Previews31 May 2023

Kerley ready to take on fellow world medallists in Florence


Fred Kerley on his way to 200m triumph at the Doha Diamond League (© AFP / Getty Images)

A rematch of the full men’s 100m podium from last year’s World Championships in Oregon is on the menu at the Golden Gala in Florence on Friday night, after the eleventh-hour addition of silver medallist Marvin Bracy to the stellar line-up for the third meeting of this year’s Wanda Diamond League.

The Italian organisers might have been deflated by the late withdrawal of Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs from his home Diamond League meeting last night – which put on hold a high-anticipated duel with Kerley – but they immediately took the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade by inviting Bracy to fill the vacant lane.

Kerley (gold), Bracy (silver) and Trayvon Bromell (bronze) completed a memorable US shutout of the podium in front of their home crowd in Oregon last year and will go again in Florence.

Jacobs has now withdrawn from his past two scheduled starts, in Rabat and Florence, due to an ongoing back problem. However, Italy will be represented by the surprise European indoor 60m champion Samuele Ceccarelli, who defeated Jacobs in that race and will be hoping to carry his career-best indoor form to the outdoor track this year.

Kerley offered sympathy to his rival Jacobs in the Golden Gala press conference, saying: "I’m not upset that he’s not competing, I just wish him health and he gets back to competing at 100 percent."

The top two African sprinters – Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala and South Africa’s Akani Simbine – will add further interest to the showdown.

Omanyala currently tops the performance list for this year with his 9.84 clocking at the Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi, just ahead of Kerley’s 9.88 at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Yokohama, but Kerley won their first direct meeting for the year in Rabat last weekend.

The women’s 100m will features two world medallists in the short sprint, Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith and Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou, while the brilliant teenager Erriyon Knighton heads the men’s 200m field.

At the other end of the Diamond League track spectrum, Florence will present a trio of exciting middle and distance races in the men’s 5000m, women’s 1500m and women’s 3000m steeplechase.

The men’s 5000m sees the return of Uganda’s world 10,000m and Olympic 5000m champion Joshua Cheptegei to the track for the first time since his triumph in Oregon, and an extraordinary challenge awaits him, including an all-star Ethiopian quartet of Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega, 2021 Diamond League champion Berihu Aregawi, Yomif Kejelcha and Samuel Tefera, as well as Kenya’s world silver medallist Jacob Krop and last year’s Golden Gala winner Nicholas Kipkorir.

Joshua Cheptegei races at the 2021 Prefontaine Classic

Joshua Cheptegei races at the 2021 Prefontaine Classic (© Getty Images)

The queen of middle distance Faith Kipyegon returns to Florence eager to make amends for a rare loss at her last start at the Stadio Luigi Ridolfi, in 2021, when Sifan Hassan had her measure. However, after narrowly missing the 1500m world record in Monaco last year, Olympic and world champion Kipyegon has declared her intent to attack it again at every opportunity this year, which may well start in Florence. However, British Olympic silver medallist and natural front-runner Laura Muir is certain to keep the race honest.

Kipyegon said that her first ambition in Florence was to improve on her season-opening performance to win the 1500m in Doha last month, where she clocked an impressive 3:58.57, but she would not rule out an attempt on the world record this week.

“Everything is possible,” she said. “The record is in my heart and on my mind and I hope this will be a perfect year for me."

Current world record-holder in the women’s 3000m steeplechase Beatrice Chepkoech has looked more like her old self in the early part of the season and has the opportunity to take a strong win in Florence, against a field that includes Ethiopia’s world bronze medallist Mekides Abebe, USA’s 2017 world champion Emma Coburn, and the talented Kenyan duo of world U20 champion Jackline Chepkoech and Fancy Cherono.

Also going over the barriers in Florence will be the indomitable Dutchwoman Femke Bol, who will line up for the 400m hurdles in an intriguing match-up with Anna Hall. The newly-crowned winner of the heptathlon at the legendary Hypo Meeting in Gotzis is clearly unafraid of a challenge.

In Gotzis last weekend, Hall fell just short of tallying 7000 points, her total of 6988 lifting her to fifth on the world all-time list to underline her quality.

World silver medallist Bol opened her season with a world-leading 53.12 in Oordegem, Belgium four days ago and the presence of competitors like Hall, Shamier Little and Rushell Clayton should surely push her through the 53-second barrier for the first time this year.

Femke Bol on her way to a 400m hurdles win at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Lausanne

Femke Bol on her way to a 400m hurdles win at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Lausanne (© AFP / Getty Images)

Bol is introducing a new stride pattern to her race this year as she tries to reach the standard set by world and Olympic champion and world record-holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone.

The Dutchwoman has moved from 15 strides between each hurdle, to 14 strides to the seventh hurdle and 15 strides to the last three barriers, to make best use of her height advantage over the American.

She set her fastest-ever season opener trying out her new strategy in Oordegem, and expects to be faster again in Florence.

“I learned quite a lot because it was the first time with 14 strides – I have to take bigger steps and change from the (take-off) leg so it was nice to try it out,” Bol said.

“I wanted to go to hurdle seven and it was nice to do that so now I have a bit more confidence to go out faster and also make the switch to 15 after the seventh hurdle.”

Meanwhile, world champion Grant Holloway will have plenty of motivation going into the 110m hurdles, after he was upset by Jamaica’s Rasheed Broadbell in Rabat last weekend. Holloway will renew acquaintance with his domestic rival turned NFL star Devon Allen. Others in the mix include Freddie Crittenden and Switzerland’s Jason Joseph.

Holloway revealed he had made adjustments to his training regime after his loss in Rabat, saying he needed to learn not to be distracted by noise in the crowd at the start.

“It threw me off my A game but that was a moment I had to learn from,’’ he said.

“So what I have been doing in practice, I have my team playing loud, blaring music, and it’s my goal to focus on the gun. So maybe that was what I needed in Rabat to get a little bit more focussed on that.”

The women’s long jump and pole vault should both provide highlights in the field.

The pole vault features another full Oregon podium in Katie Moon (nee Nageotte), Sandi Morris and Australia’s Nina Kennedy, while world and Olympic champion Malaika Mihambo faces an all-star field in the long jump.

Among those lining up are world indoor champion Ivana Vuleta, Ukraine’s world silver medallist Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, European indoor champion Jazmin Sawyers and the US pair of Tara Davis-Woodhall (7.07m this year) and Quanesha Burks, who have taken their rivalry to social media this season. Home hopes rest with Italy’s Larissa Iapichino.

The men’s high jump will miss Italy’s Olympic champion Gianmarco Tamberi but does have the equally expressive Korean world indoor champion Woo Sanghyeok, world medallist Andriy Protsenko of Ukraine and rising American JuVaughn Harrison to hit the heights.

Four-time world champion Christian Taylor continues on his comeback journey in the men’s triple jump, taking on world silver medallist Hugues Fabrice Zango and Cuba’s Andy Diaz Hernandez.

Joe Kovacs celebrates at the Wanda Diamond League Final in Zurich

Joe Kovacs celebrates at the Wanda Diamond League Final in Zurich (© AFP / Getty Images)

In the throws, two-time world shot put champion Joe Kovacs gets his first chance to respond to long-time rival Ryan Crouser’s world record of 23.56m in Los Angeles last weekend. New Zealand’s Tom Walsh finished second to Crouser there with a big throw of his own (22.12m) and will look to build on that in a stadium where he won in 2021.

Kovacs said he had been more focussed on the gym than grooving his technique since the birth of his twins seven months ago but would use this competition to “get back into throwing shape."

He expects that Crouser’s early season world record will inspire all of the world’s best shotputters to lift their game this year.

“I don’t think 23.50 is in any way the limit, I think 24 (metres) is probably right around the corner for a lot of us," he said." I think (Crouser’s world record) is a stepping stone and we are all excited to be part of that journey.”

The women’s discus will feature a clash between the world champion Feng Bin of China and Olympic champion Valarie Allman of the USA.

Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics

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