September 08, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) With the Van Damme Memorial celebrating its 40th year, Olympic champion Almaz Ayana will be looking to get the party going with a world record in the 5,000 meters.

The meet is named after Belgian middle distance runner Ivo Van Damme, who died at age 22 a few months after winning two silver medals at the 1976 Montreal Games. Since then, it has become one of the most popular and best attended events on the athletics calendar with huge crowds and a spate of world records.

Sebastian Coe, now the president of the IAAF, set the first world record at the famed track in 1981 with a blistering run over the mile. Ayana will be looking to add one more on Friday.

Besides the Ethiopian runner's world-record quest, the expected capacity crowd of 50,000 at the King Baudouin Stadium is set to give one of the loudest cheers when the Belgian women's 4x100 relay team receives the 2008 Olympic gold medals after Russia was stripped of the title this year for doping.

On the opening morning of the Olympic track program last month in Rio de Janeiro, Ayana set one of the most stunning world records in decades when she shaved almost half a minute off the quarter-century-old 10,000 mark of Chinese runner Wang Junxia. Her stamina was unmatched and, at the time, it looked like she would shatter the 5,000 mark with equal ease during the final weekend of the Rio Games.

Ayana left the pack standing after one third of that race, but over the last kilometer, when no one expected it, she slumped as fatigue caught up with her and she had to fight hard to take bronze.

On Friday, she will need to push hard to make her last 5,000 of the season count. She is chasing the eight-year-old mark of 14 minutes, 11.15 seconds, held by Ethiopian great Tirunesh Dibaba. She already came close with the second best mark of all time in Rome in June, but a bad alignment of pacesetters did her in.

''After Rio, she went to rest and recover,'' meet organizer Wilfried Meert said. ''She will go for the record one more time. It's Dibaba's record. It is not an easy one.''

Ambitiously, the Van Damme organizers are even looking for a second world record in the men's steeplechase, with Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto going for the record of 7:53.63, which Saif Saaeed Shaheen set at the King Baudouin Stadium a dozen years ago.

At 21, Kipruto has the impetuousness of youth, but considering he has never broken the 8 minute mark, it will be a tall order. On several of his biggest wins and best times, though, he did not run full-out to the tape. He will on Friday.

''There are no easy record attempts,'' Meert said.

One thing speaks in favor of all potential record breakers - the weather. Often so fickle in Belgium, it's expected to be balmy and dry for ideal running conditions.

---

Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rcasert

You May Like