(Updated after withdrawal of David Storl on Thursday)
Less than four months after the opening meeting of the series, the 2013 IAAF Diamond League will reach a climax on Friday (6) in Brussels at the Belgacom Van Damme Memorial.
Fourteen meetings in 12 cities across three continents all boils down to this – the second of two finals in the IAAF Diamond League.
Last week in Zurich, the first final saw 16 Diamond Race winners crowned and 16 more Diamond Race events will be decided in the Belgian capital, although in nine of those events there will be no real contest – at least not in terms of the Diamond Race itself – as the current leaders are so far ahead of their rivals. All they need to do to guarantee their Diamond Trophy and USD$40,000 first prize is to simply line up for their discipline.
But it is all to play for in the remaining seven events and, as was the case in Zurich last week, there may well be some big surprises as athletes make one final dash for a big late-season pay day.
No less than 59 medallists from the recent IAAF World Championships in Moscow will take part in Brussels and nine events will feature the gold, silver and bronze medallists from the Russian capital.
One such discipline is the men’s 100m. Although it’s not a Diamond League event at this meeting, World and Olympic champion Usain Bolt is once again expected to be one of the headline performers, as he has been at the Van Damme Memorial on many occasions in recent years.
To date, the Jamaican has won four times in Brussels and three of those victories have been in the 100m. Two years ago he set a meeting record of 9.76, bettering by 0.01 his own meeting record from three years prior which was run into a -1.3m/s headwind.
This year Bolt will be up against five other 100m finalists from Moscow, including silver medallist Justin Gatlin and bronze medallist Nesta Carter.
Aside from the men’s 100m, there are many other events where the Moscow medallists will clash.
Of the Diamond League disciplines in Brussels which boast full sets of World Championships medallists, the men’s Javelin and women’s Steeplechase are the only two events where the Diamond Race is yet to be decided, making those contests doubly exciting.
World champion Vitezslav Vesely currently leads the Javelin standings and needs to finish in the top three to guarantee the overall title but, should the Czech thrower fail to do that, Finland's World silver medallist Tero Pitkamaki and Norway's two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen are also in with a chance.
Meanwhile, the top two Steeplechase finishers from Moscow – Milcah Chemos and Lydia Chepkurui – both have 12 points, so if either of the leading Kenyans win in Brussels, they will take the Diamond Trophy.
However, Ethiopia’s Sofia Assefa will feel as though she has something to prove, having claimed bronze in Moscow despite a fall in the latter stages of the race. If she wins on Friday and both Kenyans finish outside the top two, then she could steal the overall victory.
There is one event that not only features the three medallists from Moscow, but all eight finalists. In that regard, the women’s 400m is arguably one of the highest quality events on the programme as the top eight women in the world – seven of whom have dipped under 50 seconds this year – will face each other.
Botswana’s Amantle Montsho has an unassailable lead in the Diamond Race, but will be fired up to defeat Christine Ohuruogu, the Briton who pipped her by 0.04 to take gold in Moscow.
The Diamond Race has also been decided in the men’s Triple Jump, but with all three medallists and seven of the top eight finishers from Moscow, the event is set to a mouth-watering rematch of the IAAF World Championships.
Teddy Tamgho was one of the outstanding performers in Moscow, becoming just the third man in history to legally surpass the 18-metre barrier in the Triple Jump. What makes his achievement more exciting is that his winning leap was by no means perfect, and the Frenchman looks to have more in the bag.
Cuba's World silver medallist Pedro Pichardo and the USA's Olympic champion Christian Taylor are just the men to push Tamgho.
Germany’s World champion David Storl was a late withdrawal but the Diamond Race leader – and guaranteed champion – Ryan Whiting of the USA will be looking for another performance over 22 metres after his spectacular series in Zurich last week. Poland's two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski is also in the field.
Fraser-Pryce set for ‘double-double’
There will be five World Champions in Brussels with insurmountable leads in the Diamond Race.
One of those, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, is on course to achieve a unique feat by landing Diamond Race victories in both the 100m and 200m following her double triumph in those events at the World Championships.
Having secured the Diamond Race 200m title last week in Zurich, the Jamaican will be up against team-mates Kerron Stewart and Carrie Russell in the 100m in Brussels, as well as top US sprinters Alexandria Anderson and Barbara Pierre.
World 1500m champion Abeba Aregawi is undefeated this year in her specialist event, so victory in the Diamond Race is just a formality but the Swede won’t be allowed to rest on her laurels as she faces the two other medallists from Moscow, USA’s Jenny Simpson and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri.
Domestic battles in 5000m and High Jump
Little separates Ethiopian duo Hagos Gebrhiwet and Yenew Alamirew. While the latter has won their three 5000m clashes on the circuit this season, it was teenager Gebrhiwet who performed best at the World Championships, taking silver behind Mo Farah.
There are just two points between Gebrhiwet and Alamirew, so whoever finishes ahead of the other on Friday will take the Diamond Trophy. Britain’s double gold medallist won’t be in Brussels, but he was not a factor in the Diamond Race anyway.
Joining them on the start-line are nine of the top 10 finishers from Moscow, including World bronze medallist Isiah Koech, world leader Edwin Soi, 2012 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Galen Rupp and 2007 World champion Bernard Lagat. Pace-makers have been asked to set up the race for a clocking in the region of 12:50.
The women’s High Jump is similarly close with just two athletes left in contention, both of them Russian.
Olympic champion Anna Chicherova has a one-point lead over World champion Svetlana Shkolina. The latter is undefeated so far this year, but Chicherova has matched Shkolina’s winning heights on two occasions already this season. After taking bronze in Moscow, Chicherova won’t be short of motivation either.
Nor will 400m hurdlers Michael Tinsley and Javier Culson, for that matter. US champion Tinsley missed out on gold in Moscow by just 0.01, while Culson finished a disappointing sixth. World champion Jehue Gordon and Olympic champion Felix Sanchez will also be in Brussels, but Tinsley and Culson are the only athletes left in the Diamond Race with a chance of winning.
Golden opportunities for silver medallists Weir and Lavillenie
Had Bolt decided to contest the 200m in Brussels, he would have been in line to take the overall Diamond Race in the event, but his decision to focus on the shorter event throws open the half-lap sprint.
World silver medallist Warren Weir leads the standings by six points, so a top-two finish would land him with the Diamond Trophy. But if the Jamaican finishes third or lower, then team-mate Nickel Ashmeade or even Ukraine’s Serhiy Smelyk could steal the series victory – provided they cross the finish line first.
French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie is another World silver medallist who is on course for a big pay day in the Belgian capital in the absence of the World champion. The Olympic champion has finished second in both of his two previous outings in Brussels, so will want to rectify that.
Greece’s Konstantinos Filippidis is the only other athlete in with a shout of winning the Diamond Race, while Olympic silver medallist and Moscow bronze medallist Bjorn Otto is also in the field.
USA’s 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson just missed out on a medal of any colour in Moscow, but she will end her season on a high by taking the Diamond Trophy in the 100m Hurdles; her victory already assured.
She will face Australia's Olympic champion Sally Pearson, Great Britain's World bronze medallist Tiffany Porter and USA's Olympic bronze medallist Kellie Wells.
World champions Perkovic, Aman and Ibarguen guaranteed Diamond Race wins
Just one athlete so far this season has won at all seven Diamond League meetings for their event, but will Czech 400m hurdler Zuzana Hejnova be joined by Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic in achieving that feat?
The World and Olympic Discus champion hadn’t lost all season until just earlier this week. Competing in front of a home crowd in Zagreb, Perkovic was surprisingly beaten by USA’s Gia Lewis-Smallwood.
While Perkovic is guaranteed the Diamond Race victory, she is tantalisingly just one victory away from a ‘perfect seven’ in the Diamond League this season. Not only will she once again face Lewis-Smallwood, but also the silver and bronze medallists from Moscow – Melina Robert-Michon of France and Yarelys Barrios of Cuba.
In many ways, Ethiopian 800m runner Mohammed Aman is in a similar situation to Perkovic. He is also the World champion, he too has suffered just one loss this year, he is on course for the Diamond Race title, and he will be up against the other medallists from Moscow – USA’s Nick Symmonds and Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman. In fact, seven of the eight World Championships finalists will be in Brussels.
Similarly, Colombia’s World Triple Jump champion Caterine Ibarguen will round off her perfect year by lifting the Diamond Trophy. Her 11-point lead is too much for any of her rivals to make up, but 2011 World champion Olha Saladuha will likely again challenge Ibarguen on the night.
Aside from the Diamond League events, the Borlees will make history in the 400m by becoming the first set of three brothers to contest an event at a Diamond League meeting. Meanwhile, World 800m finalist Ajee Wilson of the USA could threaten the World junior best of 2:35.4 in the rarely-run 1000m.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF