Dalilah Muhammad on her way to winning the 400m hurdles at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich
The first 16 2019 IAAF Diamond League champions will be crowned on Thursday night at the Weltklasse in Zurich in what promises to be a dress rehearsal for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, which get underway in just over one month’s time.
The field assembled across 16 disciplines – the second 16 will be settled in Brussels next Friday (6) - is expected to include five Olympic champions, 11 world champions and 12 defending Diamond League champions, all having earned the right to battle it out for the series crown in a championship-style format adopted two years ago which has seen the first 12 Diamond League meetings of the season employed as qualifiers for this week's finals.
That means that every athlete arrives at their respective final with an equal opportunity of winning their discipline's Diamond Trophy and its accompanying US$50,000 winner’s top prize - and this year, a wildcard entry for next month’s IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
That winner-takes-all set-up produced several dramatic surprises the past two years and almost certainly will again in Zurich on Thursday and in the second final in Brussels next weekend.
The women's 400m hurdles will be among the evening's most anticipated races, featuring Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad in her first race since her sensational 52.20 world record run at the US Championships on 28 July. What has she been up to for the past month? We'll soon find out, but you can expect her to be well-prepared in her bid to capture a third straight Diamond Trophy.
She'll face Sydney McLaughlin, who finished second in Des Moines in 52.88, the second fastest performance of her young career. Muhammad, 29, holds a 4-1 edge lifetime over the 20-year-old, whose first victory over the Olympic champion came in Oslo this year, propelled by a powerful homestretch run.
If one of the four US women in the field wins in Zurich, then it will be down to USATF to decide which wildcard entry to use for the World Championships: the one earned by the Diamond League champion (whomever that may be, it would make way for Shamier Little - the fourth-placed finisher at the US Trials), or the one earned by 2017 world champion Kori Carter.
Warholm vs Benjamin
The men's event won't be bereft of two of its titans, with world champion Karsten Warholm taking on US champion Rai Benjamin.
Benjamin, the equal third-fastest man of all time, has clocked 47.16 this year while, Warholm, at 23 just a year Benjamin's senior, has twice lowered the European record this year, most recently to 47.12 in London to elevate himself to No.7 all time. Warholm is unbeaten in five competitions this year while Benjamin has won three of his four.
Kyron McMaster, the defending Diamond League champion, is working his way into form, most recently clocking 48.33 in Paris.
Summit of the six-metre men
The men's pole vault field also features a sensational cast. Three men have topped six metres this season, and all will be at Letzigrund Stadium on Thursday.
Sam Kendricks leads that elite club in 2019 after a 6.06m leap to the take the US title one month ago and lift him to the No.2 position outdoors all time. He's riding high, too, having topped 6.00m again last Saturday to take the win in Paris.
Armand Duplantis jumped that high last Saturday as well in the annual Sweden-Finland Duel, his second clearance at that formidable height this season.
Then there is Poland's Piotr Lisek, who topped 6.01m for victory in Lausanne and, a week later, 6.02m to win in Monaco.
In terms of consistency, that trio brings a lot to the pit. But don't discount NCAA champion Chris Nilsen and Olympic champion Thiago Braz, who have topped 5.95m and 5.92m, respectively, this year.
Meanwhile, the women's triple jump will kick off the Diamond League programme where Yulimar Rojas will start as the woman to beat.
With three leaps beyond 15 metres this season - nobody else in the world has sailed beyond that barrier in 2019 - the 23-year-old is poised to add the Diamond Trophy to her collection of honours which already include a pair of world titles indoors and one world title outdoors. She's lost just once in six outdoor appearances this year, to Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen who won't be in Zurich to defend her series title. On paper, Liadagmis Povea (14.77m) of Cuba and Jamaican Shanieka Ricketts (14.76m) are closest.
All-star line-up in the women’s 200m
A loaded women's 200m field tops the sprint programme, with a line-up that will quite likely closely resemble next month's World Championships final.
Elaine Thompson is the Olympic champion and world leader at 22.00, taking on two-time world champion Dafne Schippers, European champion Dina Asher-Smith, Nigerian Blessing Okagbare, at 22.05 the season's second fastest, and Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who will be chasing a third Diamond Trophy in the event, and a fourth overall. She's clocked 22.09 this season and arrives unbeaten in 2019.
Things are more clear in the women's 400m, where Salwa Eid Naser is the odds-on favourite to successfully defend her Diamond League title. The 21-year-old Bahraini is undefeated in seven competitions over the distance this year and has clocked 49.17, the second fastest performance in 2019. Nobody else in the field has dipped below 50 seconds. With 50.20 and 50.38 season's bests, Shakima Wimbley and Kendall Ellis of the US are closest.
The men's 100m looks to be a battle between world champion Justin Gatlin and 200m ace Noah Lyles, who has improved his best in the shorter dash to 9.86, the second fastest in the world this year. At 9.87, Gatlin is virtually even on paper. Gatlin collected series victories in Lausanne and Monaco while Lyles took a surprise victory in Shanghai.
South Africa's Akani Simbine, who has clocked 9.93, and European champion Zharnel Hughes, who has a 9.95 season's best, could also be in the hunt.
Hassan leads strong 1500m showdown
Sifan Hassan will attract much of the attention on the middle-distance programme as she leads a parade of stars in the 1500m. The Dutchwoman is still riding high from her 4:12.33 world mile record run in Monaco, where she clocked 3:55.30 en route, the fastest 1500m performance of the year.
She'll face world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba, who clocked 3:55.47 to edge her in Rabat, Shanghai winner Rababe Arafi and Germany's Konstanze Klosterhalfen, who has made significant progress over longer distances this season but still remains very much a force in the metric mile.
Middle-distance action begins with the men's 800m at 20:13, with Emmanuel Korir chasing a second successive Diamond League title. But it will be an uphill battle for the 24-year-old, who arrives without a victory to his credit this season and a modest season's best of just 1:44.50.
Nijel Amos is the year's fastest after his sizzling 1:41.89 in Monaco, and looks the man to beat. Kenyan Ferguson Cheruiyot, the winner in London, has also dipped under 1:43 and could be a factor, along with Donavan Brazier of the US and Kenyan Wyclife Kinyamal who raced to impressive wins in Rome and Lausanne, respectively.
Beatrice Chepkoech is the world record-holder in the steeplechase, the world leader at 8:55.58 and the winner of five of her six races in the discipline this year, credentials strong enough to put her in the favourite's role. She'll take on Kenyan compatriot Norah Jeruto, who defeated her in Oslo in 9:03.71, the year's second fastest time, and world champion Emma Coburn, who chased her home - albeit at a distance after recovering from a fall - in Chepkoech's world-leading run in Stanford.
And in the men's 5000m, Selemon Barega will defend his series title against a solid slate of Ethiopian compatriots, most notably Telahun Haile Bekele, whose breakout season included a 12:52.98 win in Rome, the fastest in the world this year.
Hofmann poised to repeat
Andreas Hofmann returns to defend his title in the javelin as one of the most consistent performers in this fiercely competitive event. The 27-year-old German champion won at two of the four series stops this season, and owns the third (89.65m) and fourth (89.40m) best throws of the year.
Estonia's Magnus Kirt has thrown farther, pacing the world with 90.61m and 90.34m efforts, but didn't manage a victory in the Diamond League - yet.
World champion Johannes Vetter, the winner in Oslo, and Asian record holder Cheng Chao-Tsun, who won in Birmingham, are also in the field, along with Thomas Röhler, the Olympic champion and 2014 Diamond Trophy winner, and Czech Jakub Vadlejch who took home series trophies in 2016 and 2017.
On the women’s side, four women have thrown the javelin beyond 67 metres this year, and all will be lining up on Thursday.
China's Lyu Huihui, who owns the season's three farthest throws, a string of Asian records topped by a 67.98m effort from 2 August, leads the charge, as she hopes to wrestle the Diamond League title from Tatsiana Khaladovich. The Belarusian, who has thrown 67.22m this season, will also expect a fierce challenge from Australian Kelsey Barber and Czech Nikola Khaladovich.
In the shot put, Lyu’s compatriot Gong Lijiao will be a strong favourite to collect her third straight Diamond Trophy, but the world champion will have to beat back a pair of rapidly improving throwers: US champion Chase Ealey, the winner in Shanghai who has thrown 19.67m in 2019 and Jamaican Danniel Thomas-Dodd, the Pan-American Games champion who has improved to 19.55m this year.
Manyonga vs Echevarria, again
In the men's long jump, world champion Luvo Manyonga and rising star Juan Miguel Echevarria will continue their rivalry, at the moment led by the young Cuban, 7-3. While Manyonga hasn't gotten the better of Echevarria this season, he has jumped farther with an 8.37m season's best to the Cuban's 8.34m. But neither has yet reached their peak form of the past few seasons, which could leave an opening for improving Jamaican Tajay Gayle and European champion Miltiadis Tentoglou, who both arrive with 8.32m season's bests.
Among the most open competitions is the men's high jump, an event which this year saw five different winners in six series stops. Bogdan Bondarenko took wins in Rome and Rabat earlier in the season but won't be in Zurich, leaving Michael Mason, London winner Majed Eddin Ghazal and Wang Yu, the winners in Paris, London and Shanghai, respectively, to battle it out. All three have topped 2.31m this season. The meet will also provide a good test for Mutaz Barshim, who continues his battle to come back from injury in time for a spirited defence of his world title on home soil in Doha one month from now.
Competition gets underway on Wednesday with the wildly popular pole vault competition at Zurich's main train station, this year hosting the finest women's pole vaulters on the planet in a non-scoring competition. The field includes world and Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi, world indoor champion Sandi Morris and Canadian record-holder Alysha Newman.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF