Thousands of fans in the arena, top athletes from 19 countries aiming to outdo each other including many of Germany’s favourites, debuts and the hunt for records, that is the dish to be served up at the ISTAF INDOOR Düsseldorf this Sunday when the PSD BANK DOME stages its third edition of one big indoor track and field party. Among those in the spotlight will be Malaika Mihambo, the number one woman long jumper in the world, sprinters Gina Lückenkemper and Ewa Swoboda as well as the double world champion Sam Kendricks who lines up in an impressively strong men’s pole vault.
“At last we are back in action! We are very proud to have so many outstanding athletes competing at the ISTAF INDOOR. And for the first time in Düsseldorf many fans can spur their idols to top performances by creating the unique ISTAF atmosphere,” said meeting director Martin Seeber. He is expecting around 6,000 spectators in the wake of two years when pandemic conditions meant few fans were allowed to be present in the DOME. Despite the lockdown caused by the Corona virus the organizers carried on with staging the debut edition of the ISTAF INDOOR Düsseldorf in 2021.
Six events are on the menu for the ISTAF INDOOR in Düsseldorf: women’s and men’s 60m, similarly the 60m hurdles for men and women, long jump women and men’s pole vault. 12 medallists from last year’s European outdoor Championships in Munich will be in action as well as numerous outstanding athletes on the international scene.
Competing on Sunday will hold special significance for several of Germany’s top performers. Malaika Mihambo, Germany’s Female Athlete of the Year, will compete only twice in the long jump before the national championships on the 18th and 19th of February: this Sunday at the ISTAF INDOOR Düsseldorf and again on February 10 at the ISTAF INDOOR Berlin. The series has proved a happy hunting ground for Mihambo since she holds the meeting record in Düsseldorf with 6.96m, set last year, and in Berlin with 7.07m from 2020. She will be making her season’s debut in the long jump in Düsseldorf. The women’s long jump has all the makings of a high-quality contest right in front of the grandstand with Malaika Mihambo joined by Britain’s European bronze medallist Jazmin Sawyers and Milica Gardašević from Serbia. The latter improved last year to a best of 6.83m and can now be reckoned among the leading contenders.
For Gina Lückenkemper, Germany’s Sportswoman of the Year, the ISTAF INDOOR in Düsseldorf marks her first appearance since her magical double triumph at the European Championships in Munich where she won gold medals in both the individual 100m and the 4 x 100m relay. She will also be making a second appearance at her favourite meeting – but in Berlin. “Being able to experience ISTAF INDOOR in my former home after such a great year and now with so many fans back is simply sensational for me, a real thrill,” said Gina Lückenkemper, who is training in Florida. Lückenkemper, whose best over 60m indoors is 7.11, will face tough competition including Ewa Swoboda of Poland who holds the national record of 6.99 while Marie Josée Ta Lou from the Ivory Coast is only three-hundredths-of-a-second slower.
Another Polish contender runs in the women’s 60m hurdles, Pia Skrzyszowska. It should prove an event worthy of a championship final since the European outdor champion is matched again the silver medallist in Munich, Luca Kozák of Hungary, Nadine Visser of the Netherlands, twice winner of the European title indoors and the American Alaysha Johnson.
Among the men to note are Britain’s Jeremiah Azu, a sprint relay gold medallist in last year’s European Championships after winning the bronze medal in the individual 100m and the double African champion Arthur Cissé from the Ivory Coast, also winner of this event in Düsseldorf last year. Also in contention are the Japanese Shuhei Tada and Germany’s indoor record holder Kevin Kranz and his compatriot Lucas Ansah-Peprah. All of them have run under 6.60.
A favourite for honours in the men’s 60m hurdles is Damian Czykier of Poland. It was only last year at the age of 29 that he achieved the top flight, finishing fourth at the World Championships. The Pole has already shown good form indoors, running 7.48, a national record. Pascal Martinot-Lagarde has run three-hundredths-of-a-second faster in his career but the Frenchman set his personal best all of nine years ago. He did show his competitive metal, however, in taking the silver medal in the European Championships last year. A rising French star is Just Kwaou-Mathey, who won the bronze in Munich and also competes in Düsseldorf.
A home town contender who won here last year is Bo Kanda Lita Baehre, the European silver medallist in the men’s pole vault. “The ISTAF INDOOR is a super event, meetings like this do athletics a power of good. It’s a real home game for me, I’m a Düsseldorf boy,” said Bo Kanda Lita Baehre. He’ll need to be at his best since his rivals include the American duo of Sam Kendricks, twice world champion and with a best of 6.06m, and KC Lightfoot, personal best of 6.00m. Added to this potent mix are the Norwegian record holder and European bronze medallist Pål Haugen Lillefosse (personal best 5.86m) and Menno Vloon of the Netherlands, national record holder with 5.96m, set in 2021.