As the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea returns to Florence for the second time in three years, double 1500m Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon, reigning 100m world champion Fred Kerley, shot put Olympic silver medallist Joe Kovacs and European Indoor champion Zane Weir, former 200m world champion Dina Asher-Smith, Olympic and world finalist Akani Simbine, Olympic and world long jump champion Malaika Mihambo and European indoor silver medallist Larissa Iapichino attended the official press conference on the eve of the Italian leg of the Wanda Diamond League at the Luigi Ridolfi Stadium.
Malaika Mihambo returns to the Golden Gala, where she won at last year’s edition held at the Olympic Stadium. The German long jump star will take on European Indoor champion Jazmyn Sawyers, two-time world indoor champion Ivana Vuleta, world silver medallist Ese Brume and European Indoor silver medallist Larissa Iapichino. Mihambo started her career with a European Under 20 title in Rieti in 2013 and won at the Golden Gala in 2019 with 7.07m
Malaika Mihambo: “I have a good memory of Italy. I am looking forward to my first long jump competition. I hope to have a good start to the Diamond League season. Unfortunately, I was sick and I got the flu. It set me back in my training. I am happy to compete against a strong field. To feel the pressure against the best jumpers in the world before the World Championships is something good. I think it will keep us working hard, being focused. We will cheer for each other and having a good time”.
Larissa Iapichino, who was born and grew up in Florence, will compete in front of her home fans on the track where she trains every day under the guidance of her father Gianni Iapichino. She is looking to continue her great season after winning the silver medal at the European Indoor Championships in Istanbul with a national indoor record of 6.97m and setting her outdoor PB with 6.83m with a strong headwind of -1.8 m/s in Kalithea (Greece) on 24 May. Tomorrow it will be like competing in her own backyard.
Larissa Iapichino: “I am really excited to compete in my home town on my home track. It’s wonderful to see all this busy movement around the track. I think it will be a wonderful show. I am looking forward to it. Tomorrow will be a good practice for the big stage. It’s amazing to share the field with great ladies. It’s going to be very exciting. Athletics is growing in Italy. Since the Tokyo Olympics something has changed. It takes time. Nothing comes in one night. Being part of this process is amazing. I am sharing this process with a lot of youngsters like Lorenzo Simonelli, Nadia Battocletti. It’s great to see this young generation taking athletics in Italy to a very high level”.
Ryan Crouser set the tone last week when he broke the world record in the men’s shot put with 23.56 in Los Angeles. Now it’s time for Joe Kovacs to respond in tomorrow’s competition in Florence. Kovacs won last year’s edition of the Golden Gala in Rome with 21.85m.
Joe Kovacs: “The shot put is getting better and better and I am proud to be part of that. I am excited for my season. It has been different because I have had two twin babies, who are seven months old. I am excited to start the season here. I think it’s one of the best places. The press conference gets me more excited because it’s the most exciting way to start the weekend. I don’t think 23.50m is a limit. A throw around twenty-four meters is around the corner for all of us. It’s a stepping stone and I am pretty excited to be part of this journey. When I threw 22 meters for the first time I think I was the twenty-second athlete to do it. We might have 20 guys this year who threw 22 meters. The sport is evolving and getting better. As long as you keep pushing, you will be part of it”.
It’s a special year for Kovacs, as the World Championships will be held in Budapest. It will be like competing at home.
“My grandfather is from Hungary. Last year I competed in a meeting in Hungary for the first time. It was very special because my family was able to come. It will be nice to bring my twin children in Budapest. My mother has Italian origins. Her family comes from Southern Italy. I am excited for the upcoming meets. My children are coming overseas to London and staying over for the World Championships in Budapest. It will be a bit of an adventure for my family. The twins will be eight months old when they will travel overseas. We are excited and we are looking to find the way to keep our family together”.
Zane Weir started the year with the European Indoor gold medal in Istanbul with a national indoor record of 22.06m and won two consecutive competitions in Halle with 21.74m and Savona with 21.60m.
“I am definitely in good shape. I am just happy to be back. It’s first anniversary of breaking my finger last year. I am in better shape. I am just happy to be healthy. We are looking forward to the potential that’s out there this season. I am looking forward to grabbing the bull by the horns and doing what I can. The part that I enjoy the most about the sport is the meticulous dedication towards the process. I think one thing that drives me is just to try and see how much of my potential I can really capitalize on. There are no limits. I am really looking forward to see what I can do. I am really small for the sport. Sometimes it works for me, sometime it works against me”
Dina Asher Smith, who got the degree in history at the King’s College University in London, is looking forward to competing in the City of the Renaissance for the second time in three years. The British sprinter won the 200 metres in 22.06 in Florence in 2021.
Dina Asher Smith: “I am honoured and amazed to be able to run in such an amazing city for the second time. I was fortunate enough to be able to come here during the pandemic and have a full tour of this amazing place. It’s fantastic to attend this press conference in such a beautiful place. It’s such a culturally rich city”
Femke Bol will be aiming to win the 400 metres hurdles at the Golden Gala for the fourth consecutive year after clocking 53.90 in 2020, 53.44 in 2021 and 53.02 in 2022. The Flying Dutch woman broke Jarmila Kratochvilova’s historic world indoor record in the 400m with 49.26 at the Dutch Indoor Championships in Apeldoorn.
“The Indoor season was great. It was good to have such a good base for the outdoor season when I run hurdles races, which is what I love to do most. I think you never have a perfect race, but it’s nice to come close to it”.
Faith Kipyegon won two world titles and two Olympic gold medals. She is missing the world record. The Kenyan athlete came very close to breaking Genzebe Dibaba’s record when she ran 3:50.37 in Monaco last year.
Faith Kipyegon: “It’s nice to be in Florence for the second time. I was here in 2021 and I ran 3:53. Everything is possible on Friday. I am looking forward to it. The world record is still on my head and my mind. This is the perfect year for me to break the world record”.
Grant Holloway will compete at the Golden Gal for the first time. Holloway is looking to break the meeting record held by Allen Johnson and Omar McLeod with 13.01. He ran the second fastest time in history with 12.81 at the US Olympic Trials in Eugene in 2021 missing Aries Merritt’s world record by just one hundredth of a second.
Grant Holloway: “First of all it’s a pleasure to be in such a beautiful city. The world record is a tricky thing. It’s so early in the season. Whatever happens, happens. It’s a beautiful track. I am working diligently with my team. If the stars are aligned, I will have fun. People forget that there are other competitors in the race. I’s not just Grant Holloway. The race is loaded with past Diamond League winners. My goal is to become three-time world champion. I am fully capable to do this. We keep the dream alive We use each race to get ready for the World Championships. I want to rebound after last weekend’s defeat in Rabat”.
Fred Kerley is chasing his second consecutive win in the 100m at the Golden Gala after taking first place in 9.92 in Rome. Kerley started his Diamond League season with two wins in Doha in the 200m in 19.92 and and Rabat in the 100m in 9.94. He has already had a busy season competing in Oceania, Asia and Africa. Florence will be his first European race of the year.
Fred Kerley: “It’s been a good journey this year competing and having fun. I am planning to run the 100m and 200m at the World Championships in Budapest. I am upset that Marcell Jacobs is not competing. I wish him all the best. I hope he will get back to competing at 100%. My landmarks are Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay. Competition is the easy part. Training is the hardest part”.
Kerley will renew his rivalry against Akani Simbine, who finished second in Rabat in 9.99 last Sunday. Simbine won two editions of the Golden Gala in 2020 in Rome and in 2021 in Florence.
Akani Simbine: “Hopefully it will be third time lucky tomorrow. I had a good start in Rabat and I am looking forward to running in Florence and putting up my best race tomorrow. The toughest part is training. Competition is enjoyment. When you go to the track you can actually enjoy it and have fun. I came into athletics at the point when Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell were competing. They are my role models”