Usain Bolt at the 2012 Rome Samsung Diamond League meeting (Giancarlo Colombo) © Copyright
Preview Oslo, Norway

Athletes of the Year Bolt and Pearson headline Bislett line-up - PREVIEW - Samsung Diamond League

Last season, Usain Bolt’s chose the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Oslo’s Bislett Stadium to run his first 200 metres in over a year, having cut short his 2010 programme with back and Achilles tendon problems. It poured with rain, but Bolt was weatherproof on the night as he won in 19.86sec – just five hundredths of a second off the stadium record.

A year on, Bolt is back at the ExxonMobil Bislett Games (Thu 7), this time on an evening when the forecast is for no rain and a temperature of around 16 degrees, in a 100 metres where his main rival, as so often down the years, is friend and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell.

Two years ago Powell set the stadium record of 9.72. Given that Bolt has already registered 9.76 in winning last week’s Samsung Diamond League meeting in Rome – the fastest time of the year so far – that Bislett record could be under threat.

Powell’s fastest this year is the 9.88sec he clocked as he finished one hundredth of a second behind former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin in the Doha Samsung Diamond League (11 May). Also likely to be in the mix is a third Jamaican, Lerone Clarke, who ran a personal best of 9.99 behind Gatlin and Powell in Doha.

Pearson’s European opener

Australia’s World 100m Hurdles champion Sally Pearson is hoping the effects of 29 hours’ of flights will not take too much of an edge off her European debut as she sets out on a season when her targets will include Olympic gold – and winning the Diamond Race Trophy that eluded her last season when she suffered a fall in the final event in Brussels.

The 25-year-old told a press conference here that, having run the fastest time of 2012, 12.49sec, early in March back home in Australia, she was looking for a similar time at the Bislett Stadium. But the women’s World Athlete of the Year will face determined opposition from home runner Christina Vukicevic, who has a best of 12,74, whom she first raced as a junior in 2004.

Vukicevic who this week described Pearson as "the best hurdler of the last 20 years", is hoping to be drawn to a fast time. She is likely to have her wish, particularly as the field includes World silver medallist Danielle Carruthers, who beat Pearson to the Diamond Race Trophy last year, and her American compatriot Lolo Jones, the double World Indoor champion.

Also present, and dangerous, are Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Canada, the 2010 Diamond Race winner, who ran 12.64 in Kingston last month, finishing one hundredth of a second ahead of Britain’s naturalised American Tiffany Porter, who is also in Oslo.

Like Vukicevic, Britain’s World Heptathlon silver medallist Jessica Ennis, who thought she had bettered her personal best of 12.79sec in Manchester earlier this year only to find that one too few hurdles had been laid out on the course, will also be hoping to be inspired to a fast performance.

Kiprop the favourite for the Dream Mile

Kenya’s World and Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop appears the man to beat in this year’s Dream Mile, having lowered his 1500m personal best to 3:29.78 at the Doha Samsung Diamond League and produced the fastest Mile time in the world this year, 3:49.40, at the Eugene Samsung Diamond League.

While the fellow countryman who narrowly beat him in Doha in a world-leading 3:29.63, Silas Kiplagat, is not competing in Oslo, there is the usual world class field for this historic event, and Kiprop’s challengers will include four other men who have run the mile in under 3min 50sec.

Mekonnen Gebremedhin of Ethiopia, with a best of 3:49.70, fellow Kenyans Daniel Kipchirchir Komen (3:48.28) and Caleb Ndiku (3:49.77) and Britain’s Andrew Baddeley, who set his best of 3:49.38 in winning the 2008 Dream Mile all have the ability to unsettle Kiprop, as do Morocco’s Amine Laalou, with a 3:52.12 to his credit this year, and another Kenyan, Bethwell Birgin, who ran a personal best of 3:50.43 and was third in Doha.

Javelin Throw – "Nobody has shown their cards yet"

Vitezslay Vesely of the Czech Republic has set the early pace in the Samsung Diamond League Javelin event, winning in Shanghai and then taking second place behind Latvia’s Vadims Vasilevskis in Eugene. The world’s best throw so far this season has come from New Zealand’s Stuart Farquhar, who managed 86.31m in Hiroshima in April. But there is the clear sense, with Norway’s double Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen and Germany’s 2011 World champion and Diamond Race winner Matthias De Zordo having made conservative starts to 2012, that the whole event is about to get thoroughly shaken up.

Thorkildsen certainly thinks so, as he made clear at his press conference today: "Vesely has been looking good, really consistent. But it kind of works like nobody has shown their cards yet. So I think this competition will be an important one to watch."

Thorkildsen had what was, for him, a nightmarish season last year, losing his World title and then, in the last Diamond League in Brussels, his Diamond Race. Second place behind Vesely in Ostrava last month, with an effort of 84.72, was encouraging for him, but he will be looking for more in the stadium where he set his personal best of 91.59m in 2006.

All of the above are in the field in Oslo, along with the always dangerous Tero Pitkämäki of Finland, the 2007 World champion, though the best currently from that traditional javelin throwing nation, and competing in Bislett, is Ari Mannio who was third in Shanghai and has a season’s best of 83.74.

Bekele looks for improvement

Olympic 5000 and 10,000m champion Kenenisa Bekele, who had to settle for fourth place in the last Samsung Diamond League 5000m at Eugene, will seek to sharpen his form as he looks towards retaining his titles in London.

The Ethiopian multi-world record holder, who had to settle for fourth place in Oregon in 13:01.48 in a race won by Britain’s World champion, Mo Farah, in a world-leading 12:56.98, will be looking for a faster time at the Bislett Stadium as he faces a field which includes four of his fellow countrymen who have all dipped under 13 minutes this season – Dejen Gebremeskel, Diamond Race champion Imane Merga, Silesi Shihine and his younger brother Tariku Bekele.

Of the Kenyan opposition, Lucas Rotich, with a personal best of 12:55.06, looks the most obvious contender, and the estimable Moses Kipsiro of Uganda, who defied a rampant Kenyan team at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games to complete a 5000/10,000m double, is also likely to figure at the front.

Aregawi to extend her youthful dominance?

The three women respectively first, second and third in the 1500m Diamond Race – Ethiopians Abeba Aregawi and Genzebe Dibaba, and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri – will all be present on the sheltered Bislett track. Dibaba’s win at the Shanghai Samsung Diamond League in a world-leading 3:57.77 left her compatriot a couple of seconds adrift, but the 20-year-old Aregawi asserted her dominance in startling fashion at the Rome Samsung Diamond League last week as she won in 3:56.54. Obiri, who finished runner-up in Rome in 3:59.68, is also likely to be in the mix in a race which includes the US runner who might have won the World title last year had she not been tripped in the final, and who re-asserted herself to take the Diamond race Trophy with a win in Brussels, Morgan Uceny.

Jamaican Olympic silver medallists head-up 200

In the women’s 200m, the Jamaicans who shared the Olympic 100m silver medal in Beijing, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart, will form formidable opposition for a field which also includes Charonda Williams of the United States and Britain’s Abi Oyepitan, who missed almost five years through injury after reaching the 2004 Olympic 200m final and is now working her way back towards another Olympics having returned to major racing with a silver in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. She will double up with an appearance in a 100m race that is not part of the Samsung Diamond League programme.

Montsho ready to bounce back

World 400m champion Amantle Montsho will not have to reckon with the former World champion Sanya Richards-Ross, who beat her in the Eugene Samsung Diamond League meeting in a world-leading 49.39. But the Botswana athlete, who recorded 49.62 for second place in Oregon, will face another strong US runner in Debbie Dunn, the 2010 World Indoor champion, and Jamaica’s 2009 World silver medallist Shericka Williams. Meanwhile Britain’s 2007 World silver medallist, Nicola Sanders, will be seeking to improve her season’s best of 52.33 as she works to re-assert herself as both an individual force and a relay power.

Poland vs Canada in Hoffa’s absence

Reese Hoffa, the former world shot put champion, has thrown down an impressive early-season marker by winning both the opening Diamond League competitions at Shanghai and Eugene, recording 20.98m and a world-leading 21.81 respectively as he edges closer to his personal best of 22.43, set in 2007, the year he won his World gold in Osaka.

But as the American has given Oslo a miss, there is a clear invitation to the two men who finished respectively second and third behind Hoffa in Oregon with 21.60 and 21.50, Poland’s Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski and Canada’s Dylan Armstrong, the defending Diamond Race champion, to make up some ground.

But there could be a strong challenge from Germany’s 20-year-old David Storl, who overtook Armstrong with his final throw at last year’s IAAF World Championships to claim the gold. With that kind of competitive instinct, Storl – who has managed 21.13 this year – should never be discounted.

Chemos seems a certain bet

Anyone hazarding a guess that the women’s 3000m Steeplechase is likely to finish with Kenya’s Milcah Chemos, winner of the two previous Samsung Diamond League races this season in Shanghai and Eugene, extending her lead in the Diamond Race with another victory bonus of four points is hardly likely to be looked at askance.

But Chemos will need to be on her toes against a strong Ethiopian contingent that includes the woman who chased her home in Oregon, Sofia Assefa, whose runner-up time of 9min 15.45sec is the second fastest this year behind the Kenyan’s 9:13.69.

Assefa’s compatriot Hiwot Ayalew, third in Eugene and this season’s rankings with 9:15.84 is also in the field, although Chemos has Kenyan back-up in the form of Lidya Chepkurui, who is the fourth fastest woman of 2012 so far with a 9:22.66 to her credit. Meanwhile Britain’s Eilish McColgan, daughter of 1991 World 10,000m champion Liz, will be seeking to better the Olympic A qualifying standard of 9:43.00.

Lavillenie to be challenged by Mohr

Renaud Lavillenie moved up to joint leadership of the Pole Vault Diamond Race which he has won for the last two years with the 5.82 clearance which earned him victory in Eugene, sharing that distinction with Yansheng Yang of China, who won in Shanghai with 5.65. The Chinese athlete will not be in Oslo, so the Frenchman – whose effort of 5.90 in Ostrava last month leads this year’s rankings – can do himself a bit of good as he seeks to retain his Diamond Race Trophy.

But he will be pressed by Bjorn Otto, the German who has also cleared 5.82, and his compatriot Malte Mohr, who has done 5.72 this season.

Lowe’s eyes will be on Hellebaut

Chaunte Lowe, a winner in Shanghai in 1.92m and third in Eugene with an effort of 1.97, can extend her lead in the event against a field in which only one other points scorer is present – Marina Aitova of Kazakhstan, who has jumped 1.88 this season. Lowe is already second in this year’s rankings behind the World champion Anna Chicherova, having cleared 2.00m.
But Lowe will beware the presence of Belgium’s Tia Hellebaut, surprise winner of the Olympic title in Beijing, jumped 1.96 in Rabat last month.

400m Hurdles - Daegu gold and silver medallists to battle it out

Britain’s World 400m Hurdles champion David Greene makes his first Diamond League appearance of the season against a field that includes the Puerto Rican whom he overhauled in the closing stages of last year’s final in Daegu, Javier Culson.

In the absence of the two leading US contenders Angelo Taylor – who will seek a third Olympic title this year – and Bershawn Jackson, the World gold and silver medallists look likely to contest another man-to-man battle.

Culson’s 48.00sec clocking last month is the fastest so far this year, but that is a statistic which looks like changing sooner rather than later – and perhaps it will change here.

Kucherenko on paper the favourite

Victory in Shanghai and a third place in Eugene has put Janay Deloach, who has a 2012 best of 6.79m, in pole position for the Diamond Race Trophy for the women’s Long Jump. The American will be in Oslo to maintain her lead, but she will not find that an easy proposition against a field that includes Russia’s Olga Kucherenko, who is second in this season’s rankings with 7.03m, Britain’s naturalised Anguillan Shara Proctor, who has jumped 6.84, and Latvia’s European champion Ineta Radevica, who has a 6.64 to her credit this year.

Taylor set to move out ahead in the Diamond Race

World Triple Jump champion Christian Taylor has a clear opportunity to move ahead in the Diamond Race in the absence of the Briton who currently shares the lead with him on five points, Phillips Idowu. While Idowu, beaten into second place by the American in Daegu last year, started his year off on a high with victory over his rival in difficult conditions at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting, Taylor reversed the order in Eugene with an effort of 17.62m, which tops the 2012 lists, with Idowu, who has a best this year of 17.31, having to settle for third place.

Despite the Briton’s absence, however, Taylor will have to be at the top of his form to better the Russian whose effort of 17.53 in Sochi last month puts him second in this season’s world list, Lyukman Adams, and also Osviel Hernandez of Cuba, third in the rankings with the 17.39 he reached early in the year in Havana. Hernandez’ colleague Alexis Copello, a world bronze medallist in 2009, will also be in the hunt.

Perkovic takes on Muller and Barrios

Sandra Perkovic has established a clear lead in the women’s discus Diamond Race with her victories at Shanghai, in 68.24m, and Eugene (66.92). But the Croatian will have a tough job to maintain her pre-eminence against two other hugely experience throwers making their first appearance in this season’s Samsung Diamond League – Nadine Muller of Germany, who leads the 2012 lists with her effort of 68.89 two months ago, and Cuba’s Olympic silver medallist Yarelys Barrios, who is third in the rankings after throwing a personal best of 68.03 in Havana earlier this year.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF