Conseslus Kipruto in the 3000m steeplechase at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Rome, Italy

Slew of tantalising face-offs on tap in Rome – IAAF Diamond League

How far can he go? Ahead of the fourth meeting of the IAAF Diamond League in Rome on Thursday evening (8), that is the question on everyone’s lips as Germany’s Thomas Rohler heads a star-studded field in the men’s javelin. 

During his last appearance in this realm – in Doha last month – the Olympic champion unleashed the longest throw in 20 years when launching the spear 93.90m, the sixth best throw of all time, and with ideal conditions set to grace the Olympic stadium on Thursday for the 37th edition of the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea, the 25-year-old will be looking for more heroics.

However, he will take on a field loaded with quality, facing 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott and a trio of world champions in Julius Yego, Vitezslav Vesely and Tero Pitkamaki. His German teammates Andreas Hofmann and Johannes Vetter, who have thrown 88.79m and 89.68m respectively this season, are also sure to be in contention.

Elsewhere in the field events, the women’s triple jump will make its debut at this year’s IAAF Diamond League, and is set to serve up a riveting duel.

Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen, the 2016 Olympic champion, has not been beaten in more than a year, but will come under threat from Venezuela’s world indoor champion Yulimar Rojas, the world leader by more than half a metre who has leapt 14.96m this year. Also in the line-up is 2012 Olympic champion Olga Rypakova and 2011 world champion Olga Saladukha, along with European champion Patricia Mamona.

Rio pole vault podium reunion

In the women’s pole vault, the entire Rio Olympic podium will re-unite, with Greece’s Ekaterini Stefanidi, USA’s Sandi Morris and New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney all set to compete. However, with world champion Yarisley Silva from Cuba and Britain’s Holly Bradshaw also in the line-up, it’s anyone’s guess who will take maximum IAAF Diamond League points on the night.

The women’s high jump, meanwhile, sees one athlete a class above the field, at least on paper. Maria Lasitskene, the 2015 world champion who is competing here as a neutral athlete, soared over 2.03m in Eugene 10 days ago, and that puts her well clear of her Rome rivals. The best of those, at least this year, is Poland’s Kamila Licwinko, who has cleared 1.96m, though Olympic champion Ruth Beitia will be hoping for a return to top form, having managed no better than 1.92m outdoors this season.

Olympic champion Michelle Carter will be the star attraction in the women’s shot put, but should face a tough contest with Rio bronze medallist Anita Marton and China’s Gong Lijao in opposition.

Kipruto and Dibaba highlight distance action

Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto proved unbeatable in the 3000m steeplechase last year, winning six times on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, and the Kenyan will look for more of the same in his 2017 debut in the event on Thursday. Kipruto was well off his best on his first race of the season in Doha, finishing 12th in the 3000m in 7:49.00, but should prove a different athlete back over the obstacles this week.

However, his compatriot Jairus Birech has always proven tough to beat in this realm and will look to reclaim that dominance, as will the event’s former king, Ezekiel Kemboi, who surrendered his Olympic title to Kipruto last year.

The women’s 5000m will see another world record attempt for Genzebe Dibaba, who came up short when chasing older sister Tirunesh’s mark of 14:11.15 in Eugene 11 days ago. However, this time around the Ethiopian is likely to have more company in the shape of Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, who clocked a world-leading 14:22.47 for the distance in Shanghai, three seconds quicker than Dibaba managed in Eugene a fortnight later.

Others to watch include Kenya’s Irine Cheptai, the world cross-country champion, and Ethiopian junior Letesenbet Gidey, who clocked 14:36.84 behind Obiri in Shanghai.

The men’s 800m will feature a clash between some of Europe and Africa’s finest, with European champion Adam Kszczot and fellow Pole Marcin Lewandowski taking on a sextet of formidable Kenyans. Chief among them is 2016 Diamond Trophy winner Ferguson Rotich, though U20 star Kipyegon Bett may well be the pre-race favourite, having taken an impressive win in Shanghai in 1:44.70, where he relegated two-time Olympic champion David Rudisha to fourth. Nijel Amos is another intriguing entrant, the Motswanan who has run 1:41.73 seeking to return to top form.

The women’s 1500m will be headlined by Sifan Hassan, the world indoor champion, who has run more than three seconds quicker than anyone in the field.

Baker looks to back up Eugene win

Ronnie Baker surprised everyone with a storming finish to win the 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene, clocking a wind-aided 9.86 (2.4m/s). With warm, dry conditions forecast for Thursday night, the 23-year-old US sprinter will be hoping for a repeat of that in this non-scoring race, but he will have to contend with France’s Jimmy Vicaut, who has run 9.97 this year, along with Yoshihide Kiryu, who has run 10.01 and seems destined to soon crack the 10-second barrier.

The women’s 100m features a head-to-head between an Olympic and world champion, though neither in the event they’ll contest in Rome. Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands, the world 200m champion, will square off over the shorter sprint against Tianna Bartoletta, the Olympic long jump champion. Of the two, Schippers is the fastest this year, having clocked 10.95 in California in April.

Canada’s Andre De Grasse is the top draw in the men’s 200m, the Olympic silver medallist squaring off against France’s Christophe Lemaitre, who was just a tenth of a second behind him in third in that Rio final. De Grasse was impressive in his sole 200m outing this year, clocking 20.14 to win in Kingston, Jamaica last month, though he will face stiff competition from Alonso Edward, who has won the past three editions of the Diamond Race, and Canadian teammates Aaron Brown and Brendan Rodney.

The men’s 110m hurdles is set to be one of the most competitive events, particularly in the absence of the all-conquering Omar McLeod. However, that paves the way for others to step into the limelight, like Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega, who has run 13.15 this year.

Britain’s Andrew Pozzi has clocked 13.19 this year and seems primed to soon hack lumps off that PB, while world record-holder Aries Merritt is the fastest in the field this year with 13.13. Others who can’t be discounted include 2013 world champion David Oliver, or indeed Sergey Shubenkov, the world champion.

The women’s 400m will see a clash between Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills, who has run 50.54 this year, and Natasha Hastings, who has run 50.74. Botswana’s Lydia Jele is another to consider, having clocked a PB of 50.32 in Pretoria in March.

The women’s 400m hurdles, which is not an IAAF Diamond League event in Rome, will bring together two-time world champion Zuzana Hejnova and European champion Sara Petersen, along with Jamaica’s Janieve Russell.

Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF