Kristjan Ceh and Valarie Allman (© AFP / Getty Images)
Since placing seventh at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Valarie Allman has become an Olympic champion, improved the US discus record three times and taken the North American record to 71.46m, placing her 15th on the world all-time list.
Now she has the chance to go for another global gold in front of home fans at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
A competitive field – including the likes of two-time Olympic and world champion Sandra Perkovic and defending champion Yaime Perez – will be out to stop her, but if anywhere near her top form the 27-year-old will be a force to be reckoned with.
It was in California in April that Allman added 30 centimetres to her own continental record, achieving the farthest throw in the world for almost 30 years. She went on to win at Wanda Diamond League meetings in Birmingham, Eugene and Paris, as well as at the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold event at Mt SAC. In each of those Diamond League meetings she triumphed ahead of Perkovic, but the Croatian discus great turned the tables in Oslo. With her series of wins this year, Allman has closed the gap on their head-to-head record, with Perkovic now just three finals ahead – 11-8.
It is a friendly rivalry that has provided great motivation for the US athlete.
“In my trajectory over the past 10 years, I’ve really looked up to Sandra Perkovic,” the former dancer has said. “She was the one that held that accolade for a long time of really resetting boundaries that hadn’t been seen in decades. And to be in her company, someone that I’ve looked to as a strong, competent, dominant female, it’s quite special.”
Sandra Perkovic at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
After her runner-up finish in Oslo and then her win in Paris, Allman returned to Hayward Field – also the venue of her world U20 silver medal win in 2014 – with the goal of booking her place on her third World Championships team. She did so with a throw of 66.92m to win.
She now owns nine of the top 10 throws in the world this year and has gone beyond 68 metres in five of her eight competitions. Joining her in surpassing that mark this year is Perkovic, who threw 68.19m in Paris. Her national record of 71.41m was set in 2017, the year she won her second world title after victory in Moscow four years earlier. With world silver from 2015 and bronze from 2019 also in her impressive collection, the 32-year-old could become the first athlete in this event to win five world medals.
The consistent Croatian has finished in the top two at each of her six competitions this year, going beyond 65 metres in all bar one, and in 2021 she finished no lower than fourth. That came at the Tokyo Games, after her wins on the Olympic stage in London and Rio.
Four other athletes – Kristin Pudenz, Feng Bin, Rachel Dincoff and Shanice Craft – have also gone beyond 65 metres this season. Germany’s Pudenz claimed Olympic silver in Tokyo and since the 66.86m PB that secured her that medal, the 29-year-old has further improved to 66.94m and then 67.10m this year.
Cuba’s Perez joined Allman and Pudenz on the podium in Tokyo, two years after becoming the world champion in Doha. Her PB of 69.39m was also set in 2019 and this year she is unbeaten, with a best of 64.45m.
Feng finished fifth in Doha three years ago and threw a 66.00m PB in April, while Allman’s US teammate Dincoff is also in the form of her life this year, having improved her personal best to 65.46m last month. Three-time European bronze medallist Craft, meanwhile, recorded 65.10m at the start of last month.
Hayward Field holds medal-winning memories for Jorinde van Klinken, who has won two NCAA titles in the Eugene stadium. The 22-year-old, who claimed the European U23 crown last year, launched herself into the spotlight with a Dutch record of 70.22m in May 2021 – then the furthest throw in the world since 2018 – to add almost nine metres to her pre-season best. Again contesting both the shot put and discus throughout this season, her best this year in the latter is 64.75m from April.
More than two decades after making her debut in Edmonton, France’s Rio Olympic silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon competes at her ninth World Athletics Championships as the 2013 silver and 2017 bronze medallist.
All signs point to an epic battle in the men’s discus at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 as experienced global medallists go up against in-form rising stars.
A glance at the top of this season’s world list demonstrates the impressive range of talent – from world leader Daniel Stahl, Sweden’s Olympic and defending world champion, to No.3 Mykolas Alekna, Lithuania’s world U20 winner. Then there’s Slovenia’s Kristjan Ceh, who has continued his impressive progress this year, as well as Stahl’s fellow global senior medallists Andrius Gudzius of Lithuania and Austria’s Lukas Weisshaidinger.
They have all surpassed 69 metres this season, while Stahl and Ceh are separated by just 20 centimetres at the top. It is the first time since 2008 that two men have thrown beyond 71 metres in the same season.
The world’s best have not shied away from competing against each other in the lead up to the global showpiece at Hayward Field. In the past four months, Stahl and Ceh have gone head to head on six occasions, with Ceh leading those clashes 5-1, but when it comes to their career finals record, the Swedish titan leads 13-5 and will be hoping he has once again timed his peak to perfection.
A two-time European U23 champion, Ceh claimed his first victory over Stahl at the European Throwing Cup in Portugal in March. The 2.06m (6ft 9in) Slovenian – who has been described as looking like Superman’s Clark Kent in the circle thanks to the thick-rimmed glasses he wears while throwing – went on to triumph at Wanda Diamond League meetings in Birmingham, Rabat, Rome and Stockholm. The 23-year-old has continued to build on his breakthrough 2021, a year in which he improved his PB to 70.35m and finished fifth on his Olympic debut. Leading his performances so far this season is the 71.27m Diamond League record he set in Birmingham, a mark that moved him to 10th on the world all-time list and improved his own Slovenian record.
It was also a world lead until Stahl made his own statement in Uppsala. Launching the discus 71.47m at the Swedish Team Championships on 21 June, the 29-year-old recorded his second-best ever throw behind the 71.86m national record he set in Bottnaryd in June 2019 – three months before he won the world title in Doha with 67.59m. That came after Stahl’s world silver behind Gudzius in London in 2017 and he went on to claim the Olympic crown in Tokyo last year.
So the Swedish star certainly knows how to perform on the major stage and his build up to Oregon has included that win over Ceh and other leading contenders at the Paavo Nurmi Games, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting, last month. In that competition, the top four – also including Gudzius and Weisshaidinger – all threw beyond 67 metres.
And, as Stahl explained at the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm where he finished third behind Ceh and Alekna, he feels no pressure.
“The younger guys have the pressure now,” he said. “I’m just going to go there and be calm and do my best, and throw as far as I can.”
Daniel Stahl in the discus at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
That will also be the aim of 19-year-old Alekna, who threw a PB of 69.00m to win the Lithuanian title ahead of Gudzius, recording the best-ever mark by a teenager, and improved again to 69.81m for the runner-up spot in Stockholm.
At last year’s World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, Alekna threatened the world U20 record to follow in the footsteps of his father – two-time Olympic and world gold medallist Virgilijus – and become a global discus champion. Starting this year with a PB of 63.52m, the teenage Alekna threw 66.70m in March before improving to 67.68m in April, 68.73m in May and then 69.81m in June. Now placed third on this season's world top list, he has the chance to challenge for a senior global medal, something his father achieved seven times in his own career.
His rivals certainly have their eye on him, and are relishing the competition.
“We have so many guys over 69, 68, 67 metres. I think everybody gets so motivated by it,” said Ceh, with the championship record being the 70.17m Virgilijus Alekna threw to win his 2005 title. “It would be different if one person was over 71m and the next was 65m. That would be boring.”
The competition in Oregon looks set to be anything but. Gudzius, who won world gold in 2017 and the European title the following year, was just 20 centimetres off his 69.59m PB from 2018 when he recorded his second-best ever throw in Kaunas in May, while Weisshaidinger – bronze medallists at the Tokyo Olympics as well as 2019 World Championships and 2018 European Championships – improved the Austrian record to 69.11m in Eisenstadt at the start of June.
Sweden’s Simon Pettersson, who split Stahl and Weisshaidinger at last year’s Olympics, hasn’t shown that same level of form so far in 2022 but has thrown 65.94m this season. Other athletes looking to make an impact will include Australia’s Olympic fourth-place finisher Matthew Denny, Jamaica’s 2019 world silver medallist Fedrick Dacres and USA’s Sam Mattis, who won his 2015 NCAA title at Hayward Field and will want to make the most of the home support following his third-place finish at the US Championships and 68.69m PB in Arizona in May.
Jess Whittington for World Athletics