Francine Niyonsaba was new to treading the boards when she powered to Burundi’s first world indoor title in Portland two years ago. That was a home-from-home victory for the 2012 African champion, coming just two months after her move to nearby Eugene to join the Oregon Track Club.
Under the guidance of Mark Rowland, the Briton who took Olympic steeplechase bronze in Seoul in 1987 (and who placed fourth in the 3000m at the inaugural IAAF World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis in 1987), the 24-year-old has yet to finish outside the top two in a global final. She took silver behind South Africa’s Caster Semenya at the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2017 World Championships.
Niyonsaba will start as favourite when she defends her title in Birmingham but the field includes the two rivals who pushed her closest in Portland two years ago. Ajee Wilson won the silver medal then and the US runner also picked up bronze behind Semenya and Niyonsaba at last year’s World Championships in London. Kenya’s Margaret Wambui finished fourth in London but in 2016 she earned bronze in Portland, followed by Olympic bronze in Rio (behind Semenya and Niyonsaba).
Niyonsaba has yet to race in 2018 and only four women have bettered two minutes to date. Britain’s Laura Muir, who jointly heads the world list, will be contesting the 1500m and 3000m in Birmingham but Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu, who has also clocked 1:59.69, and Jamaican Natoya Goule (1:59.86) and Raevyn Rogers of the US (1:59.99) will all be competing.
Others to look out for include European Indoor silver medallist Shelayna Oskan-Clarke, who ran 2:00.06 from the front at the British Indoor Championships, and Angelika Cichocka, the fast-finishing Pole who captured a world indoor 800m silver on home ground in Sopot in 2014 and who claimed the European outdoor 1500m title in 2016.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF