Overcoming hurdles to reach the Weltklasse

Urech has a personal best of 12.84 seconds ti-press

Many international big names did not line up to compete in Zurich’s Weltklasse Diamond League athletics meet, which gave upcoming Swiss stars the chance to shine.

This content was published on August 19, 2010 - 08:43

Hurdler Lisa Urech is one of Switzerland’s brightest hopes. She was hoping do better than at the European Championships in Barcelona, where she was placed seventh in the final.

Sprinting phenomenon Usain Bolt, long distance runner Kenenisa Bekele, Yelena Isinbayeva, who set a new pole vault world record in Zurich last year, and high jumper Blanka Vlasic did not compete on Thursday evening, either because of injury, having a break or because their event is not in the programme (Vlasic).

Meeting director Patrick Magyar was nevertheless convinced that the competition would be a good one, especially as the field is opened up.

“In the men’s 5,000 metres, for instance, there will be 18 athletes who are able to run under 13 minutes. At least 12 of them have the potential to actually win the race,” he said.

The race was eventually won by Tariku Bekele, Ethiopia, the older brother of the absent Kenenisa.

That’s not to say there wasn't any stars. Tyson Gay, who recently managed to beat Bolt, was in the 4x100 metres relay, and fellow United States sprinter Allyson Felix, a two-time Olympic silver medalist in 200m, competed in the 400m event, which she won.

Jeremy Wariner of the US ran the world's fastest 400-metre time of the year.

Swiss talents

Swiss fans in the sold-out Letzigrund stadium were able to see the veteran European marathon champion, Viktor Röthlin, who took a lap of honour, as well as some young talents.

The Swiss relay team is the seventh fastest 4x100 national relay team this year and aquitted themselves well, coming in 5th in a race in which the United States' team set a world's best time this year. Long jumper Irene Pusterla, who recently broke the long-standing Swiss national record with a 6.76-metre leap, had her first appearance in a world-class field. She jumped 6.70m, to come third.

Facing tough competition is the 21-year-old 100-metre hurdler Urech, who ran against the two fastest athletes of the year, Lolo Jones of the United States and Canada’s Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. She came in at 12.81 seconds, placing her joint fourth with Jones. The athlete's aim had been to come under 13 seconds after Barcelona.

Urech made it to the final at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona last month, coming seventh in a time of 13.02 seconds. Her personal best is 12.84, not so far away from Julie Baumann’s Swiss record of 12.76.

She said the Barcelona result was not necessarily a disappointment.

“Of course I would have liked something better instead of 13.02 in the final, but I can certainly be satisfied because a semifinal is always very hard and I had to push to get into the best eight,” she told swissinfo.ch ahead of the competition.

A record?

The athlete, who comes from the Emmental, is in good form, having run 12.88 - the second-best time of her career - in a meet in Nottwil near Lucerne on August 8.

It’s a dream come true to run in Zurich, after starting in the pre-programme last year. Is she aiming for Baumann’s record? “I want to show my best, but I haven’t resolved to do a Swiss record,” Urech said.

Urech’s talent was recognised in 2008 when she was accepted into the Swiss World Class Potentials programme for young athletes. She lives in Bern, but trains four times a month in Stuttgart, Germany.

She said her fascination with the discipline – which involves clearing ten, 84-centimetre high hurdles – comes from the fact that you, sometimes quite literally, have to pick yourself up after a fall.

Fighting back

“I experienced this when I was injured. I broke my collarbone [earlier this season] and I had to fight my way back. This fascinates me, the fight with yourself and the hurdles.”

At 54 kg and 1.67m tall, Urech is not as large and muscled as some of her opponents. But this is no problem, she says: “I am daintier-looking than the others, but not necessarily slower”.

The Letigrund experience should give the athlete a foretaste of things to come – it will also host the 2014 European Athletics Championships, when Urech should be at the zenith of her career.

“Of course, the Olympics of 2012 in London come first, but the European Championships 2014 are also writ large in my mind because I really want to get to the final and show what I can do,” Urech told swissinfo.ch.

“And of course it’s a big dream of mine to perhaps win a medal, but it’s still too far away to say.”

Isobel Leybold-Johnson and Renat Künzi, swissinfo.ch

Diamond League

The IAAF Diamond League is an annual series of track and field competitions which started in 2010. It is organised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and replaces the Golden League, which had been held annually since 1998.

There are 14 Diamond League meetings around the world which are aimed at presenting athletics at its highest level and more professionally - to be like the Champions League is for football. Zurich is the last but one. The final meeting is in Brussels on August 27.

Each Diamond League showcases 16 out of 32 disciplines. Athletes gain points for positions 1-3. The athlete with the most points in each discipline at the end of the last meetings of the series wins the Diamond Race, and a trophy and cash prize. Winners also earn the right to be called number 1 in the world.

At the end of the evening in Zurich, 16 athletes received their first Diamond Race trophy.

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Ready for 2014

Swiss Athletics started the Swiss Starters 2014 support and promotion programme in 2008 ahead of the European Athletics Championships 2014 in Zurich. The aim is to have 30 Swiss athletes at the competition. At the European Championships in Barcelona, there were 22, in Göteborg 2006, 18.

As well as the association, the Weltklasse Zurich and the Athletissima Lausanne also play an important role for upcoming talents. They work closely together and are also part-time employers for Urech.

Big bank UBS has increased its support ahead of 2014 for both athletics meets and the association.

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