The 40th edition of the FBK Games – a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting – in Hengelo looks set to be celebrated with fireworks on the track and field on Sunday (6), with talk of world and meeting records at the pre-event press conferences.
The Fanny Blankers-Koen Stadion is where Sifan Hassan set her European 10,000m record of 29:36.67 last October and the double world champion is looking to go even faster. That time moved the 28-year-old to fourth on the world all-time list and when asked if she might also be aiming for the world record on Sunday, Hassan replied: “Maybe, who knows! It could be.”
On whether she will set off on a pace targeting Almaz Ayana’s 29:17.45 from the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Hassan added: “I have to talk to my coach and manager. Sometimes I will change my mind the day before, if I feel good.”
The Dutch athlete has been training in Kenya and then Utah, USA, over the past few months, and believes she is in her best ever shape.
“When I look at my training, I have never been so good,” said Hassan, who confirmed she will be looking to double up – probably in the 5000m and 10,000m – at the Olympics in Tokyo. “I have never seen myself so good, but I don’t know how that will show in competition. My speed is still not as great as before but endurance – I have never seen myself as I am now. I want to run a PB but it is sometimes hard for athletes to say ‘I will run this’ because competition and training are not the same.”
Another athlete looking for a strong performance on home soil is Dafne Schippers, as the two-time world 200m gold medallist also builds towards Tokyo.
“I am feeling okay, this weekend is a very nice competition for me,” said the 28-year-old, who opened her 100m season with 11.38 at the adidas Boost Boston Games street meeting. “I always need a couple of competitions to go faster and faster, so I hope to go faster than my last competitions.”
She forms part of a strong 100m field alongside Britain’s world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith and Nigeria’s world and Olympic medallist Blessing Okagbare.
“I always like to compete with the best in the world and it’s very special to have names like Dina and Blessing in a race like this,” added Schippers. “It’s great to have in the Netherlands. I like to compete with them.”
Asher-Smith excited for Hengelo return
Six years on from her first senior national 100m record in Hengelo, Asher-Smith returns to the Dutch city as a multiple global medallist looking to build on her opener at a wet and windy Gateshead.
The 25-year-old Briton was a dominant force at the Gateshead International Stadium two weeks ago, battling pouring rain and a -3.1m/s headwind to win the 100m in 11.35. There she finished clearly ahead of world leader Sha’Carri Richardson, multiple world medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou, two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Okagbare, and she has her sights set on another strong race in more favourable conditions.
“Hopefully it will be a little less windy, cold and wet!” she said. “I’m really excited to be running in Hengelo and over the 100m again. I don’t quite know what to expect in terms of, I don’t think what kind of number I would want from a race, I just try and go in and run the best race that I can, which was a very useful mindset to have in Gateshead because times were not happening that day!
“I have had a good winter and I feel good, so hopefully if the weather is kind to us it could be a really good Sunday.”
On returning to the scene of her 11.02 in 2015 – a British record she has since taken to 10.83 – Asher-Smith added: “I have really fond memories of Hengelo for two reasons. One, it was the first time I broke the British record. The record was 11.05 and I did 11.02 in 2015, so I have really fond memories of being in Hengelo for that reason.
“I also really enjoyed racing Dafne there. I think as a professional athlete it was my first experience of being in a race when a really big star is racing at home. It was just so nice to hear the crowd cheering like that. Even though I was a competitor in the race it’s still nice to see a crowd really cheer and get behind their home athlete.”
Although the crowd will be reduced this year because of Covid-19 restrictions, organisers will still be welcoming 1500 fans to the stadium to cheer on the world-class fields.
Duplantis ready for Hengelo debut
Also among those keen to make the most of the crowd support will be world pole vault record-holder Mondo Duplantis as he looks to return to winning ways after a rare loss in Gateshead.
Undefeated in 23 competitions, Sweden’s Duplantis was beaten by two-time world champion Sam Kendricks and the weather at the Diamond League meeting last month and although his US rival will not be competing in Hengelo, Duplantis could get one back by breaking the meeting record and Dutch all-comers’ record of 5.91m set by Kendricks in 2019.
“I definitely have a lot of motivation going into this competition because I’m coming off a loss right now and I want to get back to winning,” said the 21-year-old. “I want to show what I can do and try to put up something high. Sam’s not going to be there but I guess a way to get back at him would be to take his meeting record!”
On the significance of this event on his road to Tokyo, Duplantis added: “It’s super important because I have just four competitions left until the Olympics and every one is just as important as the other – figuring out my jump, the technique, my run, trying to get the rhythm and the timing of the jump down because I want everything to be perfect when it comes to the Olympics.”
Having fans in the stadium provides an added boost. “In Gateshead it was super amazing having the spectators right alongside us there,” he explained. “I haven’t had that kind of energy from the crowd in quite a while, since the indoor 2020 season. Of course, it’s going to be limited right now and they are not going to be able to have full capacity meets, but it’s really great to have people there watching you. It just brings an extra piece of motivation for you when you’re out there jumping in front of real people instead of just cameras.”
In Hengelo there will also be home stars for the fans to support and asked about Dutch record-holder Menno Vloon, who cleared 5.96m indoors in February, Duplantis replied: “He’s a real explosive vaulter. On any given day you never know what to expect from him.
“I know a lot of my competitors are capable of really high heights on any given day. Especially going into this meet in the Netherlands, on Menno’s home turf, I don’t see why he can’t go out there and jump something really high.”
Sandra Perkovic is another athlete hoping her event can provide a show in Hengelo. Croatia’s two-time Olympic champion takes on two other global winners in Cuba’s 2019 world gold medallist Yaime Perez and 2015 world champion Denia Caballero, and they will be joined by Portugal’s Liliana Ca and Melina Robert-Michon of France.
“Last year was really tough for all of us because we didn’t have the Olympics and we didn’t have any strong meets, so this year when I started to compete – first in Doha – and saw all the other girls, I was happy to finally be all together in one place chasing for that goal and the goal is to win,” said Perkovic.
“I expect a nice fight (on Sunday), especially with the Cubans and also the girl from Portugal and of course the silver medallist from Rio 2016, so it is going to be a very good competition for me.”
Like Asher-Smith, Perkovic has fond memories after achieving a milestone moment in Hengelo.
“In 2007 it was my first time in Hengelo, at the European Junior Championships, and that is the place I threw my junior national record which at that time was 55.42m,” she said. “I am happy to be back in this stadium and this place – 14 years later I am still here and still competing, so I am excited.”
Jess Whittington for World Athletics