The first day of competition at Luzhniki Stadium for the IAAF World Championships will be for distance and combined events fans, with medals being awarded in the women’s Marathon and the men’s 10,000m and the first day of the Decathlon.
It’s likely to be a scorcher for the women’s Marathon, which starts at 2pm local time, with temperatures in Moscow unusually warm and forecast to peak right as the women are on their final loop between the stadium and Red Square.
Heat may lend some credibility to the efforts of Mizuki Noguchi and Deena Kastor, gold and bronze medallists nine years ago at the sweltering Athens Olympics, and in the Marathon it matters less that the pair are now 35 and 40 respectively.
However, this may also be the last time Noguchi’s and Kastor’s names are mentioned before those of Tiki Gelana, the Olympic gold medallist just last year, or Edna Kiplagat, the defending World champion from Daegu.
Ethiopia and Kenya have sent extraordinarily deep squads as usual and will likely dominate the World Cup team scoring, even if the likes of Gelana, Kiplagat or sub-2:20 runner Lucy Kabuu have an off day. Third place will be an open question, but few countries take the Marathon more seriously than Japan, and the hosts are also likely to reach for a share of the honours on the first day of competition.
The men’s 10,000m brings to the track one of the biggest stars of the London Olympics, double gold medallist Mo Farah of Great Britain.
The race, which starts at 6.55pm local time, is widely regarded as Farah’s to lose, and if the warm temperatures hold into the evening, they will discourage his challengers from mounting the kind of determined early pace which would take the sting out of Farah’s enviable finishing kick.
If Farah does falter in his quest to collect the World title which eluded him by the width of Ibrahim Jeilan’s vest in Daegu, eyes will fall to both his training partner, London silver medallist Galen Rupp, and to Jeilan’s countryman Dejen Gebremeskel.
While Rupp’s form in 2013 has not yet echoed his 2012 results, Gebremeskel’s sub-27-minute debut at this distance earlier this year may have reminded some of his 2011 indoor Boston clash with Farah, when Gebremeskel defeated Farah over 3000m despite losing one of his shoes midway through the race.
With both shoes on and a favourable race strategy, Gebremeskel may have another chance to show Farah a clean pair of heels.
If Farah is not enough of a personality to draw the crowds, Ashton Eaton should be. The World record-holder since last summer and a fan favourite in nearby Estonia, Eaton has improved in several events which were previously his weaknesses.
More to the point, in setting his record Eaton won nearly every event, and his approach to each step of the Decathlon is to treat it like a final. Saturday’s Decathlon may be just the first of two days of competition, but to Eaton it is five finals spread over nearly eleven hours.
Finally, Saturday will see Usain Bolt’s debut in Russia, as the affable Jamaican runs his first round in the men’s 100m in a quest to regain the World title he won in Berlin but then let slip in Daegu.
Parker Morse for the IAAF