Allyson Felix, Elaine Thompson, Dafne Schippers and Veronica Campbell-Brown at the press conference for the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
Olympic medallists, world champions and Diamond Race leaders were among the speakers at the press conference on Wednesday (21) ahead of Zurich’s Weltklasse meeting, the first of two IAAF Diamond League finals.
Dafne Schippers, in fact, fits into all three of those categories. The Dutch sprinter heads into tomorrow’s 200m with an unassailable lead in the Diamond Race for that event.
Although initially disappointed to miss out on gold in Rio, on reflection Schippers is now more than happy with what she has achieved over the past two years.
“Sometimes I’m very happy with my performances and sometimes I hope to do more,” she said. “But if someone had told me two years ago that I would be a world champion and an Olympic silver medallist, I never would have believed them.
“A lot has happened in the four years since the 2012 Olympics. It’s a huge difference and it’s very cool. It’s very special to win an Olympic medal.
“The 2014 European Championships in Zurich was my first major championships as a sprinter and I won both events, so I have some very special memories of competing here.”
Elaine Thompson established herself as the world’s top female sprinter when winning the 100m and 200m double at the Rio 2016 Olympics. But the Jamaican is relishing the chance to test herself against one of the all-time greats tomorrow in Zurich.
“When I look back at the 200m final in Rio, there was one person missing: Allyson Felix,” said Thompson. “I’ve only competed against her once before over 200m, and that was in Brussels last year, so tomorrow will be exciting.
“I don’t know how much faster I can go,” she added. “Running 21.66 was a shock. I honestly don’t like running 200m, but I’m excited to see how fast I can go in the future.”
Like Schippers, Felix had to settle for the silver medal in Rio after the US sprinter was beaten in the 400m by Shaunae Miller of The Bahamas.
“I’ve struggled with injuries a lot this year, so I’m happy to be here and I’m excited for this race,” Felix said ahead of her race in Zurich. “I don’t know if anything can compensate for what happened in Rio, but the 200m is my favourite event, so any time I get to run it, I enjoy it.
Although Miller isn’t in Zurich, Felix spoke favourably of her Bahamian rival.
“It’s a fun rivalry,” she said. “The 400m is always a challenge for me, it’s not my favourite event, but it’s fun racing against Shaunae. I think there’ll be many great races to come. Of course I had hoped for more in Rio, but with the year that I’ve had, I’m happy to look back and see what I’ve accomplished.”
Two-time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown missed out on making the 200m final in Rio, but is looking forward to racing against three of the individual sprint medallists from the Olympic Games.
“This is my first time running the 200m in Zurich,” said the Jamaican. “I know the track is fast and the curves are wide, so I think something crazy will happen out there tomorrow.”
While some athletes missed out on winning the medal they wanted in Rio, USA’s Kendra Harrison missed out altogether on an Olympic experience.
But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Harrison was determined to make something of the second half of the season.
“After not making the Olympic team, I made it my goal to break the world record and win all of the remaining Diamond League meetings,” she said.
The only secret to her success, she says, is working hard on her technique.
“It’s the No.1 thing that my coach makes me work on,” she said. “I enjoy the technical aspect of hurdling and I love researching and watching how other hurdlers hurdle. Sally Pearson is the one hurdler I watch a lot. She has the combination of speed and technique. Watching athletes like her and incorporating it into what I do is what’s got me to be running the way that I am now.
“My coach and I are still thinking about running the 400m hurdles, it’s still something I want to do,” she added. “Getting a wildcard for the 100m hurdles at next year’s World Championships (by virtue of being the Diamond Race winner) would allow me to start training for the 400m hurdles and potentially double up next year, but it would be difficult with the current schedule.
“Whether I do it next year or the year after, I definitely want to try the 400m hurdles again in my career.”
Eleven years after winning her first world title, Tianna Bartoletta secured her first individual Olympic title when winning the long jump in Rio. But not all of the years between those two achievements have been easy ones.
“I had seven years of downs after my initial success,” she revealed. “I don’t have any regrets about winning a world title at 19, but I didn’t handle the success very well and neither did the people around me.
“There are a lot of child actors who struggle with fame and newfound success; I kind of had the same thing. It wasn’t until I met my coach Rana Reider and my husband John that I was able to approach track and field with a more mature attitude, which then translated into my performances in recent years.
“Tomorrow is like Rio 2.0,” she added of tomorrow’s competition. “It’s like the Olympic final all over again. I train all year for two meetings: the Olympic Trials and the Olympics. I did well at both of those, so Zurich will be more like a celebration. My No.1 priority will be to have a good time. My No.2 goal is to try to be as competitive as possible.”
Not only does triple jumper Christian Taylor share a coach with Bartoletta, he also followed a world title last year with Olympic gold in Rio.
And, like Bartoletta, he won’t be feeling any pressure when he competes tomorrow.
“There’s a lot left for tomorrow, but the pressure is gone,” he said. “Once I made the podium in Rio, I knew I could come to Zurich and have fun.
“I think I’ve grown up a lot this year,” he added. “Before, I needed a good push to raise my level, but now I’ve learned that sometimes I have to focus on myself and on my training and on the entire process. Once you take that pressure off, maybe I’ll really fly.”
Pole vault world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie can also afford to relax tomorrow. The Frenchman will be up against the two men with whom he shared a podium in Rio – gold medallist Thiago Braz and bronze medallist Sam Kendricks – but he has already done enough to secure his seventh Diamond Race title.
“It’s one of my goals each year to be as consistent as possible,” he said. “We all know that it’s not very easy, but to win the Diamond Race for the seventh times means I’ve been able to stay on top since the first year. Year after year it’s more difficult because other guys are getting stronger and stronger. Now my goal is to win another one next year.”
Braz is one of the men who looks set to challenge Lavillenie over the next few years. The Brazilian produced one of the most memorable moments of the Games as he won the host nation’s only gold medal in athletics.
“Vaulting 6.03m in Rio was a big surprise,” he said. “We were prepared to do six metres before, but each time something would happen. But in Rio everything was perfect: the conditions and my technique.”
Kendricks was the only pole vaulter at the press conference who didn’t own an Olympic gold medal, but he is looking forward to following in the footsteps of Lavillenie and Braz.
“I tried many sports growing up and I gained my strength by doing new things,” he said. “I did cross country five years ago, but my brother was always a better runner. Chasing after great athletes is something I’ve continued to do as a pole vaulter.”
Just days after breaking the 3000m steeplechase world record in Paris, Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet played down any suggestion of the world record falling again tomorrow.
“I wasn’t prepared to run a world record, but after Rio where I narrowly missed the world record again, I wanted to try my best in Paris,” she said. “I’m not expecting to break the record again tomorrow, though.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF