Abderrahman Samba on his way to winning the 400m hurdles at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo (© AFP / Getty Images)
At its halfway point on the road to the finals, the IAAF Diamond League is now headed for the Charlety Stadium in Paris, where on Saturday (30) a stacked field will attempt to match the stupendous athletics spectacle that took place in Stockholm’s 1912 Olympic Stadium on 10 June.
The 8.83m long jump recorded in Sweden by Cuba’s 19-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria – frustratingly in a following wind just 0.1mps over the limit allowable for record purposes – electrified not just the evening, but the event.
Between them, will this brilliant new Cuban talent and South Africa’s irrepressible Olympic silver medallist and world champion Luvo Manyonga take the long jump to new territory in the way that US rivals Carl Lewis and Mike Powell did in 1991 when the latter was pushed to the world record of 8.95m?
Duplantis puts his momentum to the test
The Meeting de Paris cannot start to answer that question – no men’s long jump is scheduled in a competition whose slogan is “Speed in Paris”.
But it will be able to offer another gripping instalment for the Stockholm storyline which would have earned top billing on most Diamond League evenings, namely the struggle in the men’s pole vault between the US world champion Sam Kendricks, the renascent French world record holder Renaud Lavillenie, and the prodigious 18-year-old Swede Armand Duplantis who beat them both on his home ground with an effort of 5.86m.
Kendricks has a best of 5.84m this season and a hugely consistent record. Duplantis is second in this year’s world lists with a 5.93m clearance from 5 May, and Stockholm’s crowd-pleasing effort demonstrated that he is an intent competitor as well as performer.
At last year’s Paris meeting Lavillenie ended up a disconsolate figure, being consoled by his brother Valentin and even the event winner, Kendricks, after failing to clear 5.77m.
Lavillennie had been unable to train properly until May because of a leg injury, and was unable to press the American, who would end the season taking gold in London.
But this season the 31-year-old Frenchman is in far better early form, with three of the top six jumps recorded so far, including the best – his 5.95m clearance in Austin, Texas in April.
All three vaulters are due to be in action along with Brazil’s Olympic champion Thiago Braz – another story waiting to burst into life given his fitful progress so far this season – Canada’s 2015 world champion Shawn Barber, who has the third best effort of the season so far in 5.92m, and the Polish pair of Piotr Lisek, world silver medallist and European indoor champion, and 2011 world champion Pawel Wojciechowski.
Thiam putting Lasitskene to the test
“Height in Paris” could be the operative unofficial slogan here – as it will be for the efforts of Mariya Lasitskene, the double world high jump champion, who will compete here in search of her 44th consecutive victory since April last year.
Lasitskene, who is seeking to better her season-leading effort of 2.03m, faces serious opposition in the form of Belgium’s world and Olympic heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam, who has cleared 2.01m this year, Bulgaria’s Mirela Demireva, who cleared 2.00m in finishing second to Lasitskene in Stockholm, and Ukraine’s world silver medallist Yuliya Levchenko.
However the Speed in Paris tag starts to make sense when one inspects some of the track athletes involved in what promises to be a hot night of sprinting action.
The men’s 400m hurdles event has produced extraordinary drama this season with the emergence of not one, but two new young challengers to the Norwegian who broke through to win the world title last year, Karsten Warholm.
Three times Warholm has faced his fellow 22-year-old Abderrahman Samba of Qatar in Diamond League races, and on each occasion, in Rome, Oslo and then Stockholm, he has finished second.
In so doing, the ebullient Warholm has lowered his national record to 47.81, but Samba has made even better headway, lowering his own Diamond League and Asian record to 47.41 in Stockholm.
Meanwhile the 19-year-old Rai Benjamin of Antigua has announced his own extraordinary claim to dominance in the event with victory in pouring rain at the NCAA finals in Eugene in 47.02, equalling the second best time ever run, set by the legendary Ed Moses, and bettered only by the world record of 46.78 set by Kevin Young of the United States in winning the 1992 Olympic title.
Although Benjamin, who has just turned professional, is not in the Paris line-up --he’ll be contesting the non-DL 200m-- another mano a mano struggle is in prospect on Saturday - although it could yet turn out to be mano a mano a mano given the presence of the British Virgin Islands athlete who beat Warholm to the Diamond League title in last year’s final, Kyron McMaster.
The Olympic champion from the United States, Kerron Clement, is also in the field. Moses’ 1986 meeting record of 47.66 looks in serious danger…
Baker vs Vicaut in the 100m
With the European Athletics Championships in Berlin looming on the horizon, home talent Jimmy Vicaut, who has run 9.92 this season, will be able to test himself to the max in the concluding event of the programme against a 100m field that includes Ronnie Baker, who set a legal personal best of 9.90 in finishing second behind Noah Lyles’s season-leading 9.88 at the US Championships in Des Moines last weekend.
Also in the mix will be South Africa’s Commonwealth champion Akani Simbine, who has run 9.98 this year, Baker’s compatriot Michael Rodgers, second in this year’s world rankings with 9.89, and Jamaica’s 2011 world champion Yohan Blake.
Ta Lou tops in women’s 100m
The women’s 100m will feature the sprinter who took world silver over 100 and 200m last year, but who is now moving up to gold standard – Marie-Josee Ta Lou.
The 29-year-old Ivorian has the two fastest 100m timings so far this season, with a personal best of 10.85, but in Paris she is seeking a performance that will give the world lists for 200m – headed by Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor on 22.04 and The Bahamas Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo on 22.06 - a new look.
Such is the strength – and speed – in depth gathered for the 110m hurdles that two heats will be required to sort out a field which features the athlete currently heading the world lists with 12.99, world silver medallist Sergey Shubenkov, Spain’s Cuban-born Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega, who set a personal best of 12.94 in Paris three years ago, and last year’s winner at the Charlety Stadium, Ronald Levy of Jamaica, who has run 13.16 this year and secured the Commonwealth title.
No fewer than 13 of the 16 athletes involved have a personal best of less than 13.30, and other stellar names include the world record holder from the United States, Aries Merritt, his compatriots Devon Allen and Aleec Harris, Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment, and three hugely talented home athletes in Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, Garfield Darien and Olympic bronze medallist Dmitri Bascou.
Semenya gunning for 25th straight 800m win
South Africa’s world and Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya will seek to extend her winning record against a field that includes the silver and bronze medallists from Rio, respectively Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui.
Also figuring significantly will be US runner Ajee Wilson, the world bronze medallist who is second on the 2018 world lists with the 1:56.86 she clocked in chasing Semenya home in Eugene as the South African clocked the fastest time of the season, 1:55.92.
Rojas vs Ibarguen
A hugely competitive women’s triple jump is in prospect, featuring Colombia’s 34-year-old Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen, the 22-year-old Venezuelan who broke through to take the world title last year, Yulimar Rojas, Kazakhstan’s London 2012 champion Olga Rypakova and 25-year-old Tori Franklin who has made her own recent breakthrough on 12 May as she set a US record of 14.84m that currently tops the world lists.
Sandra Perkovic of Croatia, seeking a seventh consecutive overall Diamond League victory in the discus, produced an IAAF Diamond League record of 71.38m in Doha to win by almost five metres and she remains three metres clear of her nearest challenger, Australia’s Dani Stevens, this season. Expect that pattern to continue.
The men’s discus is a far more volatile event this season. All the usual suspects are in the field, including Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres, who won in Stockholm in 69.67m, the best thrown this year, Lithuania’s world champion Andrius Gudzius, second in the listings with 69.59m, Iran’s Ehsan Hadadi, Sweden’s Daniel Stahl and Germany’s Rio 2016 champion Christoph Harting.
The top four women’s 3000m steeplechasers this season – all Kenyan – are included in Saturday’s field. Former world champion Hyvin Kiyeng tops the world lists with 9:04.96, but she faces top quality opposition from compatriots Celliphine Chespol, who has run 9:05.14 this year, Norah Jeruto and Beatrice Chepkoech.
US world champion Phyllis Francis faces a strong challenge in the women’s 400m against a field that includes two athletes who have currently run faster than her this season – Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, who has clocked a personal best of 49.84, and compatriot Shakima Wimbley, world indoor silver medallist in Birmingham, who is joint top of the 2018 standings with Miller-Uibo on 49.52.
Kenya’s world 1500m silver medallist Timothy Cheruyiot, who leads this year’s standings with 3:31.22, is favourite against a field that includes Morocco’s Abdelaati Iguider and Aman Wote of Ethiopia.
Also on the programme, but outside the Diamond League framework, is a men’s 200m that will give home hope Christophe Lemaitre a timely run-out against a field including Alonso Edward of Panama and his rival for a European title this season, Churandy Martina of The Netherlands.
And a non-Diamond League men’s 800m will feature home world champion Pierre-Ambroise Bosse against the likes of Kenya’s Alfred Kipketer and Jonathan Kitilit, second on the 2018 lists with 1:43.46.
Meanwhile another French world champion, decathlete Kevin Mayer, will be put through his paces in a triathlon event taking in the long jump, shot put and 110m hurdles.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF