08 February 2012
Reigning Olympic champion and World Record holder Dayron Robles will go head-to-head with former Olympic champion and reigning World Indoor champion Liu Xiang in a blockbuster 60m hurdles battle at the Aviva Grand Prix next Saturday.
It will be the first time the pair have faced each other since the World Championships in Daegu last summer, where Xiang took silver after Robles was dramatically disqualified, despite finishing the race in first place.
The pair, who between them have amassed a staggering 11 major championship medals and are considered the two all-time greats of sprint hurdles, join an all-star cast including Asafa Powell, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah set to compete in what is destined to be a colossal afternoon at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena.
Xiang’s inclusion means it will be a first return to the NIA for the former World champion since taking World Indoor bronze back in 2003 as a fresh-faced 19-year-old.
Twenty-five-year-old Robles, who set the current World Record of 12.87secs in Ostrava back in 2008, currently trails Xiang 7-5 in contests, but the Cuban is determined to level these scores by the end of March, first in Birmingham and then next month in Istanbul, where he hopes to usurp the Chinaman as the indoor champion of the world.
Robles said: “I feel in really good shape – I’m haven’t competed this year yet so I’m looking forward to getting back on the track to compete. I will have probably had one race before the Aviva Grand Prix which will give me more of an idea on my form but Birmingham is due to have a good field so it’ll be good for me.
“This year is clearly important for me, I’m doing everything I can both in and out of competition to make sure that I’m competing at my best. I’m planning to run at the World Indoor Championships – and of course I want to hold on to the Olympic title - we’ll need to see what the other guys bring to the race.
“The Aviva Grand Prix is great preparation for the World’s – there will be a similar field so it’ll be a good race for me to set a marker on.”
The arrival of Xiang to the UK just six months before the Olympic Games is sure to cause excitement throughout the world, as the 29-year-old is regarded as the face of sport in China and iconic athlete around the globe.
And none are more excited about their arrival than 21-year-old Lawrence Clarke, who is hoping to build on his successful 2011, which saw him take bronze at the European U23 Championships, with a strong showing against two of the finest athletes in track and field history.
Clarke, who ran a personal best of 7.67secs at Glasgow’s Aviva International Match last month, said: “I’ve competed at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham before and am excited to get back there again. I’ve had a good start to the year so far, I’ve only competed once in Glasgow and I got a personal best.
“It’s always a great way to start such a big year like this and gives you confidence that training throughout the winter season has been successful.
“The hurdles have always been a really popular event, it’s just a really enjoyable race for the crowd to watch, it’s got speed and strength and the field is at a really high level at the moment. I don’t think there was a clear leader at the end of last year, of course that may have changed post winter training, but everyone is quite close at the moment.
“Last year was a good year for me, I felt like I really had some good progression and obviously my bronze at the U23 Championships was a great boost. I’m hoping to keep moving forwards after a good training season, hopefully this year will be as positive as 2011.”
Robles, Xiang and Clarke join a stellar line-up of athletes competing at the Aviva Grand Prix, including Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Asafa Powell, Holly Bleasdale, Hannah England, Kim Collins, Mark Lewis-Francis and Helen Clitheroe.
The Aviva Grand Prix will be at the NIA in Birmingham on 18 February. Tickets are now sold out; for further event information go to uka.org.uk/aviva-series. The Aviva Grand Prix will be shown live on BBC 1 from 1pm.