Ayanleh Souleiman winning the Dream Mile at the 2013 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo (© Jiro Mochizuki)
Mention the Bislett Games to most athletics followers and invariably two events spring to mind: the Dream Mile, of course, and the men’s javelin.
No surprise then that these disciplines will be at the centre of attention in Oslo on when this most traditional of world class one-day meetings plays host to the fifth IAAF Diamond League stop of the 2014 season on Wednesday night (10).
It’s no surprise either that the local organisers have given Norwegian fans every reason to arrive at the famous stadium full of hope for domestic success, with former world and Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen prominent in this year’s high-quality javelin field, and reigning European 1500m champion Henrik Ingebrigtsen among the contenders for the coveted Dream Mile.
Thorkildsen has long been the poster boy of Norwegian athletics and a perennial favourite at this meeting, where he set his personal best of 91.59m back in 2006.
However, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champion will be in dreamland if he gets close to that distance tomorrow, his best this year standing at 80.52m from Eugene two weeks ago.
He’s more than nine metres short of this year’s surprise world leader, Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed, whose 89.21m was a massive personal best worthy of maximum Diamond League points and the African record at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai last month.
The Egyptian, who spends much of his time training in Finland, slumped back to earth with 74.03m in Beijing three days later so it will be intriguing to see if he can reproduce his best form here where he will face a formidable field containing the Czech Republic’s world and European champion, Vitezslav Vesely, Trinidad and Tobago’s 2012 Olympic champion, Keshorn Walcott, and Finland’s 2013 IAAF World Championships silver medallist Tero Pitkamaki.
Ingebrigtsen’s task will be even tougher in the meeting’s showcase event where the he faces many of the 15 runners who finished ahead of him in the Bowerman Mile in Eugene, including world leader and 2013 Dream Mile winner Ayanleh Souleiman, the 2014 World indoor 1500 champion who broke the Djibouti record to win by half-a-second from Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat.
Djiboutian defends Dream
Souleiman ran 3:47.32 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting just over a week ago to move into the all-time top 10; by coincidence, he is exactly one second slower than the former world record set by Steve Cram in this race back in 1985, which is still the Bislett record and fourth fastest ever.
If the 21-year-old is in the mood to improve there’s no better place than Oslo where no less than 10 of the world’s 30 fastest milers have run their personal best times for the classic distance.
There’s no Kiplagat here, nor World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop, but Souleiman still faces stiff opposition from Kenya, in the shape of Bethwell Birgen, and Ethiopia, from Mekonnen Gebremedhin, while USA’s world 1500m silver medallist Matthew Centrowitz will be looking to improve on the personal best he chalked up when placing eighth in Eugene.
Centrowitz is a stable mate of Galen Rupp whose US 10,000m record made him another star of this year’s Eugene meeting.
On Wednesday, the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist turns his attention to the 5000m, another event with great Bislett history largely thanks to Dave Moorcroft’s unpaced 1982 world record of 13:00.41 and Morocco’s Said Aouita, who improved Moorcroft’s mark by 0.01 three years later.
Rupp’s outdoor best currently stands at 12:58.90 from Eugene in 2012, so he’ll need to slice more than five seconds from that to claim Bernard Lagat’s US record but, having notched up indoor Area records for 5000m and two miles this winter, few would bet against him making it four Area records in 2014.
Rupp will have significant company on his 12-and-a-half lap journey, not least from a quartet of outstanding Ethiopians, Yenew Alamirew, Dejen Gebremeskel, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Imane Merga, and a raft of Kenyans, including world leader Caleb Ndiku, plus Edwin Soi, Thomas Longosiwa and Gideon Gathimba.
Kenyans will be to fore in the steeplechase too, not least through the familiar faces of Paul Kipsiele Koech and 2008 Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto.
Distance events have always been the heart of Bislett history but in recent years much focus has fallen on the sprints where Usain Bolt has treated Norway’s passionate fans to some of his best displays.
The Tornado blows hard again
In Bolt’s absence, due to injury, the mantle of expectation in this year’s 100m falls on Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson after his 9.74 in Clermont 12 days ago, a race with no wind reading, which the 2008 Olympic silver medallist, nicknamed The Tornado' followed up with a legitimate 9.95 in Hengelo last weekend.
This time puts him level with Jimmy Vicaut at number three on this year’s world list, and the Frenchman will be one of his chief opponents here along with Norwegian record holder Jaysuma Saidy Ndure, former world champion Kim Collins, and the British pair, world indoor 60m champion Richard Kilty and 2012 World junior champion Adam Gemili.
Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, another Eugene winner, tops the billing in the men’s 110 hurdles.
The Frenchman’s 13.13 leads the world this year by 0.01s from Hansle Parchment, and the Jamaican who’s also in the field along with 2011 World champion Jason Richardson and 2013 world silver and bronze medallists, Ryan Wilson and Sergey Shubenkov.
French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie leapt to fame with a World record of 6.16m indoors in Donetsk this February and will be looking for the first outdoor six metres vault in 2014.
The Olympic champion is bidding for a fifth straight Diamond Race victory. He IS two from two in the IAAF Diamond League so far this year and leads the world with 5.92m.
In Oslo, he’ll face Germany’s Moscow 2013 winner Raphael Holzdeppe, and this year’s World indoor champion, Konstantinos Filippidis of Greece.
There’s a loaded field in the men’s shot put too, where Germany’s two-time World champion outdoors, David Storl, returns to take on this year’s form man, Christian Cantwell, and his US teammate Reese Hoffa, the winner in Eugene.
Claye out to continue winning streak
Another US pair feature prominently in the men’s triple jump where London 2012 Olympic Games silver medallist Will Claye looks to continue his 2014 unbeaten streak in this event and is again up against his 2012 Olympic champion Christian Taylor.
Cuban pair Ernesto Reve and the 16-year-old prodigy Lazaro Martinez are also in the field.
In the women’s track events, Allyson Felix and Murielle Ahoure go head-to-head over 200m, while Amantle Montsho and Novlene Williams-Mills clash again over one lap, with the Jamaican seeking her third win in a row.
The women’s 800m features two former world champions in Janeth Jepkosgei and Caster Semenya, though the form book suggests USA’s Brenda Martinez and Kenya’s Eunice Sum are the ones to watch.
Sandra Perkovic seeks to continue her relentless pursuit of perfection in the women’s discus at which the World and Olympic champion has been beaten only twice in two years.
No doubt another Croatian record will be on her mind as she aims for the 70-metre line and four more Diamond Race points.
Blanka Vlasic, Perkovic’s predecessor as Croatia’s favourite athletics star, goes in the women’s high jump where Russia’s Olympic champion Anna Chicherova looks for a second Diamond League victory after she leapt to a world-leading 2.01m in Eugene.
Justyna Kasprzycka was second there and the Pole is in the field again, as is fellow Russian Mariya Kuchina and Vlasic’s in-form compatriot Ana Simic.
The world’s top three are in the women’s long jump and there is just five centimetres between them on current form.
Tianna Bartoletta’s 6.93m in Marrakech last weekend put her marginally ahead of Russia’s Darya Klishina and Serbian record holder Ivana Spanovic.
Finally, Jamaica’s world and Olympic fourth placer Kaliese Spencer aims to continue her Diamond Race winning streak in the 400m hurdles after victories in Rome and Eugene, while decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton is the most notable name in the men’s equivalent – a non-Diamond League event – following his best of 49.07 behind 2013 World Championships silver medallist Javier Culson in Hengelo last Sunday.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF