Renaud Lavillenie ahead of the 2014 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris (© Jiro Mochizuki)
You can’t do much better than being able to showcase a world record holder in the premier meeting in his home country and so Paris meeting director Laurent Boquillet has struck gold securing the services of Renaud Lavillenie for the eighth of this summer’s IAAF Diamond League meetings on Saturday (5).
After soaring over 6.16m indoors in Donetsk in February it hasn’t been plain sailing for the eminently quotable European and Olympic champion.
His trials and tribulations started on his very next jump, when he sliced open his heel, and Lavillenie hasn’t been over six metres since his phenomenal feat in Ukraine. Some of his outdoor victories have been at relatively modest heights and on count back.
Nevertheless, he remains unbeaten in his 15 meetings this year, indoors and outdoors, he leads the world outdoor list with the 5.92m he cleared at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai in May and is the clear leader in the Diamond Race.
In fact, after getting maximum points in Lausanne on Thursday night, a win in Paris would give him an unassailable lead and effectively hand him his fifth Diamond Trophy in as many years, as long as he competes in his event final in Brussels on 5 September.
“Winning the Diamond Race again has always been one of the main targets of the season but, obviously, I also want to remain unbeaten for as long as possible,” said the Paris poster boy, his face adorning the advertising hoardings around the French capital for the second year running.
“Last year, I shared that with Usain Bolt and I thought that was going to be the case this year, until he had to withdraw through injury, but it doesn’t put any extra pressure on me, I’m just going to go out and jump.
“There’s talk about me getting back to world record heights, but first I have to be jumping 6.05, 6.10,” he added, giving French fans some hope that he can improve on his stadium record of 5.91m that has stood since 2010.
"The weather conditions will have an impact on the pole vault competition in the Stade de France," added Lavillenie, well aware that the weather forecast for Saturday suggests less-than-summery conditions.
"With wind and rain you can lose up to 15 centimetres. With my level, I think I can jump around 5.80m in rainy conditions, but the most interesting thing is to compete against the other athletes. If I win with a 30-centimetre margin on the other vaulters, then it’s a very good result."
Like Lavillenie, Sandra Perkovic is also a 2012 Olympic champion and is unbeaten this year.
Her competitive record is slightly sparser, she has only had five outings in her specialist event in 2014, but she has been equally dominating and after a couple of modest meetings – by her own phenomenally high standards – in June, she will be looking to recapture her May form which saw her throw farther than 70 metres in two competitions.
No sure bet for the shot
Lavillenie and Perkovic are the prohibitive favourites for their events, but the men’s shot put certainly has no one who you would say has four Diamond Race points guaranteed.
The loaded field contains US champion and Diamond Race leader Joe Kovacs, who unleashed an outdoor world lead of 22.03m at the US Championships, fellow American and two-time world indoor champion Ryan Whiting, Germany’s two-time world champion David Storl who also produced a personal best of 21.90m, and Poland’s two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski.
In the men’s triple jump, the focus of attention is on Will Claye following his personal best of 17.75m a week ago at the US Championships. Coincidently, that distance is also the same as the meeting record set by Jonathan Edwards in 2002.
On the track, the vivacious Sanya Richards-Ross will be many people’s sentimental favourite in the 400m after some great performances in the Stade de France in the past and her return to form at the US Championships last week, when she ran 49.66.
However, Novlene Williams-Mills and Amantle Montsho have both been running well this year, and despite the fact that both have yet to break 50 seconds in 2014, one or the other could challenge Richards-Ross.
Allyson Felix set a stadium record of 22.14 in the women’s 200m at this meeting back in 2010 so has some good memories of competing in Paris. This time around she comes up against Jamaica’s triple Moscow 2013 gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who will start directly on her inside in lane five, but among the opponents for this redoubtable pair is this summer’s revelation, Tori Bowie, who ran a world-leading time of 22.18 in Eugene last month.
After the spotlight fell on the men’s high jump in Lausanne, it’s the turn of the women to take a bow.
Inika McPherson became the latest member of the ‘two metre club’ when she won the US title at that height but she faces four other women with better personal bests, including her compatriot Brigetta Barrett, 2014 world indoor champion Mariya Kuchina, and Croatia’s former world champion Blanka Vlasic.
The women’s long jump has been among the closely contested events in the Diamond League this year and the fourth contest of this summer’s series could be a thrilling five-way battle between Russia’s Darya Klishina, Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic, France’s world indoor champion Eloyse Lesueur, multiple global champion Brittney Reese and the current world leader, Tianna Bartoletta, the only woman over seven metres this year with 7.02m to her name from Oslo last month.
Billaud looking for local win over the barriers
In similar fashion, on current form, the 100m hurdlers are evenly matched with the past two Olympic champions, USA’s Dawn Harper Nelson and Australia’s Sally Pearson, up against the in-form French woman Cindy Billaud, who recently clocked 12.66.
Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson competes in the men’s 400m hurdles in the French capital just two days after his 48.32 win in Lausanne but faces his regular rival, Michael Tinsley, who was just 0.08 behind on Thursday.
There are high hopes that local hero Pierre-Ambroise Bosse can run fast over two laps of the track but it will be interesting to see what Botswana's Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos can produce in his first race since his world-leading run of 1:43.63 in Eugene at the end of May.
Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri face each other in what should be a fascinating women’s 1500m but the field features the three other women directly behind them on the 2014 world lists.
No one has yet run faster than 13 minutes in the men’s 5000m this season but Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew leads the 2014 list with 13:01.57, which he ran at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo last month, and he is familiar with the Stade de France having run his personal best of 12:48.77 on the track two years ago.
Alamirew should have a decent chance of running faster than 13 minutes, and the pacemakers have been instructed accordingly, but there are five other men who have also run faster than that mark and it's to be expected that Alamirew will be closely watched by the likes of his compatriots Imane Merga, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Muktar Edris, as well as Kenya’s talented Caleb Ndiku.
Sofia Assefa could potentially add to the list of Ethiopian successes on Saturday as she starts as the favourite for the women’s 3000m steeplechase and a win for the fastest woman in the world this year could consolidate her lead in the Diamond Race.
The men’s javelin has seen three different winners in the three different IAAF Diamond League competitions with Egypt’s Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed, Czech Republic’s Viteslav Vesely and Finland’s Tero Pitkamaki winning in Shanghai, Eugene and Oslo respectively. If one of this trio wins in Paris, they will take the lead in the Diamond Race.
The last event on the track is the men’s 100m and Christophe Lemaitre will carry French hopes but Caribbean sprinters could dash his ambitions with Lausanne 200m winner Alonso Edward and Trinidad’s in-form Richard Thompson on the start line, the latter having recently run 9.82.
It's not an IAAF Diamond League event in Paris but the men's 110m hurdles was added to the programme recently to acknowledge the rise of Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, and the world indoor silver medallist has his sights set on going under 13 seconds after running a personal best of 13.06 in Lausanne on Thursday.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF