Preview Brussels, Belgium

Seven Olympic champions on show, 15 Diamond Races to be decided in Brussels

Usain Bolt of Jamaica is getting enthusiastic after competing in the Men's 200m Round 1 Heats on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 7, 2012 (Getty Images)Usain Bolt of Jamaica is getting enthusiastic after competing in the Men's 200m Round 1 Heats on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 7, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Brussels, BelgiumDouble Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt will be leading seven London champions at another sold-out edition of the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels on Friday night, the second of two 2012 Samsung Diamond League series finals.

As with the first final in Zürich a last Thursday, many of the sport’s biggest names will converge on the Belgian capital to battle for the Diamond Trophy in 15 remaining events.

Four athletes – Paul Kipsiele Koech, Barbora Spotakova, Kaliese Spencer and Chaunte Lowe - are coming to claim the Diamond Trophy they've already clinched, but the remaining 11 events are still very much up for grabs. Given the double points on offer in Zürich and Brussels - 8 for first, 4 for second and 2 for third – several scenarios and potential outcomes come into play in the battle for the remaining trophies and the USD 40,000 prize that accompanies it.

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It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that the most watched athlete this weekend will be Bolt, who will be wrapping up his season as the favourite in the 100m.

The 26-year-old Jamaican will be lining up over the short dash for the first time since his London triumph where he blazed to a 9.63 run, his and history’s second fastest performance. He’s won five of his six competitions this season, but that sole loss, to training partner Yohan Blake at the Jamaican championships, seems all but forgotten.

With 8 points, he’s sitting pretty in the Trophy chase as well: only American Ryan Bailey (9.88 SB, PB) with 6 points has the possibility to take the series-long title, but he has to win the race outright, or finish second with Bolt showing no better than fourth. That’s quite likely an order too tall for the rising American star. Jamaican Nickel Ashmeade (9.93 SB, PB), who won the Diamond Race in the 200m last week, and Nesta Carter (9.95 SB) are the field’s other sub-10 men in 2012.

200 PB for red-hot Blake?

Speaking of Blake, he’s in Brussels as well returning to the track that, he readily admits, changed his life. At this meet last year, Blake clocked a stunning 19.26 over the half lap underscoring the rise in the ranks he illustrated when winning the World 100m title in the wake of Bolt’s false start disqualification. Blake has continued his rise, taking double silver behind Bolt in London and improving his 100m PB to 9.69. This will be his first 200m outing since his superb 19.44 in London.

The event isn’t on the Samsung Diamond League programme, but it promises to be fast. Jamaicans Warren Weir (19.84 SB, PB), the Olympic bronze medallist and Jason Young (19.86 SB, PB) and European champion and World bronze medallist Christophe Lemaitre (19.91 SB) are also in the field.

Merritt vs Richardson, 2012 round 11

One of the finest head-to-head rivalries to emerge this season is that between Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson, one which has pushed the pair to the pinnacle of the 110m Hurdles. The two don’t shy away from each other, either: Brussels will mark their 11th meeting of the season and the third since Merritt beat Richardson to the Olympic title. Both will be racing here for the first time, and both have expressed a fond liking to the fast track.

Richardson brings a 14 to 10 lead in the Diamond Race, but Merritt comes armed with a hefty 7-3 edge in their meetings this season. Merritt’s been marginally faster and more consistent, with each of his seven career sub-13 second performances coming this season. With a 12.92 PB and three more 12.93s to his credit, an assault on Dayron Robles’s 12.87 World record is very real each time he steps onto the track.

Richardson has improved to 12.98 this season – three times – but his two victories in the Diamond League came in races where Merritt was disqualified.

Possible spoilers are Jamaican Hansle Parchment (13.12 SB, PB) the Olympic bronze medallist and U.S. record holder David Oliver (13.07 SB).

Spotakova and Lowe to collect their spoils

Another Olympic champion in the Brussels line-up is Czech star Barbora Spotakova in the Javelin Throw, one of the four athletes who have already clinched the Diamond Trophy in their respective events. After a Diamond League season that included victories in Rome, Lausanne and Birmingham, the twice Olympic champion and World record holder has chiseled together an unassailable lead with 18 points. All her top rivals will be here to try to rain on her parade: Olympic silver and bronze medallists Christina Obergfoll and Linda Stahl of Germany, 2011 World champion Mariya Abakumova and African record holder Sunette Viljoen.

Likewise in the High Jump where World indoor champion Chaunte Lowe arrives with 17 points and an eight-point advantage over Olympic champion Anna Chicherova (2.05 SB). Even if the latter wins and Lowe finishes out of the top three, the American’s four series victories would trump the Russian’s three as the tie-breaker. But Lowe (2.01m SB), the consummate competitor, will be looking to end her season on a high after a disappointing sixth place finish in London.

Olympic bronze medallist Svetlana Shkolina (2.03m SB, PB) is also in the field, along with Belgian favourite Tia Hellebaut (1.97m SB), the 2008 Olympic champion.

Down to the wire for Jelimo and Savinova

There’s also intriguing battle to the finish in the women’s 800m between the event’s last two Olympic champions. Pamela Jelimo, the Olympic winner in Beijing, arrives in control of her own destiny as the series leader with 12 points, five ahead of Mariya Savinova, the reigning Olympic champion. To lift the Diamond Trophy, Savinova will have to not only win outright, but will need Jelimo to finish no better than third. The two have split their four meetings this year, as well as their last two since the Olympics, with Jelimo winning in Lausanne and Savinova in Birmingham.

Potential spoilers? Nobody in the field is quite in their league this season; this season’s breakout talent Francine Niyonsaba (1:58.67 SB, PB) of Burundi is closest.

Can Kiprop fight off Gebremehdin?

A similar scenario is at work in the men’s 1500m where former Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop arrives with 14 points, five ahead of Ethiopian Mekonnen Gebremedhin who seems to have the better momentum at the moment. Kiprop will race for the first time since injury forced his to jog home in last place in the London final while Gebremedhin has impressed since, finishing second in Lausanne and winning in Birmingham.

Then again, the pair can be upstaged just as they were in London by the Olympic medallists, all three of which will be in Brussels: surprise winner Taoufik Makhloufi (3:30.80 SB, PB)of Algeria, who arrives on the heels of a solid victory in Zagreb on Tuesday; silver medallist Leo Manzano of the U.S.; and Moroccan Abdelaati Iguider. Makhloufi wants a fast race, too, and has requested 1:52/2:49 splits through 800 and 1200 metres.

Rypakova vs Saladukha in the Triple Jump, men’s Long Jump wide open

In the women’s Triple Jump, Olympic champion Olga Rypakova (14.98m SB) is in good position with 16 points, but will nonetheless have to keep up her guard against World champion Olha Saladukha (14.99 SB, PB). The latter has 10 points and if she wins does have a chance to steal the Trophy if Rypakova underperforms.

Conversely, the men’s Long Jump is very much up in the air where no less than seven can still conceivably take the Trophy.

With standings leader Mitchell Watt absent due to injury, Russian Alexander Menkov (8.24m SB) is in the driver’s seat with 9 points, five ahead of South African Godfrey Mokoena (8.29m SB). Menkov’s compatriot Sergey Morgunov (8.35m SB, PB), the World junior champion and World junior record holder, already has the ability to take on a spoiler’s role despite his 19 years. Meanwhile a groin injury forced Olympic champion Greg Rutherford to the sidelines.

Williams the standout at 200m

Charonda Williams (22.52 SB, PB) is just one race away from ending her first full international season as the Diamond Race winner in the 200m. The 25-year-old American, who took victories in the London and Stockholm series legs, has tallied 10 points, five ahead of Bianca Knight (22.46 SB), the only woman in the field who can surpass her for the Trophy. Knight will have to win to do it and Williams will have to help by finishing no better than third. The fastest in the field is Russian Aleksandra Fedoriva, who produced a career best 22.19 to win the national title in early July.

Can teenager Santos hold on in the 400m?

Rounding out the sprints is the men’s 400m where a home crowd boost for Belgian record holder Jonathan Borlée (44.43 SB, PB) can push him to a Diamond Race win. It won’t be easy for the 24-year-old, who has tallied 5 points in the series, half as many as 18-year-old Luguelin Santos (44.45) of the Dominican Republic whose unlikely rise this year has already culminated with an Olympic silver medal. Astonishingly, Santos has finished further back that second just once in a dozen races this season.

With 6 points, Angelo Taylor, whose full-lap hurdles honours are already the stuff of legend, also has a shot at the title, but he’ll need Santos to have a rare off day.

Spencer eyeing win along with Trophy

In the women’s 400m Hurdles, Olympic fourth placer Kaliese Spencer (53.49 SB) of Jamaica has already clinched the Diamond Race with 16 points, 9 ahead of compatriot Melaine Walker (53.74 SB). The pair are expected to hash it out for the victory, one that would be particularly important for Walker, the 2008 Olympic champion, who didn’t advance from the semis in London this year. Zuzana Hejnova (53.38 SB) surprised to get the bronze in London and could easily do so again here.

Kanter in pole position

Rounding out the field events programme are the men’s Discus Throw and a close battle in the women’s Pole Vault.

In the Discus, Olympic bronze champion Gerd Kanter (68.03m SB) is in strong position with 11 points; among the entrants only Virgilijus Alekna (70.28m SB), with 5 points, could overtake him. But to lift the trophy the ageless Lithuanian will have to win while Kanter finishes outside the top three.

The field also includes 68-metre men Lawrence Okoye (68.24m SB, PB) of Great Britain and Martin Wierig (68.33m SB, PB) of Germany.

Pole vault battle up in the air!

With just two points separating World champion Fabiana Murer (4.77m SB) of Brazil, Cuba’s Olympic silver medallist Yarisley Silva (4.75m SB, PB) and world leader Silke Spiegelburg (4.82m SB, PB) of Germany, the battle in the women’s Pole Vault is literally and figuratively up in the air.

Murer and Silva each arrive with 10 points to Spiegelburg’s 8; given their disappointments in London – Spiegelburg finished fourth while Murer didn’t reach the final – the German and Brazilian stars will want to end their seasons on the highest high possible.

Can anyone stop Koech?

We now turn to the distances, where one event has already been locked up and another is entirely up for grabs.

Paul Kipsiele Koech's prolific racing habit may not have landed him a spot on Kenya's Olympic team, but it has given the 30-year-old veteran an unbeatable lead in pursuit of the Diamond Race Trophy which he has come to Brussels to claim.

Koech (7:54.31 SB, PB) has won five of his seven races with his sole bad outing coming at the Kenyan trials where he was a distant seventh. He's the World leader at 7:54.31 from Rome, has run three of the year's four fastest times and collected 17 points in the Diamond Race, 9 ahead of the closest challenger, Jairus Kipchoge Birech (8:03.43 SB, PB), who is also in the race. Koech hasn’t mentioned a World record assault, but is targeting a performance in the 7:55 range.

Also in the field are Kenyans Abel Mutai (8:01.67 SB, PB) and Brimin Kipruto (8:01.73 SB, PB), third and fifth respectively at the Olympics along with quick teenager Conselus Kipruto (8:03.49 SB, PB).

Cherono-Cheruiyot showdown

In the women’s 5000m, Kenyan Mercy Cherono arrives as the standings leader with 12 points, 2 ahead of her compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot, but it will be the latter, this year’s Olympic silver medallist in the event and bronze medallist at 10,000m, who’ll start as favourite to lift a third consecutive Diamond Trophy in the event.

Cheruiyot is the world leader at 14:35.62, but perhaps more importantly, has beaten Cherono in each of their nine career meetings. A stronger challenge for the victory here, if not the overall title, will be Sally Kipyego, the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist and fourth place finisher in the 5000m. The field also includes Ethiopian Gelete Burka (14:41.43 SB) and Kenyan Sylvia Kibet (14:46.73 SB), currently third in the standings with 5 points. Laps of 69 seconds have been requested of the pacesetters.

10,000m World junior record assault

Finally, a Brussels institution is the men’s 10,000m. This year’s race, according to the Meeting Director Wilfried Meert, is a look at the future of the event. Kenyans Isiah Koech and Geoffrey Kirui will be the focus of attention as the pair, both juniors at 18 and 19, respectively, will be gunning for the 26:41.75 World junior record set by Sammy Wanjiru in Brussels in 2005.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF