While the race over 110m Hurdles between David Oliver and local hero Xiang Liu is the most eagerly awaited feature of tomorrow’s Dunlop Shanghai Golden Grand Prix here (16), the second Samsung Diamond League meeting of the season offers a wealth of rivalries as athletes such as Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Carmelita Jeter, Blanka Vlasic, Brimin Kipruto and Andreas Thorkildsen seek another important marker in the year of the IAAF World Championships, Daegu 2011.
[NOTE: Start lists are now available here.]
Liu Xiang, who was born in Shanghai, is in far better shape than he was at this meeting a year ago, when his 13-month lay-off following the Achilles tendon injury which ruined his 2008 Olympic ambitions had left him lacking in confidence ahead of a race where he was beaten not only by Oliver, who set a meeting record of 12.99sec in the process, but by fellow Chinese athlete Shi Dongpeng, finishing in 13.40.
Oliver said today that he was expecting Liu Xiang to run around 13 seconds flat; Liu, for his part, said he was not expecting to run that fast, but would merely try to keep up with the man whose victory in Daegu on Thursday (12) was his 18th straight unbeaten outdoor performance, dating back to the last race of the 2009 season.
Should either of the big names fail to deliver, however, Oliver’s US colleague Ryan Wilson will be waiting to take advantage.
Powell - 'In good shape'
Asafa Powell’s last performance was far from convincing, as he limped home last in the 200m, timed at 21.40, at last Saturday’s Kingston International Invitational, an IAAF World Challenge meeting. But he maintained on Friday that he was “in good shape”.
The former World record holder insisted he had deliberately slowed during the closing stages of his race, which was won in 19.96 by Jamaica’s 21-year-old talent Nickel Ashmeade, in order to ensure he did not exacerbate a hamstring problem which he thought might possibly be related to the back problem which had caused him to bring his 2010 campaign to an early close.
Powell races against a field which includes local runner Yao Li, the 25-year-old Asian Games winner who has a best of 10.21, and Churandy Martina, who set his personal best of 9.93 at the Beijing Olympics, where he lost the 200m silver medal on appeal after running out of his lane.
If Powell is fit, he should not have too much trouble winning. He hinted on Friday that he was ready to match his opening Samsung Diamond League flourish of last year, when he clocked 9.75 and 9.81 with a following wind of 2.3mps, just 0.3 over the allowable limit for record purposes.
“My coach says I am in better shape than I was last year, so we will see what happens.” Powell said.
Women's 100 - Hard to call
The Women’s 100m, which includes Jeter and Campbell-Brown, is harder to call.
Jeter, who won here in 2009 in 10.64, earned another victory on the Shanghai track en route to winning the Diamond Race Trophy, but Jamaica’s double Olympic 200m champion finished atop of the 2010 world lists with 10.78.
Jeter impressed at the Kingston meeting, where she won the 100m in 10.86, holding off Trinidad and Tobago’s Kelly-Ann Baptiste, who clocked 10.94, and Jamaica’s Sherone Simpson, who finished in 11.07.
The American said afterwards that she was not yet “in shape”, but that she was working to get there. She added: “Now I have to start putting my race together.”
If she can do that it may be hard for Campbell-Brown to stay with her, but the Jamaican is in a good frame of mind after clocking a wind-assisted time of 22.37 in the Kingston 200m behind the winner, her team mate Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The world and Olympic 100m champion won in 22.10.
“I am very satisfied with the start I have made to the season,” said Campbell-Brown, whose ambition it is to double up once again at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu. Victory over the field here would be an excellent present for her given that she will be racing on her 29th birthday.
Thorkildsen - Making up for Doha defeat
Norway’s Olympic and World Javelin Throw champion Andreas Thorkildsen got off to a modest start in Doha when he finished fifth in windy conditions. The winner there was Czech Republic’s Petr Frydrych with the second longest throw of the season, 85.32m, who is coached by Jan Zelezny, the man who still holds the World record of 98.48m which the Norwegian covets.
Happy memories for Demus
The women’s 400m Hurdles offers another compelling head-to-head as Lashinda Demus, the double World 400m Hurdles silver medallist from the United States, faces Jamaica’s Kaliese Spenser who dipped under 54 seconds twice as many times as the American last year.
Demus ran the world’s fastest time last year, 52.82, and has happy memories of this track, where she won last year’s Samsung Diamond League race in a meeting record of 53.34 which could well be put under pressure on this occasion. Spencer will also be coming to the party with confidence high, having clocked times under 54 seconds on six occasions last year.
Kiprop back to the 1500
Kenya’s Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop, who won the opening Samsung Diamond League 800m in Doha, will be back in his specialist event against a field which includes 13 fellow countrymen, two Chinese and a sole Ethiopian – Gebremedhin Mekonnen.
Mekonnen was cheered home by a vociferous, flag-waving contingent of fellow countrymen as he finished third in a 1500m race run outside the Diamond League framework in Doha, chasing home two Kenyans, Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Chepseba, whose winning time of 3:31.84 is the mark Kiprop will have to break if he is to go top of this year’s world listings.
Kipruto vs Mateelong vs Yego
The latest Olympic 3000m Steeplechase champion to come out of Kenya, Brimin Kipruto, fastest man in the world last year, meets fellow Kenyan Richard Mateelong, the Beijing Olympic bronze medallist and World silver medallist.
Mateelong finished seventh in the world listings last year, with Kipruto top thanks to his winning performance of 8:00.90 in Paris. But both men will be under pressure from fellow Kenyan Hillary Yego, who won in Daegu after overhauling Mateelong at the last barrier. The 19-year-old Yego recorded a world-leading time of 8:12.08.
The women’s 5000m is similarly packed with African talent. Leading the charge is Kenyan World 5000m champion, Vivian Cheruiyot whose rivals include the World 10,000m champion, fellow Kenyan Linet Masai.
Vlasic starts outdoor season
In the women’s High Jump, World Athlete of the Year Blanka Vlasic, in her first competition of the outdoor season, will face the challenge of the 2004 Olympic champion, Yelena Slesarenko, who is making a good comeback after injury. Home followers will be looking out for Zheng Xingjuan, who won the event in Daegu with a world-leading mark of 1.94m, finishing ahead of Marina Aitova of Kazakhstan, who is also in the field here, on countback.
At the age of 22, this Chinese jumper, whose top class career began at the age of 16, could be about to make another giant leap upward in her career. Shanghai would be the perfect place to do it against the woman who is acknowledged as the finest current exponent of her event.
Aitova, who jumped an Asian record of 1.99m in 2009, missed the 2010 outdoor season, but she too could lay down a marker for the World Championships.
Cuban - Russia duel in the triple
The women’s Triple Jump brings together all three medallists at the last World Championships, namely Yargelis Savigne and Mabel Gay of Cuba and Russia’s Anna Pyatykh, who won gold, silver and bronze respectively.
Savigne has already laid claim to a position as favourite to retain her title having laid down an early season world-leading performance with the mark of 14.95m she recorded in winning the event at home in Havana in late March, also registering the second furthest distance recorded so far this year, 14.92m, for good measure.
Gay finished in second place with the second furthest distance, 14.65, to confirm that the Cuban challenge will be just as strong in this event in 2011.
There is a similarly strong field in the women’s Discus Throw, where the home crowd will be cheering their Asian No.1 and 2010 IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup champion, Yanfeng Li, who faces the gold and silver medallists, Dani Samuels of Australia and Cuba’s Yarelis Barrios.
Home hopes are even higher in the women’s Shot, where there is a strong Chinese trio of World bronze medallist Lijao Gong, Li Ling and Xiangrong Liu, but the Olympic silver medallist, Natallia Mikhnevich of Belarus, may spoil the party.
Olympic champion Dwight Phillips will attempt to earn revenge for his Long Jump defeat here last year by Australia’s Fabrice Lapierre.
An open women’s 800m offers Britain’s Jennifer Meadows the opportunity to get her season off to an encouraging start as she looks ahead to the Daegu World Championships.
Germany’s double European silver medallist, indoors and out, Silke Spiegelburg, goes in a Pole Vault that will unfortunately be lacking the presence of Russia’s Yuliya Golubchikova, who broke her leg at the Daegu meeting.
Greg Nixon of the United States, fourth fastest in the world last year with 44.61, looks favourite to win a 400m that also includes Sean Wroe of Australia.
Mike Rowbottom for the Samsung Diamond League