Faith Kipyegon wins the 1000m at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco (© Philippe Fitte)
A quintet of current world record-holders top the billing for the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco this Friday (21), with Faith Kipyegon, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Yulimar Rojas, Mondo Duplantis and Karsten Warholm using the EBS Herculis Meeting to tune up for the World Athletics Championships which get underway in Budapest in less than a month.
Who would bet against Olympic and world 1500m champion Kipyegon to set a third consecutive world record in this year’s Wanda Diamond League when she rejoins the series after putting in another short training block in Kenya in the past month?
Kipyegon went on a record-breaking tear in June, becoming the first woman to crack 3:50 for the 1500m as she set a new global standard of 3:49.11 in Florence (2 June) and then following up with an even more impressive run exactly one week later in Paris, when she brought down the 5000m world record, clocking 14:05.20.
Now she turns her attention to the mile, where her personal best of 4:16.71 was set in 2015 when she was a full 10 seconds slower over 1500m than she is this year. The mile world record stands at 4:12.33, set by Kipyegon’s long-time rival Sifan Hassan on the Stade Louis II track at Herculis in 2019. If Kipyegon’s progress this year is reflected in this race, then another exhilarating performance is on its way.
A strong field has also been assembled around her, including Olympic silver medallist Laura Muir (PB of 4:18.03), Oceanian record-holder Jessica Hull of Australia (4:18.24) and US 1500m champion Nikki Hiltz (4:18.38).
Monaco has become a middle distance runner’s paradise in recent years, with world records also set over the men’s 5000m and women’s 3000m steeplechase, and another fine men’s 5000m field has been assembled this year, headed by this year’s world leader Berihu Aregawi (12:40.45) and a high-class quartet of his Ethiopian compatriots – Telahun Bekele, Hagos Gebrhiwet, Samuel Tefera and Kuma Girma – as well as Uganda’s world cross-country champion Jacob Kiplimo, Kenyans Nicholas Kipkorir and Jacob Krop and leading Europeans Mohamed Katir of Spain and Yemaneberhan Crippa of Italy.
The men’s 800m has five of the six fastest men this year, including pace-setting Kenyan Emmanuel Wanyonyi (world leader with 1:43.27), Wycliffe Kinyamal and Olympic and world champion Emmanual Korir, in-form Canadian Marco Arop (1:43.30 this year), as well as emerging Algerian duo Slimane Moula and Djamel Sedjati, who have both run well under 1:44 this year.
Kenya’s Commonwealth champion Abraham Kibiwot (8:05.51 this year) leads a solid 3000m steeplechase field, which also features former world and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto.
But the best race over barriers in Monaco is likely to come in the men’s 400m hurdles where the Olympic champion Karsten Warholm will meet the world champion Alison Dos Santos for the first time since last year’s World Championships in Oregon. Warholm was far from his best at that time after returning from injury but has returned to top form this season, while this time it is the Brazilian who is feeling his way back from an injury break.
Karsten Warholm wins the 400m hurdles at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco (© AFP / Getty Images)
Dos Santos will be contesting his first 400m hurdles race of the year but said he never considered tackling a smaller challenge as he finds his way back from injury.
“If you want to be one of the great athletes, you have to run with the great athletes," he said. “I’m healthy and I’m ready to run fast.”
Warholm said the experience of “being humiliated” at the World Championships in Oregon last year (he finished seventh in the final after coming back from injury) was fuelling his return to top form this season.
Asked who was the best 400m hurdler in the world right now, both looked ahead to Budapest, where that will be decided.
“If you look at the paper, I have the quickest time but Alison hasn’t run the 400m hurdles yet,” Warholm said. “It’s going to be exciting to run against him now, and Rai (Benjamin) ran fast at the US Trials, so I think that’s why people should really look forward to Budapest this year, because it’s quite an open competition… we will have to wait and see.”
World 400m hurdles champion and record-holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone will continue her flirtation with the flat 400m in Monaco, having burst through the 49-second barrier at the US Trials earlier this month with a world-leading 48.74.
She will test her progress against Ireland’s NCAA champion Rhasidat Adeleke (49.20) and Poland’s Natalia Kaczmarek, who made a big breakthrough to win her home Diamond League meeting in Silesia last weekend in 49.48.
Of her focus on the flat 400m this year, McLaughlin-Levrone said she still regarded herself as a 'freshman' in the event, despite having the fastest time of the year and being a prime contender for the world title in the new event next month.
“The first few races were a little wonky but I’m starting to get the rhythm of it, which is awesome.”
She said she expected that working on her speed this year and taking a break from the hurdles would leave her in a better place when she returns to her specialist event.
“I think it’s about reaching out, branching out, and continuing to progress so that when we do put the hurdles back in front, the flat speed is there," she said.
She is playing her cards close to her chest with regards to her programme for next year’s Paris Olympics, but she said doubling up the 400m events was possible at some future championships.
“If the schedule allows it, I think it’s possible," she said. "Obviously for the World Championships this year, it would have been insane – six 400s in five days sounds crazy to me – but if, further down the road, the schedule allows for it, I think it’s definitely something that’s doable. It just has to give the athlete time to be prepared for the rounds.”
She said the difference between the two events was that the hurdles was 'more calculated' because of the required stride pattern, whereas the 400m flat was “a sprint and you are just running for your life”.
The women’s 100m hurdles is unfailingly competitive at Diamond League level as most of the world’s best line up week after week. In Monaco, this race will almost be a re-run of the US trials earlier this month, where 2019 world champion Nia Ali triumphed, from former world-record holder Kendra Harrison.
However the highlight of the women’s sprint programme may well be the meeting between the fastest two 200m sprinters this season, US champion Gabby Thomas (21.60) and Jamaica’s world champion Shericka Jackson (21.71), with US college star Julien Alfred of St Lucia and 2019 world champion Dina Asher-Smith also in the mix.
Jamaican sprinter Shericka Jackson (© Matt Quine)
The men’s 100m has an African flavour, featuring the top three sprinters from the sub-Sahara – Akani Simbine of South Africa (coming off a win in Silesia), Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala and Botswana’s world U20 champion Letsile Tebogo – but the Jamaican trio of Yohan Blake, Ackeem Blake and Kishane Thompson, as well as USA’s Courtney Lindsey, will keep them honest.
A strong jumps programme in Monaco is highlighted by an exceptionally strong men’s pole vault field, stacked with past global champions, medallists and current contenders, including Sam Kendricks, Renaud Lavillenie and Chris Nilsen as well as new six-metre man Ernest Obiena of the Philippines. But they face the virtually impossible task of trying to clip Duplantis’ wings as he eyes off another record-breaking performance in Budapest next month.
Duplantis returns to Monaco for the first time since 2020, when the event was Covid-affected but was still able to offer a rare crowd of 5000 socially-distanced spectators.
He said the heat and humidity reminded him of growing up in Louisiana, his US home state, so he was comfortable with the conditions.
“I know it’s a really good place to jump and I can jump high here," he said. “The times that I’ve jumped here, it has been as still as we possibly could have inside a stadium… that’s great for us pole vaulters. It’s a lot easier to be consistent and to find the rhythm on the runway.”
His ambition for the competition is, as always, to win first against the best pole vault field assembled so far this year, but also to 'replicate' some of the jumps he hopes to do in Budapest.
“In the back of my head, I will know it’s the last competition before the World Championships so I think there is an added sense of pressure that I will be putting on myself, just because I want to make sure I have everything right and I’m in the right place building up to the World Championships," he said. "I’m going to try to go out there and get a sense of where I’m at and get some extra reassurance on the track as far as the rhythm on the run and what poles to jump because those are decisions you have to make. Tomorrow is the last chance to collect all that data and just try to jump high.”
He also confirmed that he was up for the challenge offered by Olympic 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm on the training track yesterday, to race him over 100m, once they have the World Championships behind them.
“I would really like to do it and I think he’s pretty keen also. I think it’s very possible – especially with our two personalities. We like a good challenge and we like something out of our comfort zone too. We both want to do it just for the fun of doing another event because we don’t get to do that. I would really like to race Karsten. I’m not saying that would be easy for me but I think I could compete for sure.”
Olympic and world triple jump champion Yulimar Rojas adds intrigue to the women’s long jump field as she needs to register a qualifying jump (6.85m) if she is to fulfil her long-held ambition of doubling up in the two jumps at the World Championships. The level of competition should help her get there, with this season’s top two seven-metre jumpers Tara Davis-Woodhall and Ackelia Smith also in the field, along with world indoor champion Ivana Vuleta, rising Italian Larissa Iapichino and Nigeria’s Olympic and world medallist Ese Brume.
Yulimar Rojas in action in the triple jump at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco (© AFP / Getty Images)
The women’s high jump shapes as a duel between the Ukrainian and Australian contingents, who between them have all the two-metre jumps this season. World indoor champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh and last-start Diamond League winner Iryna Gerashchenko square off against Australia’s Olympic silver medallist and world leader Nicola Olyslagers (2.02m) and world champion Eleanor Patterson, just back from injury.
There is also plenty of interest in the men’s triple jump, with 18-year-old Jamaican revelation Jaydon Hibbert (the world leader with 17.87m this year) taking on world and Olympic medallist Hugues Fabrice Zango and Cuba’s world indoor champion Lazaro Martinez.
The only throwing event on the programme is the men’s javelin, where two-time world champion Anderson Peters and Olympic silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch will take on Germany’s European champion Julian Weber.
Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics