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How to win gold at the World Indoors

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Tom Fordyce | 22:13 UK time, Thursday, 11 March 2010

It's probably the only place Usain Bolt might not start as red-hot favourite, and that says it all.

Winning World Indoor gold takes a very specific set of athletics skills. Over the next three days in Doha, Dwain Chambers, Jenny Meadows and Jessica Ennis will all be hoping to bring back medals for Britain - but what tactics should they use, and what particular pressures will they be under?


On the track

Few athletes know more about what it takes to succeed on the indoor boards than Jamie Baulch, world indoor 400m champion in Paris in 1997 and 1999 in Maebashi.

"The most successful athletes over 60m tend to be the power guys," says Baulch. "Short, muscular, explosive - Maurice Greene, Andre Cason, and for Britain, Jason Gardener.

"It's all about raw power and the first 20 metres. If you have a short stride length and quick leg turnover, you can get out of the blocks faster. Over 100m the taller, leggier guys - Carl Lewis, Linford Christie - would come through from 60m onwards as their longer stride length kicks in. But indoors, that's too late.

"Both Colin Jackson and Mark McKoy were great over 60m flat, as well as the hurdles, because the hurdling gave them that explosive power. Dwain is in the same category as Greene and Cason - immense strength, great from the blocks - and that gives him a very good chance in Doha."

Dwain Chambers wins the 60m at the British trials

"To win the 400m, you have to get to the bell first or second, even if it means blasting the first 200m. Beyond that, you're going to struggle. I used to run 21.1 seconds for the first 200m of a 400m indoors, and my 200m personal best outdoors was only 20.8 seconds. In other words, I went as hard as I could.

"Once you're in front, you need to dominate the track. Don't stay in lane one - it's too tight - but don't drift into lane two, because you'll leave a gap for the man behind you to get through. You want to run in what I used to call lane one and a half. That way you're harder to get round.

"You can also slow down after the bell. It's much easier easing up yourself rather than being the runner in second place who has to slow and then accelerate to someone else's rhythm.

"In terms of your running style, it suits athletes with a shorter stride length and faster leg turnover, because of how tight the bends are. You don't have the space to gradually unfurl. Outdoors, the best 400m runners are floaters, flowing round the track, but indoors it's more about power. Roger Black, at 6'3", was too tall for indoors. At five inches shorter, my physique was ideal.

"The best runners will adjust their techniques to deal with the bends. Your inside arm has to move quicker than the outside one. Think of it like a record on a turntable - the inner grooves on the record are moving faster than the ones at the outside."

A lot of the same principles hold true over 800m, where Meadows will start as one of the favourites to make the podium after breaking the British indoor record last month.

"You have to be much more tactically aware running 800m indoors than out," says Baulch, "because it's that much harder to overtake.

"If you watch Kelly Holmes when she won Olympic 800m gold in Athens, she did it all from lane three. That wouldn't have worked indoors.

"You have more time than in the 400m to make a move, but not much. If you're not in the top four when the bell goes, you're going to struggle to get round the others in the next 200m.

Jenny Meadows breaks the British 800m indoor record last month

"What helps Jenny so much indoors is her background as a 400m runner. She has the speed to get herself in a good position and the kick to get past someone on the short straights. She's also a small, compact runner like me, with a short stride length, so the tight bends are less of a problem than for her taller Russian rivals."

Jumps, throws and multi-events

For the field eventers and pentathletes, the unique atmosphere at indoor arenas creates its own problems. There's no wind to worry about and no rain, but other issues tax the athletes instead.

"Indoors is very special because the audience is so close," says Denise Lewis, Olympic heptathlon champion in 2000. "There's a lot more noise, there's a lot more going on and there's a lot more going on right up close to you. It can be harder to concentrate.

"If you watched Jess during the high jump at January's international meet in Glasgow, when she was attempting her biggest heights there was a lot going on in the long jump next to her.

"Your pre-jump routine can get disrupted, when you need calm, and quiet, and you need to rehearse mentally. You're waiting 20 seconds here, 30 seconds there, you're waiting for a race on the track to come round. Little things, but they can throw you."

Heptathletes compete over two days, pentathletes indoors over one. Ennis's entire competition takes place on Saturday.

"In some ways that makes it slightly simpler because you don't have the aches and pains on the second day," says Lewis. "You have slightly longer between events in the heptathlon, and that can mean you're constantly warming up and down. With pentathlon, you can keep it going a little easier.

"They're also what I would call nice fun events to do in the pentathlon. They're the ones that hurt least - shorter, easier. There's no nasty 800m to finish. The mix will also suit Jess. She's the best at 60m hurdles out there, the best high jumper.

"Experience of that atmosphere can help a lot indoors. What will help Jess is that she's one of those seasoned athletes now. She's been to a few championships, she knows what it's about.

"There is nothing that should scare her. She knows how it feels to go out there and take the win. There's nothing like that taste, that feeling - it's the best, and it feels addictive. She had it last year, and she'll want to continue that momentum."

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