The London leg of the 2013 IAAF Diamond League series, across two days on Friday and Saturday (26-27) has a new name this year, a new venue, and a new prominent place in Britain’s bright and shiny summer of sport.
For years known as the London Grand Prix and housed at the Crystal Palace stadium in deepest south London, it has been re-branded the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games, relocated to the east end’s Olympic Stadium, and adopted as the centre piece of the ‘one-year-on from London 2012’ celebrations.
The meeting famously sold out all 120,000 tickets for the two-day athletics programme in 75 minutes and there’s clearly a hunger here to relive the heightened emotions and intense experience of last summer’s extravaganza when Ennis, Bolt, Farah, Rudisha, and many others, briefly displaced football as the focus of pub talk all across the country.
Not surprisingly, the British Athletics organisers have put a lot of effort into getting as many of the big names back as they can, including the triple-striking London Lightning himself, Usain Bolt, who will be one of 11 London 2012 Olympic Games champions and four World record holders at the meeting.
Bolt races over 100m at the climax of Friday night’s action against his countryman Nesta Carter, the ever-present Kim Collins, Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, US pair Michael Rodgers and Charles Silmon, new British whizz-kid James Dasaolu, and UK champion Dwain Chambers.
With his modest season’s best of 9.94 from the Jamaican championships, Bolt’s in the somewhat unusual position of not being the fastest man on the start line, and he’ll want to put down a marker ahead of the IAAF World Championships in two weeks’ time.
Carter lines up with a season’s best of 9.87, followed by Dasaolu, who had a shock personal best of 9.91 at the British Championships two weeks ago. It will be intriguing to see how the latter handles the spotlight and the inevitable sideshow that will go on around him.
Bolt will be there for the meeting’s finale too, at the end of Saturday afternoon’s action, when he races in a 4x100m Relay for his Racers Track Club team from Jamaica, against two British quartets and others from Europe, Canada and Australia.
This race will immediately follow the meeting’s other showcase event, a 3000m featuring Mo Farah against Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele, USA’s Dathan Ritzenhein and Kenyans Gideon Gathimba and Ismael Kombich, the timing of which rather suggests Farah and Bolt are likely to revisit their celebration-swapping antics from the concluding moments of the London 2012 track programme.
James and Bolt face old foes on the track
Celebratory scenes aside, there is of course a dense programme of top class Diamond League action in prospect over the two sessions, including a virtual repeat of the Olympic Games men’s 400m final featuring Grenada’s gold medallist Kirani James and Dominican Republic’s silver medallist Luguelin Santos, plus USA’s Tony McQuay Belgium’s Kevin Borlée and Saudi Arabia’s Asian champion Youssef Ahmed Masrahi.
Friday’s track action also includes a men’s 200m with Bolt’s compatriot and Olympic bronze medallist Warren Weir against Fellow Jamaican Jason Young, Lemaitre, Dutch sprinter Churandy Martina, France’s Jimmy Vicaut and USA’s Wallace Spearmon, while the pick of the women’s track action could be the 400m Hurdles in which the Czech Republic’s in-form Diamond Race leader Zuzana Hejnová takes on the US world leader Kori Carter and Britain’s local girl Perri Shakes-Drayton, who was born and lives nearby the Olympic Stadium.
Shannon Rowbury is one of a glut of US athletes in the women’s 3000m where Great Britain’s Steph Twell and Emelia Gorecka, fresh from her European junior triumph last weekend, will also be in the spotlight.
The 800m, meanwhile, features five women who have gone below two minutes this year: including Britain’s Marilyn Okoro, plus the US pair of Brenda Martinez and Ajee Wilson.
In the men’s 800m, a non-Diamond League event, a trio of US sub-1:44 men, Brandon Johnson, Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds, take on Poland’s 2012 World Indoor bronze medallist Adam Kszczot.
There are also four high quality field events, not least the women’s Pole Vault where Cuba’s Yarisley Silva faces Brazil’s 2011 World champion Fabiana Murer and the US 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr.
Barshim v Bondarenko High Jump battle
The men’s High Jump features Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko, the pair having cleared 2.40m and 2.41m respectively this season, while the men’s Discus includes Poland’s world leader Piotr Malachowski against Lithuania’s Virgilijus Alekna, Estonia’s Gerd Kanter and Iran’s Ehsan Hadadi.
Russia’s Yekaterina Koneva and all-time great Tatyana Lebedeva will be in action in the women’s Triple Jump, plus Israel’s Hanna Knyazheva and Great Britain’s 2012 World Indoor Championships gold medallist Yamilé Aldama.
Among the key Diamond League events on Saturday is the women’s 100m in which Nigeria’s multi-talented Blessing Okagbare will be looking to repeat her Birmingham success over Jamaica’s two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the USA’s 2011 World champion Carmelita Jeter, with 2013 US champion English Gardner and Trinidad and Tobago’s in-form Kelly-Ann Baptiste also in the field.
The men’s 110m Hurdles is similarly loaded with Olympic champion and World record holder Aries Merritt looking to continue his return to form against 2013 World leader David Oliver, 2011 World champion Jason Richardson and the Cuban pair of Dayron Robles and Orlando Ortega.
Kenyans Brimin Kipruto, Gilbert Kirui and Jarius Birech feature in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase, while USA’s Galen Rupp looks to sharpen up for Moscow in the famous Emsley Carr Mile against his compatriot Matt Centrowitz and the Kenya’s Augustine Choge and Daniel Komen.
There are four quality non-Diamond League track events, the pick of which is arguably the women’s 100m Hurdles, which has two London 2012 champions – Sally Pearson and Jessica Ennis-Hill – against Britain’s Tiffany Porter and American hurdlers Nia Ali and Kellie Wells.
One Olympic champion who will be missing is Britain’s injured gold medallist Greg Rutherford from the Long Jump, one of three Diamond League field events on Saturday, but the super-consistent Russian Aleksandr Menkov will be up against Mexico’s new find, world leader Luis Rivera.
New Zealand’s Valerie Adams will expect to continue her unbeaten season in the women’s Shot Put against USA’s Michelle Carter and Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, while Russia’s 2011 World champion Mariya Abukamova faces the German pair of Christina Obergföll and Linda Stahl in the Javelin.
There are no Diamond race points on offer for Renaud Lavillenie but no doubt the Frenchman will have ambitions of soaring towards six metres again in the men’s Pole Vault.
The fitness-chasing Ennis-Hill is slated to appear again in the women’s Long Jump against Americans Janay Deloach and Funmi Jimoh.
No doubt her presence will be a huge boost to British Athletics, not to mention the sponsors, for no Olympic encore could really be complete without the poster girl of London 2012.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF