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The greatest assembly of track & field athletes ever in Israel will take place this weekend for the Sixth European Cup Winter Throwing event at Hadar Yosef Stadium in Tel Aviv.
Among the 172 competitors from all over Europe scheduled to take part are three Olympic gold medalists, six world champions, one former world record holder and nine others with Olympic or world championship medals.
The competition is used to give the top throwers a chance to compete early in the season when the rest of the track & field events are held indoors. Tel Aviv was chosen to host the event due to more favorable weather conditions this time of year.
The most promising event on paper is the women's hammer throw, which will resemble an Olympic final, as no fewer than 10 competitors have personal bests of over 70 meters.
The women's shot put is also at a high level, with all three medalists from last week's World Indoor Championships in Moscow taking part.
The 10-person Israeli delegation is lead by captain Lior Peretz (men's discus). The most seasoned competitor is Vadim Bavikin (men's javelin), while rising stars Sivan Jean (women's shot put and discus) and Yevgeniya Zabolotniy (women's hammer throw) will look to gain experience as they build towards their goal of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Men's shot put
Five out of the eight finalists in the recent World Indoor Championships highlight the field, with silver medalist and 2003 World Champion Andrey Mikhnevich of Belarus leading the pack. Former World Indoor Champ Manuel Martinez of Spain and Poland's Tomasz Majewski are also in the medal hunt.
World silver medalist Gerd Kanter of Estonia will be looking for his fourth straight gold at the event, with two-time runner-up Mario Pestano of Spain and young German Robert Harting among the other favorites.
Men's hammer throw
Sydney Olympic champ Szymon Ziolkowski of Poland will try to hold off former Winter Cup winners Krisztian Pars of Hungary and Italian Nicola Vizzoni.
The next generation of European javelin throwers will be on display and fighting for the medals, with Ainars Kovals from Latvia, Tomas Intas from Lithuania, Igor Janik from Poland and Vladislav Shkurlatov from Russia the favorites.
Women's shot put
Freshly crowned World Indoor champ Natalya Khoroneko of Belarus, runner-up Nadine Kleinert from Germany and Russian Olga Ryabinkina are head and shoulders above the rest.
Former Olympic and world champion 45-year-old Ellina Zvereva, is among the biggest names in the competition. She'll be chased by former Winter Cup winner Nicoleta Grasu from Romania and Melina Robert-Michon from France.
Women's hammer throw
Russian Gulfiya Khanafeyeva has already thrown 75.35 meters this season, while Italians Ester Balassini and Clarissa Claretti both came close to 72m this year. 2000 Olympic Champion Kamila Skolimowska of Poland, former World Champion and world record holder Mihaela Melinte of Romania, as well as France's Manuela Montebrun, Ukrainian Iryna Syekachova, defending champ Ivana Brkljacic of Croatia and World Junior champion Marina Smolyachkova from Belarus highlight this event.
France's Sarah Walter, Savva Lika from Greece, Zahra Bani from Italy and Mercedes Chilla from Spain have all surpassed the 62-meter barrier and figure to take the places on the podium.
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