Eugene, USADavid Oliver, the world's number one 110 metres hurdler last year will be seeking early redemption when clashing again with Liu Xiang at the Prefontaine Classic - Samsung Diamond League - meeting in Eugene on Saturday (4 June).
Oliver had a monumental 2010 season in which he won all 15 of his finals, lowered the four-year-old American record belonging to Dominic Arnold by 1/100sec to 12.89, and clinched the Diamond Race title, but in only his fourth meeting of 2010 outdoor campaign suffered a shock defeat in Shanghai on 15 May at the hands of Liu Xiang.
There were tumultuous crowd scenes in Shanghai after the final event of the programme, when the former World record holder, Olympic and World champion, in the city of his birth, using a new pattern of seven strides instead of eight to the first hurdle, outclassed the American.
Liu’s confident attitude and near faultless display earned him a world leading mark for the year of 13.07 seconds which has since been equalled by another of the "big 3" high hurdlers, Cuba's Olympic champion and World record holder Dayron Robles in Hengelo last weekend.
Liu, with this year's IAAF World Championships and ultimately regaining the Olympic title and World record on his mind, also motored to his quickest time for four years in Shanghai.
Now in Eugene for the fourth of the 14 meeting 2011 Samsung Diamond League - one of two legs in the USA - his latest head-to-head with Oliver promises to be the stand out contest tomorrow.
The 27-year-old prevented from repeating his 2004 Olympic success to the bewilderment and dismay of a shell shocked nation in Beijing three years ago, was naturally pleased to bring Oliver, who clocked 13.18, down to earth with his gun-to-tape win.
But Liu isn't yet prepared to announce that everything in the garden is smelling of roses and fully expects the Olympic bronze medallist, who effectively lost his rhythm in Shanghai, to bounce back very quickly.
“I don't believe David Oliver performed at his best form…, so i won," he emphasised after his victory in Shanghai, although with his new stride pattern to the first barrier and more speed between the remainder, Liu believes he can go much quicker.
Oliver after losing his winning streak of 18 successive races can be expected to counter attack at the Eugene venue which holds happy memories for him. The Hayward Field stadium, rightly considered the home of track and field home in the USA, 11 months ago saw him superbly equal the national record of 12.90 before lowering it further a couple of weeks later in Paris.
Now the 29-year-old giant whose 2010 campaign saw him five times duck under the 13sec barrier is expected to prove his Shanghai defeat was a one off so he can confidently continue his build-up to the World championships.
Stellar cast in ‘Track Town USA’
This year's Pre-Classic, as in its previous 36 high quality editions, has attracted the cream of global athletes - particularly those wearing the distinctive vests, shorts and shoes of the Nike stable in nearby Portland - to an event named after Steve Prefontaine one of the most promising runners of his generation who tragically died at the age of 24.
Pistorius and Semenya lead the way for South Africa
Caster Semenya, World 800m champion, making her first ever appearance on American soil, will line-up against some vintage opposition. The 20-year-old South African, who set her season's best of 2:00.61 at the Dakar World Challenge meet last Saturday, competes against reigning Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo and fellow Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei plus current world season leader Kenia Sinclair of Jamaica, and if Karen Shinkins again gets the pace right another fast race is on the cards. The meet record could even be under threat. That time was set last year by Russia's Mariya Savinova, who went on to win the European Championships crown, and who flew around the Eugene track in 1:57.56, with eight others smashing through the two minutes barrier.
Former World and Olympic 400m champion Jeremy Wariner is confident the injury which saw him fail to finish at the Ponce Grand Prix in Puerto Rico three weeks ago is fully healed and he can take the first step in defending his Diamond Race title.
It will also be a rehearsal for Wariner on the Eugene track before returning at the end of the month for the USA National Trials to clinch a team place for the IAAF World Championships (27 August-4 September) in Daegu.
The 27-year-old who was last year's world season leader will find himself coming up against Oscar Pistorius the South African "Blade Runner" himself determined to compete against his able bodied colleagues in Daegu.
2000 and 2008 Olympic 400m Hurdles gold medallist Angelo Taylor will again sharpen up his flat speed and there is the possibility that Grenada's Rondell Barthlomew's early April world lead of 44.65 could fall.
Patterson and Demus aim to win again on home soil
Mariya Abakumova, the Olympic Javelin Throw silver medallist has been regularly producing 65m plus throws this year and was a worthy winner of last week's Samsung Diamond League meeting in Rome with a world leader of 65.40.
However, the Russian knows she cannot take anything for granted particularly with the Czech Republic's World record holder Barbora Spotakova in the line-up along with Germany's ever consistent Christina Obergfoll.
There will also be plenty of attention paid to US record holder Kara Patterson, who after that performance (66.67) when winning the US title in Des Moines last year came to score an unexpected success with a new Pre-Classic record of 65.90. That pushed Slovenia’s Martina Ratej - also returns - and Spotakova into the minor placings, and given her good early season start when fourth with an effort of 62.76 in Rome, fans will be hoping she might spring another surprise this weekend.
Lashinda Demus, who set a Pre-Classic meet 400m Hurdles record of 53.03sec last July, returns determined to atone for the defeat she suffered at the hands of Kaliese Spencer in Shanghai. Demus, after going out fast then struggling with her technique, could not respond when the Jamaican, last year's overall Diamond Race winner, pounced with two hurdles left to go to win in a world leading time of 54.20.
Demus had a 3-1 win/loss record with Spencer overall last year but it might not be a two-way fight as another Jamaican Melaine Walker, the Olympic and World champion of Jamaica who finished third in Shanghai, should never be underestimated.
Ukhov and Saladino look for more success in Eugene
Former Pre-Classic champion Ivan Ukhov will be hard pressed to repeat his 2009 victory with a very high calibre High Jump field assembled, brimming with major Championship medallists. The Russian who cleared 2.34m two years ago may well be pushed to a higher height with the world lead of 2.35m cleared by fellow countryman Aleksey Dmitrik in Huelva, Spain on Thursday, under serious threat.
Ukhov, the reigning World Indoor champion, whose season's outdoor best of 2.32 came when beating Germany's Raul Spank - who is also in the Eugene line-up, on countback in Ostrava on Tuesday, will also be tested by the USA's top man Jesse Williams who has a 2.34 clearance in April under his belt, and currently leads the Diamond Race standings.
In the Long Jump, the USA's World champion Dwight Phillips who was beaten by a windy 8.46 jump from Panama's Irving Saladino last year, has been forced to withdraw from the meeting through injury. However, Saladino, the reigning Olympic champion, is back to defend his Eugene crown and looks set for a close contest with South Africa's Godfrey Mokoena, the runner-up in Beijing and at the Berlin World Championships.
Saladino will be boosted by his win in Hengelo last Saturday where with a minimal wind of +0.01 he cleared 8.30m to go second on the season's list behind Mitchell Watts' 8.44m which gained the Australian his win in Shanghai. Watts is an absentee but fellow Aussie and Commonwealth Games champion Fabrice LaPierre, who leapt a very windy 8.78m (3.1m/s) last year, will be in action along with Italian star Andrew Howe.
Koech looking for more points in defence of steeplechase crown
Paul Kipsiele Koech, the overall Diamond Race winner in the 3000 Steeplechase will be aiming to atone for his defeat in Shanghai by Brimin Kipruto. Koech a 7:56.37 performer at his best and the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist will be heartened that he produced a runaway victory in Ostrava on Tuesday when front running to a time of 8:02.55. 2004 Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi is making his season's steeplechase debut and should be a real danger.
Jeter versus Fraser-Price in stellar 100m field; Dix returns for 200m
Two-time World Championship 100m bronze medallist Carmelita Jeter again faces an awesome task after losing out to Veronica-Campbell-Brown in a thriller at Hayward Field a year ago. The world's second fastest 100m runner of all-time, who was runner-up in Shanghai last month behind Campbell-Brown, was last year defeated by Jamaica's double Olympic 200m champion who motored to what was then a personal best of 10.78 and the fastest 2010 time of the year.
The 31-year Jeter who went on to produce six sub-11sec performances in an excellent season and finished with a season's best of 10.82, will line up against Campbell-Brown's fellow countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, the reigning Olympic and World 100 champion. Fraser-Price after a couple of outings at 200, will be making her seasonal debut at the 100 distance.
Whether they can approach the World lead and PB of 10.76 which Campbell-Brown clocked in Ostrava is debatable but with two more Jamaican's Kerron Simpson and Sherone Stewart, who finished joint second at the Beijing Olympics also in the field, a very fast time is on the cards.
Trinidad's Kelly-Ann Baptiste the IAAF VTB/Bank Continental Cup winner and the host nation's Marshevet Myers are included in the best ever line-up at the Pre-Classic.
Walter Dix will defend his 200m title in Eugene, where a year ago he scored a thrilling victory ahead of Tyson Gay. Their thrilling battle down the home straight saw Dix just snatch victory by 0.04sec in a season's best and meet record of 19.72sec - ultimately the second fastest of the year behind Usain Bolt's 19.56.
This time the Beijing Olympic 100 and 200 bronze medallist whose four-year-old personal best stands at 19.69, will take on familiar opponents, Xavier "X-Man" Carter, fourth a year ago, while 33-year-old Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic champion and Beijing silver medallist, always performs well on his regular visits to Hayward Field.
Kiprop to defend Bowerman Mile title but will be under pressure
One of Eugene's great traditional races is the Bowerman Mile which will again ooze talent headed by reigning Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop who was last year’s winner, and a further nine who have clocked under 3:50 for the distance. As well as the usual African posse hungry for success, Kiprop, whose personal best is 3:48.50, will be challenged by New Zealand's Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis and three from the USA. If the pace-making is good, clearly the Bowerman record of 3:48.28 set in 2008 by World Indoor 1500 silver medallist Daniel Komen will be challenged.
Murer and Alekhina returning for more success
Inaugural Diamond Race winner in the Pole Vault, Fabiana Murer of Brazil, will come to Eugene confident she can repeat her victory here last year (4.58m) having improved her 2011 world lead to 4.70m on Thursday while claiming a fourth South American Championships title in Buenos Aires. The Pre-meeting record of 4.72 set by Stacy Dragila the American pioneer of the event nine years ago is clearly under threat.
Silke Spiegelburg, the German winner of the event in Shanghai, will be absent leaving Jenn Suhr, who set her US record of 4.92m in Eugene two years ago, Russia's former World record holder Svetlana Feofanova, and Olympic champion Anna Rogowska as the main vaulters to challenge Brazil’s World Indoor champion.
Teenager and World junior record holder Angelica Bengtsson could also snatch a podium place. The 17-year-old Swede has a best of 4.63 this year as she rapidly progresses into becoming a leading senior level pole vaulter.
In the Triple Jump, Nadezhda Alekhina is another 2010 Eugene winner to return, and the Russian champion will be aiming to eclipse the meet record of 14.62m which she set on that occasion. She’ll come under strong pressure from 2010 European champion Olga Saladuha who for good measure took third place in the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup last September.
It is probably the most wide open competition of the meet with three other notable Russians Anna Pyatykh, Anasatasiya Potapova and Yekaterina Kayukova having made the long tip to stake their claims for victory.
Olympic and World champions continue fierce rivalry
The Olympic and World Discus Throw champions, respectively Gerd Kanter of Estonia and Germany's Robert Harting are expected to renew their fierce rivalry but with Berlin World Championships silver medallist Piotr Malachowski, who was last year's Diamond Race winner, and veteran Lithuanian Virgilijus Alekna, the former two-time World and Olympic champion, in the field, this is no two-way competition.
Kanter ruled supreme in Doha in Harting’s absence destroying the hopes of Alekna when unleashing a then world lead of 67.49 in the final round. Harting who set the current world lead of 68.99 on 21 May and won last weekend in Hengelo with another 68m+ effort, will start his Samsung Diamond League season here in Eugene as the slight favourite.
Ostapchuk in a class of her own
Shot putter Nadezhda Ostapchuk, carried virtually all before her in 2010 until beaten by Valerie Adams in the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup, and comfortably won the Diamond Race Trophy for her event. Last August's European champion threw over 20m in all her 11 competitions as she fought some tough encounters with Adams and beat the New Zealander on seven occasions.
This will be Ostapchuk’s opening meet of 2011 and with Adams and China's World bronze medallist Lijiao Gong absentees it belongs to Ostapchuk's fellow Belarusian Natalya Mikhnevich, who took the silver medal behind her in Barcelona, to offer the strongest opposition.
There are several other appetising non-Samsung Diamond League events taking place on Saturday particularly another high profile 400 head-to-head between American superstars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross.
There should also be a close 1500 where Bahrain's world leader and double World champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal faces Olympic champion Nancy Langat of Kenya and Pre-Classic record holder Gelete Burka of Ethiopia.
In the men's 100m, with Tyson Gay having withdrawn injured, Jamaica's Steve Mullings who tops the world season list so far with 9.90sec takes on a US trio of Nesta Carter, Justin Gatlin, Mike Rodgers.
Sudan's double World Indoor 800m champion Abubaker Kaki and Boaz Lalang of Kenya both sub-1min 43sec performers, clash with surprise Samsung Diamond League Rome winner Khadevis Robinson.
In the Two Miles, there will an attempt on Kenya's Daniel Komen's long standing world best of 7:58.61. Tariku Bekele and Bernard Lagat will respectively lead the Ethiopian and USA challenge with Eliud Kipchoge hoping to succeed his fellow countryman as holder of the fastest ever time.
The Shot Put features Christian Cantwell, who threw a Pre-Classic record of 22.41m last year, and competes against familiar faces including fellow American Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa plus European champion Andrey Mikknevich from Belarussia.
Distance night tonight in Eugene
The women's 5000m Diamond Race, and a men's 10,000m with fields so strong they would easily grace a final at the World Championships or Olympics Games will take place tonight (3 June) on the eve of the main meeting, and there is also a combined men's 25km and 30km race being run as well. A report will follow later today.
Dave Martin for Samsung Diamond League