Feature22 Aug 2015

IAAF ambassadors Phillips, Johnson and Radcliffe make their predictions


Allan Johnson and Dwight Phillips at the Bird's Nest stadium (© Getty Images)

Some 200 metres above the Olympic Green, 246 metres according to the GPS device on his phone, Dwight Phillips is a little queasy.

And Allen Johnson is needling Phillips playfully. “Doesn’t bother me a bit,” said the former hurdler.

The difference? Johnson is looking at Phillips, not down through the glass floor at the drop to the base of the Olympic Tower. When he hops up and down playfully a few times, a guard steps in to stop him.

Phillips and Johnson are here, along with marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, in their roles as IAAF ambassadors. It’s a photo opportunity, and a good one as the tower provides sweeping views of the Chinese capital, involves some talking to a few reporters, and a chance for the three to make their forecasts for the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015.

Johnson is a four-time world 110m hurdles champion and 1996 Olympic champion, with a major championship career that stretched from 1994 to 2008.

He has visited Beijing already in the build up to the championships, delivering tickets and building interest. When the manager of the tower presents a guest book for signatures, his is already there.

After dissecting Usain Bolt’s record-setting doubles in Beijing and Berlin, Phillips, himself a four-time world champion in the long jump and 2004 Olympic champion, joined Johnson in a whirlwind tour of their anticipated highlights of the championships, among them the men’s 100m final.

“We’ll know by 70 metres whose it is,” suggested Johnson.

The women’s 1500m and whether Genzebe Dibaba, with no pacemakers, would force the pace or rely on her kick, was also a topic for discussion.

Taylor tipped

Phillips calls out the potential triple jump duel between Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo and the USA’s Christian Taylor. He admits to favouring Taylor; like both men, a native of Atlanta. “He’s like my little nephew,” he said.

Johnson spotlighted his own event: “We’ve had five different champions since 2003,” he says. “It will be interesting to see if David Oliver can be the first to repeat. Nobody,” he added poignantly, “has run 12.9 in a World Championships final and not won.”

Phillips commented: “I don’t think I’ve seen many jumpers with the talent of Marquis Dendy,” referring to the US collegian but, he added, “(USA’s) Jeff Henderson has the three best jumps in the world. It’s his champs to lose.”

Both men see Allyson Felix as the favourite in the women’s 400m. “She knows how to win” - but then speculation breaks down in hilarity as the two try to wrap their mouths around the correct pronunciation of the flying Frenchman Renaud Lavillienie.

Radcliffe, the women’s marathon world record-holder, is a bit more analytical, citing the heat and potential team tactics from the African teams, particularly the Kenyans, as major factors in both marathons. “The course is a fast one, but the conditions are going to be a factor.”

The Briton casts the women’s race in particular as a team competition between the Kenyans, including two-time defending champion Edna Kiplagat, and the Ethiopian team led by Tigist Tufa.

Radcliffe also, for the record, has the best pronunciation of “Lavillenie.” But then, perhaps, you would expect it as she has a degree in French.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

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