the indoor 3000m. Dibaba holds the world record at this distance and will have compatriots Dewat Seyaum (1500m bronze medallist from Portland 2016) and Fantu Worku to use in a technical race. If that is the case, then South Africa's Dominique Scott-Efurd -- who is in red-hot form -- could be a dark horse.

A popular winner in Birmingham would be Marie Josee Ta Lou, the Ivorian who agonisingly had to settle for silver in both sprints at last year's outdoor championships. However, her compatriot Murielle Ahoure has shown better early season form, while South Africa's Carina Horn has also set her personal best so far.

Ahoure is one of only two entrants to have broken seven seconds in their lifetime, but the other is Elaine Thompson who underachieved at London 2017 and will be eager to put that right.