An array of world stars lined up to meet the media in Paris on Friday (3) ahead of the Meeting Areva Diamond League event at the Stade de France as the IAAF Diamond League continues after a three-week break.
Two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce arrived in the French capital full of confidence after running 10.79 at the Jamaican Championships last weekend, her fastest time since winning the world title in Moscow two years ago. So does she expect to run even faster here?
“I had a very good run in Jamaica last Friday,” she said. “I think I executed a solid 100m and it all came together. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to doing that again and I hope to get a better time.
“If I do what I’m supposed to do, I will run a very good time. My personal best is 10.70 so if I go below that at any time it would be fantastic. If it comes tomorrow then, yeah, I’ll take it.”
Fraser-Pryce explained that she will only run the 100m at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this August, a decision made by her coach to help her recover some sharpness at the start of races.
“It was a decision of my coach to help me get back to where I was in 2008,” she said. “He thought I’d strayed a bit from my explosive start of the past, partly through running 200m races. I hope to get that back this year with Rio in mind next year.
“I was beginning to get more comfortable with the 200m, but my coach has always guided me well and this was his decision. It’s just for this year. I will definitely double up again next year.”
Asked whether she finds it difficult to motivate herself to race against the same competitors at each IAAF Diamond League meeting, she said: “I like the competition of these women. It means there is no hiding place and gives me an opportunity to see my competitors. It means there are no surprises at the championships. I know each athlete in the blocks and what they are capable of.”
After two wind-assisted 15-metre leaps in Eugene, Colombia’s world triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen is preparing to attack that barrier again in Paris, although she says the world record of 15.50m may have to wait.
“It is always my objective to improve my performance,” she said. “I’ve been doing 14.80m, 14.90m and of course I want more – to go to 15.30m even 15.40m. This is what I expect and want to do this year.
“Tomorrow I will see what the feeling is between the track and the fans, and sense the atmosphere. If it feels good and I can execute what I’ve been trying to do with my coach, the goal will be to beat my best this season.
“Of course the world record is an objective. If it comes that would be perfect, but if it doesn’t it won’t be a problem. It will happen when it happens.”
Ibarguen will also be defending a winning streak that goes back to 2012, although she denied feeling any extra pressure because of her unbeaten record.
“I want to keep having victories from now to the World Championships,” she said. “I am doing this for myself but also for my country, and this takes the pressure off me.”
The pressure could be even more intense next year, when Ibarguen will be a favourite for Olympic gold on her home continent, although she claims to feel more excited than nervous about the prospect.
“Having the Olympics in South America is something we can all be very proud of, and it’s good for me because the Colombian fans will be able to come and see me compete and support me in the stadium. I hope to make them proud of my performance.”
Kirani James is another athlete who carries the hopes of his home region on his shoulders. The Olympic 400m champion hails from Grenada, but his performances are followed right across the Caribbean region.
“People are very supportive,” he said. “They are always in tune and keep up with my results. My job is to go out and make them proud.
“It’s also an honour and a privilege to represent the Caribbean region. The English-speaking islands are very closely connected and I get great support from people in the other islands. It’s quite overwhelming to get that support. There is a great bond.”
James will make his last IAAF Diamond League appearance of 2015 in Paris before returning home to prepare for the IAAF World Championships, a long-term strategy designed to ensure he’s in top form when he arrives in Beijing.
“We have always had a plan since before the season started,” he said. “The plan was to get some races in early. My schedule always revolves around the main competition of the year and making sure I am fully prepared for that meeting. I’m having a break after Paris is to make sure I go to the World Championships at my peak.
“My biggest challenge there will be to be consistent in the rounds and to make sure I don’t take my competitors for granted. I think this is going to be a defining year in our event because there are so many young guys coming up.
“It just seems to be one of those times when young people are understanding the event a bit better and that’s giving them confidence. Usually, people don’t get a grasp of it until they’re in their mid-20s but we can see this year that it doesn’t matter how young you are.”
With that in mind, how impressed was he with the new US champion, David Verburg, the 24-year-old who ran 44.41 to win the national title?
“I remember him from Paris two years ago and I ran against him in college,” said James. “He has always had a very competitive spirit. I congratulate him on being US champion.
“But they will all be great competitors tomorrow and I think it will be a great race. The fans are in for a treat this weekend.”
James is tipped by many as the man who will finally beat Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18, set when he was 32 in 1999, and he admitted the US sprinter’s approach to the event has provided him with a model.
“I have a philosophy that mirrors Michael Johnson’s longevity,” he said. “My plan is to stay in the sport as long as we can and be as consistent as I can be.”
And the world record itself? “As long as I stay consistent and work hard, anything can happen.”
Matthew Brown for the IAAF