The Sainsbury’s Birmingham Grand Prix may have been hit by several high-profile withdrawals over the past 24 hours, but many of the world’s top stars will still be heading to the IAAF Diamond League meeting on Sunday (7).
In terms of depth and quality, perhaps the best event on the programme is the men’s javelin as it brings together world champion Vitezslav Vesely, Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott, European champion Antti Ruuskanen, Commonwealth champion Julius Yego, 2014 Diamond Race winner Thomas Rohler, world leader Tero Pitkamaki and African record-holder Ihab Abdelrahman.
So competitive is the event at the moment, no one has yet emerged as the outstanding thrower in 2015; any one of these athletes could conceivably win on Sunday. Andreas Thorkildsen’s 2011 stadium record of 88.30m could even come under threat.
Several of these athletes clashed at the most recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome with Vesely coming out on top with 88.14m, less than half a metre shy of Pitkamaki’s world-leading mark of 88.62m set when winning at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of 2015 in Doha.
Yego, meanwhile, has improved his Kenyan record in his two most recent encounters, throwing 86.88m in Ostrava and 87.71m in Rome. Trinidad and Tobago’s Walcott is also on the up, extending his national record to 86.20m to finish third in Rome.
The women’s 1500m and men’s 800m also boast closely matched fields.
European champion Sifan Hassan was beaten by world junior champion Dawit Seyaum in their first clash of the year, the Ethiopian teenager winning in Doha by almost half a second over her Dutch rival. But Hassan gained revenge recently in Rome, finishing just 0.08 ahead of Seyaum to take second place.
The pair will renew their rivalry on Sunday and will line up against world champion Abeba Aregawi, who triumphed when the 1500m was last held at this meeting in 2013. The Swede finished a distant seventh behind the pair earlier this year in Doha, but more recently finished fourth in the 800m in Eugene in 1:59.98 to show improved form.
Having finished second to Mohammed Aman in his past two IAAF Diamond League appearances, Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos will not be joined by his Ethiopian rival on the start line in Birmingham, so will be hopeful of taking his first 800m victory of 2015.
The Commonwealth and African champion clocked a season’s best of 1:43.80 in Rome to finish ahead of Kenya’s Job Kinyor and Poland’s Adam Kszczot, both of whom also ran faster than 1:44 and will be in Birmingham.
European indoor champion Marcin Lewandowski, winner at the recent IAAF World Challenge meetings in Hengelo and Ostrava, and Olympic 1500m champion Taoufik Makhloufi will also be in the field.
If it’s a fast race, Mark Everett’s meeting record of 1:43.93 – the oldest of the men’s meeting records, which dates from 1991 when it was actually staged in Sheffield – could be broken.
Taylor, Perkovic and Schwanitz set to dominate
With the Rome and Birmingham legs of the IAAF Diamond League falling within three days of each other and the men’s triple jump featuring on both programmes, it’s understandable that the year’s two best performers wouldn’t be at both meetings.
So following Pedro Pablo Pichardo’s 17.96m victory in the Italian capital, USA’s Olympic champion Christian Taylor will want to produce a performance in Birmingham to let his Cuban rival know that he can’t rest on his laurels ahead of their anticipated clash in New York next Saturday.
Both athletes jumped beyond 18 metres in Doha last month and the men’s triple jump is shaping up to be the standout event of 2015. Taylor went on to win in Ostrava, breaking the meeting record there, and he could do likewise in Birmingham.
His target on this occasion is Christian Olsson’s 17.74m leap from 2003, achieved when the meeting was held in Gateshead.
Taylor already holds the stadium record at 17.66m, set two years ago.
Like Taylor, discus thrower Sandra Perkovic and shot putter Christina Schwanitz are the overwhelming favourites in their events.
Perkovic will be looking for her third IAAF Diamond League win of the year, following victories in Doha and Rome.
The Croatian already holds the meeting record for many of the competitions in the series, but Birmingham is not one of them. A throw farther than 66.16m will be enough to cross this one off her list.
Schwanitz may lead the world lists with her 20.77m putt in Beijing, but she doesn’t yet lead the Diamond Race standings. The German will look to put that right in Birmingham.
High-quality hurdles, despite drop-outs
The unfortunate wrist injury sustained by Sally Pearson in Rome meant the Olympic champion was forced to withdraw from the 100m hurdles in Birmingham. Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill also pulled out of the meeting to allow herself time to recover following her competition in Gotzis at the end of May.
But the event still oozes quality. World leader Jasmin Stowers, who also clattered a hurdle in Rome, will aim to get her season back on track. Pearson’s 12.48 meeting record seems a realistic target for the US sprint hurdler who has run 12.40 or quicker on three occasions this year.
USA’s 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper Nelson will be keen to maintain her winning streak in Birmingham, having won at this meeting for the past two years. Britain’s European champion Tiffany Porter will be the crowd favourite, and world champion Brianna Rollins could also be a factor.
The women’s 200m is another event hit by a notable withdrawal in the form of world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, but the home fans will still be keen to see world junior 100m champion Dina Asher-Smith take on Olympic champion Allyson Felix.
Asher-Smith recently broke the British 100m record with her 11.02 clocking in Hengelo. This will be her first 200m of the year, while Felix will be looking to back up her world-leading mark of 21.98 set in Doha last month.
Quick turn-around for top contenders in 5000m and steeplechase
World silver medallist Hagos Gebrhiwet and Olympic bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa were two of the five men who ran faster than 13 minutes in the 5000m in Rome. Just four days on from that, the duo will line up against another quality field.
Among their rivals will be world bronze medallist Isiah Koech, South African record-holder Stephen Mokoka, road specialist Stephen Sambu and 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Edwin Soi, who finished second in the 5000m in Eugene.
Six of the top seven finishers in the women’s 3000m steeplechase in Rome will also be in Birmingham.
Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng and Virginia Nyambura, the surprise winners at the past two IAAF Diamond League meetings in which this event has been held, will clash once more. World silver medallist Lidya Chepkurui and rapidly improving Australian Madeline Heiner will also challenge for Diamond Race points.
Four sprinters who have run faster than 10 seconds for 100m this year will face a trio of Britain’s best in the men’s 100m as Mike Rodgers, Jimmy Vicaut, Kim Collins and Nesta Carter take on Adam Gemili, Chijindu Ujah and Richard Kilty.
The women’s 400m hurdles presents a three-way clash between 2014 Diamond Race winner Kaliese Spencer, world champion Zuzana Hejnova and European champion Eilidh Child. In the flat event, Commonwealth champion Stephenie Ann McPherson starts as favourite.
Olympic champion Greg Rutherford lines up against USA’s in-form Mike Hartfield in the long jump.
Joint world indoor champions Kamila Licwinko and Maria Kuchina go head-to-head in the high jump, while the pole vault features the likes of world indoor champion Yarisley Silva, 2011 world champion Fabiana Murer and top Greek duo Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou and Ekaterini Stefanidi.
Of the events that don’t count towards the Diamond Race, much focus will fall on the men’s 1500m and women’s 800m.
Double world, Olympic and European champion Mo Farah steps down in distance to the 1500m, an event in which he also happens to hold the European record. No one else in the field has run faster than 3:35 this year, but the line-up does include 2007 world champion Bernard Lagat.
World champion Eunice Sum will face the likes of 2011 European indoor champion Jenny Meadows and world indoor silver medallist Angelika Cichocka over two laps of the track.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF