Marileidy Paulino and Steven Gardiner (© AFP / Getty Images)
Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic has Olympic and world silver medals to her name in the women’s 400m, but the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 offers her a huge opportunity to go one better.
The prospects of the 26-year-old from Nizao, who was beaten to the Olympic and world titles by Shaunae Miller-Uibo, have been boosted by the news that Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the United States has had to drop out with a minor knee problem.
McLaughlin-Levrone, the 400m hurdles world record-holder, tops this year’s 400m world list with 48.74, but in her absence Paulino will be the fastest thanks to the personal best of 48.98 she set in Los Angeles on 27 May.
Not that Paulino will lack formidable rivals, including Miller-Uibo herself, although the 29-year-old Bahamian will be defending her title in Budapest in what will be her first major competition since giving birth to son Maicel on 20 April.
Miller-Uibo made her competitive return on 5-6 July in a heptathlon at her national championships in Nassau, but how close to her old form and fitness will she be?
Shaunae Miller-Uibo wins the world 400m title in Oregon (© Getty Images)
There will be much interest too in the performance of Ireland’s US-based Rhasidat Adeleke, who recently turned professional after setting a national record of 49.20 at Austin, Texas, on 10 June, which put her fourth on this year’s world list.
The 20-year-old Dublin-born runner missed out on last year’s world final by one place; this year she should certainly surpass that level of performance.
There will be two other strong European contenders in Poland’s Natalia Kaczmarek and Lieke Klaver of the Netherlands.
Kaczmarek delighted home fans by winning the women’s 400m at last month’s Silesia Diamond League meeting in a personal best of 49.48 – which puts her fifth on this year’s top list – from Klaver, who ran a personal best of 49.81 in a race where Paulino clocked 50.00 for third place.
Britton Wilson of the United States, who ran 49.13 in Baton Rouge on 13 May to go third on this year’s top list, and her teammate Talitha Diggs, who has a best of 49.93 this year, will also be medal contenders.
Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain, who beat Miller-Uibo to the 2019 world title in Doha, is back in the reckoning for a global medal having missed the Tokyo Olympics and last year’s World Athletics Championships while serving a two-year ban for anti-doping whereabouts failures.
The recent withdrawal of defending champion Michael Norman has turned this event into a clash between his two predecessors as world champion.
Olympic champion Steven Gardiner, who won the world title in 2019, was unable to defend his title in Oregon because of an injury he picked up just before the World Championships. The 1.96m (6ft 4in) Bahamian has re-established himself this season, topping the world list with his victory in Szekesfehervar in 43.74 – his second-fastest time ever behind his 43.48 PB.
South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk won world titles either side of lowering the world record to 43.03 from lane eight at the Rio 2016 Olympics before suffering a severe ACL knee injury during a celebrity rugby match in October 2017.
His return to full fitness has taken several years, but after finishing fifth in last year’s world final, he has pushed on again this season to establish himself as a genuine medal contender. Unbeaten this year, he has won three Diamond League races and is fourth in the 2023 world standings on 44.08.
Wayde van Niekerk in Oregon (© Getty Images)
Another past world 400m champion could also feature. Grenada's Kirani James won his first world title back in 2011 at the age of 18. Despite some injury struggles over the years, he is still a force over 400m and claimed Olympic bronze in 2021 and world silver in 2022.
But the drama in Budapest might centre around Zambia’s mercurial Commonwealth Games champion Muzala Samukonga, who stands second in this year’s world list with his clocking of 43.91 on 29 April.
Samukonga failed to finish the 400m at the Silesia Diamond League on 16 July because of what his coach Douglas Kalembo described as a “very bad” hamstring injury. Samukonga is included in the entry list, but how fit he is remains to be seen.
Jamaica’s 30-year-old Rusheen McDonald finished third behind Gardiner in Szekesfehervar in 44.03, but he may be entered as just a reserve. If he is given a place by his national federation, though, he will be a medal contender.
Britain’s two-time European champion Matthew Hudson-Smith will be keen to make it on to the podium again after taking bronze in Oregon last year. Although his season’s best of 44.72, set at the London Diamond League meeting, leaves him outside the top 20 in this year’s world lists, that kind of consistency will do nothing to hinder his medal prospects in Budapest.
Mike Rowbottom for World Athletics