Usain Bolt winning the 200m at the 2013 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo (© Jiro Mochizuki)
Paris, like so many host cities on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, is once again in thrall to that sporting phenomenon known as Usain Bolt.
Portrayed by the meeting organisers as a masked superhero in much of the pre-event publicity, the 'Bolt-factor' has helped make the AREVA meeting on Saturday (6) one of the biggest athletics meetings in the world this year.
Paris meeting director Laurent Boquillet commented earlier this week: “Usain Bolt’s presence is easy to put a figure to: he draws in an additional 10,000 spectators. On Saturday evening, the Stade de France will be full to bursting, more than 50,000 people.
“For the first time in some years, we are sold out and, strangely for Paris, I have some good news about the weather, there is no sign of rain. It will be about 25 degrees at 10 O'clock on Saturday night,” added Boquillet, hinting that a combination of good weather and a historically quick Stade de France track will produce fast times and good performances in the field events.
Bolt runs over 200m in the French capital, his second outing over the distance this year. Three weeks ago, in Oslo, he clocked a very comfortable 19.79 in cool conditions to silence the doubters about his form after his early season niggles and surprise defeat over 100m in Rome.
However, after Tyson Gay ran 19.74 to win at the US Championships to lead this season's lists, Bolt will want to regain the bragging rights in this particular event as their date with destiny and their anticipated clashes at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow looms ever closer.
Gay's feats in Des Moines gave Bolt pause for thought and the latter decided to stay in Jamaica for an extra week's training rather than return to Europe to race last week.
Alongside Bolt on the start line are three of his compatriots: London 2012 Olympic Games bronze medallist and Jamaican trials winner Warren Weir, 2012 Diamond Race winner Nickel Ashmeade and Jason Young.
Representing French interests will be the former European champion Christophe Lemaitre, who will be aiming to be the first European under 20 seconds this summer.
James out for revenge
Another great head-to-head duel is in prospect in the men's 400m between Grenada's Olympic and World champion Kirani James and his American predecessor LaShawn Merritt.
Merritt has generally had to play second-fiddle to James in the last two years but beat him in their last encounter, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene last month, a result which adds a little frisson to Saturday night's clash.
The first 110m Hurdles race in under 13 seconds this year is potentially on the cards in Paris with a classy field that includes the American trio of World record holder and 2012 Olympic champion Aries Merritt, 2011 World champion Jason Richardson and David Oliver, fresh from his world-leading 13.03 in Lausanne on Thursday night. Barbados' 2009 World champion Ryan Brathwaite and Cuba's former world record holder Dayron Robles, as well as recently-minted US champion Ryan Wilson, are also in the field.
No less than 12 of the evening’s 16 events will feature a reigning Olympic or World champion, and in some cases both.
In the men's Discus and women's High Jump, the athletes holding these accolades are the same person.
In the former, Germany's Olympic and World champion Robert Harting comes up against the man who recently ended his 35-meeting winning streak, Poland's 2010 European champion Piotr Malachowski, who produced a massive throw of 71.84m to beat Harting in Oslo last month.
Also in the field is Estonia's ever-consistent 2008 Olympic champion Gerd Kanter.
Russia's Anna Chicherova has been struggling slightly to recapture her form of 2011 and 2012, which took her to World and Olympic titles in those summers.
In Paris, she’ll face stiff competition from Croatia's Blanka Vlasic, who recently went over 2.00m for the first time since her return from injury after missing the whole of 2012, and US champion Brigetta Barrett who scaled a personal best of 2.04m when winning her national title in Des Moines recently.
Lavillenie looking to recover his super powers
France's 2012 Olympic and European champion Renaud Lavillenie, another of the meeting 'superheroes', looked a bit less like Superman when failing to clear a height in Lausanne on Thursday and so will be looking for redemption in front of his home crowd in the Pole Vault, a competition which sees Greece's Lausanne winner Konstadinos Filippidis in action again, along with Germany's talented Raphael Holzdeppe.
Another Greek jumper looking to impress will be the in-form long jumper Louis Tsatoumas, who took the Mediterranean Games title last week. He faces Great Britain's 2012 Olympic Games champion Greg Rutherford, who has suffered from some minor injuries this season which has impacted on his form.
New Zealand's 2012 Olympic Shot Put champion Valerie Adams has made the short journey from her summer base in Switzerland, but she could be pressed by a woman who has made a rather longer trip as Michelle Carter arrives in Paris fresh from her recent US record of 20.24m, which places her second on the 2013 world list behind Adams.
Jamaica's two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the headline act in the 100m but the loaded field includes Trinidad and Tobago's 2013 world leader Kelly-Ann Baptiste, US champion English Gardner, and the in-form African pair of Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare and Ivory Coast's Murielle Ahoure.
The men's 3000m Steeplechase promises to be a thrilling battle between Kenya's 2012 Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi and his compatriot Paul Koech, along with France's double Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad.
The latter, who is sure to be roared on by the crowd, has made no secret of the fact that his outing in Paris will be a concerted attack on the European record of 8.01.19, which has been held since 2009 by his compatriot Bouabdellah Tahri.
The women's 5000m features Ethiopia's renowned Tirunesh Dibaba, who was such an impressive winner over the same distance in Eugene at the start of last month, but plenty of familiar faces will be aiming to upset the odds, including her compatriots Gelete Burka and Buze Deriba.
In the women's Javelin, Germany's Christina Obergfoll is looking to extend her unbeaten season to six victories and tighten her grip on the Diamond Race after wins in New York, Eugene and Rome.
Another woman in a commanding position in her Diamond Race is the Czech Republic's 400m hurdler Zuzana Hejnova, who is unbeaten in her six races this year.
Her most recent outing, on home soil at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Ostrava on 27 June, saw her run a season's best of 53.32, and the presence of the likes of USA's Georganne Moline and Great Britain's Perri Shakes-Drayton in the race could lead to some outstanding times over the barriers.
Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba, sixth at the Olympic Games last summer, is the fastest 800m runner in the world this year with 1:56.72 and looks to be the clear favourite over two laps of the track, although she has not run in almost five weeks since that fast run in Eugene.
Colombian triple jumper Caterine Ibarguen has eschewed this weekend's South American Championships to take on her regular rival Olha Saladuha, from Ukraine, and there is usually an enthralling battle between the pair.
After his impressive Dream Mile win in Oslo last month, a lot of eyes in the men's 1500m will be on Djibouti's emerging talent Ayanleh Soulieman but the extensive list of his top quality opponents in the 17-man field include the US trio of former World champion Bernard Lagat, Matt Centrowitz and Leonel Manzano; Ethiopia's Mekonnen Gebremedhin and the Moroccan pair of Mohamed Moustaoui and Abdelaati Iguider.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF