Elaine Thompson and Dafne Schippers at the press conference for the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo (© Mark Shearman)
There’s plenty of tradition associated with Oslo’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games, not the least of which is the strawberry party hosted annually on the eve of the meeting by the mayor of the Norwegian capital in the city’s historic city hall.
This year's event ahead of the seventh stop of the 2016 IAAF Diamond League series brought together visiting dignitaries from the athletics world, members of the media and several of the meeting's biggest stars. More specifically, a get-together of several of its fastest.
Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson, who’ll face off in the 200m at Bislett Stadium on Thursday (9), and Kim Collins, Andre De Grasse and Ameer Webb, three of the favourites in the men’s 100m, spoke with members of the media to discuss their preparations and expectations for not only tomorrow night’s races, but also where those contests fit into their longer term plans in this all important Olympic year.
Schippers v Thompson, 2016 round 2
First up were Schippers and Thompson, who electrified the sprint world last season after their unforgettable 200m showdown at the IAAF World Championships, won by the Dutchwoman in 21.63, a scant 0.03 ahead of the Jamaican. At just 23, the pair emerged as the third and fifth fastest women of all time, giving rise to a rivalry that has the potential to last a very long time. Both said that their outing in Oslo is the next step in improving on those performances in Beijing – eventually.
“I hope to set my best time this season and have a nice race," said Schippers, who this season has already clocked 22.02 over the half lap and 10.83 in the 100m, just outside her 10.81 career best. "I think a fast race is possible. We'll see tomorrow. We'll have some fun."
Thompson, who won the 100m in Rome on 2 June in 10.87 and finished just behind Schippers over 200m in Eugene where she clocked 22.16, has a similar race plan.
“I'd like to have a season's best before going in to the (Jamaican Olympic) trials,” where she’ll have to finish in the top three to punch her ticket to Rio. “That’s most important.”
For both, Oslo's 200m contest will be their last race on the circuit prior to their next big competitions, for Schippers the European Championships in Amsterdam and for Thompson the Jamaican Championships/Olympic Trials in Kingston.
Collins, De Grasse and Webb chasing season's bests
Sentiments were similar among the men, the first time that Collins, the 2003 world champion, Andre De Grasse, the world bronze medallist, and Webb, this season’s fifth fastest man at 9.94, will meet in the same race.
“I just want to improve on my season's best,” said De Grasse, who clocked 9.99 in early April and 10.05 in Eugene, both wind-assisted.
“I'm hoping for a sub-10 performance tomorrow. I know these guys are going to be able to push me. So I have some work to do.”
He’s arriving on the heels of Sunday’s 20.16 victory over 200m in Birmingham, a performance he said bodes well for Thursday.
“I've had a little up and down (early in the season), a few hiccups, but I'm back, and I feel like I can produce a fast time tomorrow.”
Collins meanwhile is the fastest of the trio this year at 9.93, an unlikely career best at age 40.
“I know these young fellas are coming to get me,” said Collins, who won his last outing, the non-Diamond Race 100m in Birmingham, in 10.11. “And I'm doing everything I can to make sure they don't catch me.”
For his part, Webb was diplomatic.
"Kim Collins is one of my favorite athletes so I'm just looking forward to being in a race with that guy. If I could beat him, that will be one of the greatest things ever.”
With career bests of 9.94 and 19.85 already to his credit in 2016, Webb brings the momentum of a breakout season to his first Oslo appearance, one he said he is eagerly looking forward to.
“All my times this year have been big time blessings," he said. "I just put in a lot of hard work. Everything's paying off and everything's lining up well for my (Olympic) trials.”
Lavillenie and Barber targetting world lead
Likewise, Renaud Lavillenie and Shawn Barber, respectively the Olympic and world champions in the pole vault, made no promises or predictions, although admitted that an assault on Sam Kendricks’ 5.92m world lead might be in the cards.
“I've heard some great things about the meet," said Barber, on the eve of his first appearance at the Bislett Games. "So I'm really looking forward to jumping against all these guys tomorrow night."
Barber has topped 5.91m outdoors this season, Lavillenie 5.83m. Both want to go higher tomorrow.
“I think we're both looking at the world lead right now and we feel that we have the potential to jump that very soon,” Barber said. “I want to jump that very soon.”
Lavillenie echoed his young rival’s appraisal, but insisted that victory was his first priority.
“The goal is to win and to keep the lead in the Diamond Race," he said. "Jumping 5.80m would be a good thing but I wouldn't be one hundred percent satisfied with that. I'd like to jump 5.90m, maybe more.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF