Sydney McLaughlin, Faith Kipyegon, Fred Kerley, Mondo Duplantis and Valarie Allman (© AFP / Getty Images)
The outdoor track and field season is finally here.
The World Athletics Continental Tour Gold series goes to southern Africa for the first time this weekend, with the Botswana Golden Grand Prix in Gaborone (29 April), to be swiftly followed by the 2023 Wanda Diamond League kick off next week in Doha (5 May), as the international calendar moves into top gear.
The Continental Tour Gold meeting in Melbourne back in February was a teaser of what to expect in the rest of the series, while the traditional early season competitions in the US have whetted the appetite for the next few months.
Now the world’s leading track and field athletes will turn their attention to the premier one-day meeting circuits as they ramp up their preparations for the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.
Social media has been ablaze in recent weeks thanks to world 100m champion Fred Kerley and Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs with the two sprint stars talking up their chances in a head-to-head.
Whether that clash will happen before Budapest is yet to be confirmed, but it’s highly likely the two global sprint champions will each appear several times on the Diamond League and Continental Tour circuits in the coming months. Kerley has announced he will run his first 100m of the outdoor season in Yokohama, at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix on 21 May, while Jacobs has yet to reveal his competition schedule.
There will be many other head-to-head clashes as the season unfolds. The Diamond League meeting in Doha will bring together Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra and two-time world champion Anderson Peters in the men’s javelin, while the men’s 3000m boasts a star-studded field that includes world indoor record-holder Lamecha Girma and Olympic steeplechase champion Soufiane El Bakkali. World and Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon will also open her season in the Qatari capital.
Before then, the focus in Gaborone will likely centre around the sprints as Botswana’s rising sprint star Letsile Tebogo takes on Olympic champion Andre De Grasse over 200m. The men’s 100m, meanwhile, features world silver medallist Marvin Bracy and African record-holder Ferdinand Omanyala.
Sha’Carri Richardson, who sped to a wind-assisted 10.57 clocking over 100m earlier this month, will test her speed over 200m in Gaborone. Her Jamaican rivals are in varying form; double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah has clocked 23.23 for 200m so far this year, while world 200m champion Shericka Jackson ran a world-leading 10.82 for 100m in Kingston. World 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce had been set to open her season in Gaborone but had to cancel her participation due to a family emergency. She now plans to open at the Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi on 13 May.
Winner Aleia Hobbs, Sha'Carri Richardson and Cambrea Sturgis in the 100m at the New York Grand Prix (© Kevin Morris)
The signs are already good for a bumper outdoor season on the way, with many big names showing impressive early season form.
Femke Bol, who broke the world indoor 400m record earlier this year, has already been confirmed to race in Hengelo and Lausanne. Her improved form during the indoor season suggests the Dutch athlete may be a lot closer to world and Olympic champion Sydney McLaughlin in the 400m hurdles this year.
McLaughlin stunned the world with her 50.68 world record in Oregon last year, but the US superstar has suggested she may branch out into other disciplines this season.
Fellow world athlete of the year Mondo Duplantis, who raised his world pole vault record to 6.22m during the indoor season, has signed up to compete in Hengelo, Ostrava and Silesia so far. Given his clearance margins in his recent world records, there’s clearly more in the tank for the world and Olympic champion.
Another world record-holder, Wayde van Niekerk, has made a welcome return to action this year. The South African sprinter sped to a world-leading 44.17 over 400m earlier this month and has already confirmed his participation in Oslo (15 June). Since returning from his career-threatening injury a few years ago, Van Niekerk has crept closer to regaining his medal-winning form, placing fifth at the World Championships last year. The early signs for 2023 are promising.
Wayde van Niekerk runs his fastest time since 2017 to win the 400m at the Gala dei Castelli in Bellinzona (© Chiara Montesano)
Rai Benjamin is another one-lap specialist who has enjoyed a good start to his 2023 season. He set a 400m PB of 44.21 in early April, and one week later ran a world-leading 47.74 in the 400m hurdles. With world champion Alison Dos Santos battling an injury and likely out for most of the year, and Olympic champion Karsten Warholm still making his way back to full fitness, could 2023 be the year when three-time global silver medallist Benjamin finally claims a major individual title?
Benjamin’s US compatriot Brooke Andersen has also been in PB form already this year. The world hammer champion threw 79.80m last week to move up to third on the world all-time list. She has now set her sights on becoming just the third woman in history to surpass the 80-metre barrier. World silver medallist Camryn Rogers, who set a Canadian record of 77.84m earlier this month, and 2019 world champion DeAnna Price will likely push Andersen to longer distances.
Olympic discus champion Valerie Allman and world shot put record-holder Ryan Crouser have featured prominently on the Diamond League and Continental Tour circuits in recent years. Following some surprise defeats in 2022, they will both look to regain their dominant form from 2021.
Sifan Hassan, meanwhile, produced a stunning run to win the recent London Marathon on her debut at the distance. Despite her triumph there, the Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion still plans to focus on the track in the near future, so the versatile Dutch runner will likely appear on the international circuit in the lead-up to Budapest.
Sifan Hassan on her way to a mile win at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels (© AFP / Getty Images)
Dates for the diary
The Diamond League and Continental Tour calendars have changed slightly in recent months. The Diamond League meeting in Shanghai has been cancelled as the facility won’t be ready in time, and the meeting in Shenzhen has moved from 3 August to 2 September.
The Continental Tour Gold meeting scheduled to take place in Grenada in April will no longer go ahead due to delays in completion of that track, while the Istvan Gyulai Memorial on 18 July is moving from Budapest back to its traditional home of Szekesfehervar.
After this weekend’s action in Gaborone, May will be an action-packed month with four more Continental Tour Gold meetings set to take place (Nairobi, Yokohama, Devonshire and Los Angeles) and two Diamond League fixtures (Doha and Rabat).
June will be even busier with no fewer than nine meetings spread across both circuits. Another five meetings will take place in July as athletes chase qualifying standards and world ranking points before the World Championships qualification window closes on 30 July.
And following the World Championships in Budapest, there will be four more Diamond League meetings – including the final in Eugene – and one more Continental Tour Gold competition, where newly crowned world champions will likely feature, as well as a host of athletes seeking revenge or redemption.
Wanda Diamond League calendar
5 May – Doha (QAT)
28 May – Rabat (MAR)
2 Jun – Florence (ITA)
9 Jun – Paris (FRA)
15 Jun – Oslo (NOR)
30 Jun – Lausanne (SUI)
2 Jul – Stockholm (SWE)
16 Jul – Silesia (POL)
21 Jul – Monaco (MON)
23 Jul – London (GBR)
31 Aug – Zurich (SUI)
2 Sep – Shenzhen (CHN)
8 Sep – Brussels (BEL)
16-17 Sep – Eugene (USA)
World Athletics Continental Tour Gold calendar
23 Feb – Melbourne (AUS)
29 Apr – Gaborone (BOT)
13 May – Nairobi (KEN)
21 May – Yokohama (JPN)
21 May – Devonshire (BER)
27 May – Los Angeles (USA)
4 Jun – Hengelo (NED)
6 Jun – Bydgoszcz (POL)
13 Jun – Turku (FIN)
24 Jun – New York (USA)
27 Jun – Ostrava (CZE)
18 Jul – Szekesfehervar (HUN)
10 Sep – Zagreb (CRO)