Eight reigning Olympic champions will top the bill at the 56th edition of the Golden Spike in Ostrava on Wednesday (28), an event capped by Usain Bolt's second 100m outing of his final season.
The race will mark Bolt's fifth 100m appearance at this IAAF World Challenge meeting and ninth overall, serving as a good-bye from the triple double Olympic champion to the eastern Czech city that was among the first to welcome him when he joined the professional ranks well over a decade ago. For that, he said, he’ll be forever grateful.
"It's the fans, they always come here. No matter how cold it is,” Bolt said at a press conference in Ostrava today.
“I have been to many meetings around the world and sometimes when the weather is really bad people do not show up. But every time I've been here, it was always a full stadium. And for me it really matters because it pushes me to do my best.”
In his only appearance this year, Bolt ran 10.03 in Kingston in a stadium that was also full for the occasion. On Wednesday, the Golden Spike will witness its tenth straight sell-out crowd, with pleasant conditions expected.
Organisers are proud to note that when Bolt’s ninth appearance on the Mestsky Stadium track concludes, the Golden Spike will become the meeting he has competed in most frequently in his career. To mark that occasion as well as his legendary career, a special celebration to honour Bolt will cap the evening.
The 100m field also includes Yunier Perez of Cuba and Jak Ali Harvey of Turkey who have clocked 10.10 and 10.15, respectively, this season.
Van Neikerk targeting 300m world best
Meanwhile, Olympic 400m champion and world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk, seen by many as the heir apparent to Bolt’s throne as the sport’s top star, will gauge his form over the rarely-run 300m distance a week after he lowered his 100m career best to 9.94.
That improved speed, combined with the 31.0 intermediate split he ran en route to his 43.03 400m world record in Rio, indicates that the world best of 30.85, set by Michael Johnson in Pretoria in 2000, is within the South African’s capabilities. With a 31.03 to his credit from last year, van Niekerk is currently the third fastest ever over the distance, trailing Johnson and Bolt, who clocked 30.97 in Ostrava in 2013.
Czech star Pavel Maslak, the two-time world indoor and three-time European indoor 400m champion, will also be in the field gunning for a sub-32-second performance.
The men's 300m will honour Istvan Gyulai, the late General Secretary of the IAAF.
Rudisha to debut over 1000m
Champions from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games also figure prominently on the middle and long distance programme, among them two-time Olympic champion David Rudisha who will be making his career debut over 1000m.
Testing himself in off distances isn't anything new for Rudisha who last season in his run-up to a successful Olympic 800m title defence broke the African record over 600m at the Birmingham leg of the IAAF Diamond League, clocking 1:13.10.
But going up in distance is uncharted territory for the 28-year-old, who famously broke his own 800m world record in the 2012 Olympic final.
He hasn't disclosed any time targets, but a reasonable test of form would be an assault on the meeting record of 2:15.08 set by Ilham Tanui Ozbilen of Turkey in 2014, the fastest time that year over the rarely-run distance.
Kenyan Nicholas Kipkoech, who arrives with 1:43.37 and 2:16.68 credentials over 800m and 1000m from last year, and Ryan Gregson, this year's Australian 1500m champion, should prove Rudisha's primary challengers.
Farah's last 10,000m hurrah on the one-day circuit
Conversely, double-double world and Olympic champion Mo Farah will be covering familiar territory. In Ostrava, the Briton will embark on what will likely be the final 10,000m race of his career at a one-day meeting.
Farah, 34, clocked a world-leading 13:00.70 in the 5000m in Eugene one month ago, illustrating solid form in the run-up to his bid to defend his back-to-back world titles. But unlike van Niekerk and Rudisha, a meeting record is probably out of reach for the European record-holder. That belongs to Kenenisa Bekele, who set a 26:20.31 world record here in 2004, the last time the event appeared on the men's Ostrava programme.
Nonetheless, with opportunities running out in the chase for World Championships qualifying times, the pace and race is expected to be fast with about a dozen men chasing the IAAF World Championships London 2017 qualifying standard of 27:45.00. Closest to Farah on paper are Ethiopians Belay Tilahun Bezabeh and Leul Gebrselassie, with sub 27:20 lifetime bests. The world lead is 27:08.26 set by Ethiopia's Adabi Hadis in Hengelo.
In the steeplechase, the attention will fall on Conseslus Kipruto, who took last year's Olympic title four months before his 22nd birthday. He's expecting to target his own world lead of 8:04.63 from Rome's Golden Gala set nearly three weeks ago.
Another two-time Olympic champion in the spotlight is Christian Taylor, who’s expected to dominate the triple jump. One month ago the US record holder threatened the world record in Eugene with an 18.11m leap.
Of the rest of the starters, only 21-year-old Andy Diaz, the latest star to emerge from the Cuban triple jump mill, has sailed beyond 17 metres, having reached 17.40m to take the national title in March.
Wlodarczyk gunning for 37th straight victory
The meeting gets underway on Tuesday evening with the hammer, once again fielding what has traditionally become one of the strongest competitions in the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge.
On the women’s side, the focus will clearly fall on world and Olympic champion Anita Wlodarczyk who is already threatening the 80-metre line. She debuted in Doha in May where she reached a season's best of 79.73m, has thrown beyond 77 metres on two other occasions, and brings a 36-meeting unbeaten streak to this eastern Czech city.
Closest at the moment – if within four metres can be characterised as 'close' – are Wang Zheng of China who threw 75.48m three weeks ago and Hanna Skydan of Azerbaijan, who improved to 75.29m in Baku last month.
The men's field features both Olympic champion, Dilshod Nazorov of Tajikistan and Poland's Pawel Fajdek, the world champion. Like Wlodarczyk, the Pole is already showing exemplary form, leading the world with 82.40m with five of his seven competitions – all wins – coming with 80-plus metre throws. The Olympic bronze medallist, Wojciech Nowicki, is also in town, riding a wave of four straight runner-up finishes.
Germany vs Czech Republic in the men’s javelin
Germany's Olympic javelin champion Thomas Rohler will headline a unique Germany vs Czech Republic match in his specialty event, always among the most popular events in Ostrava.
Rohler, who opened his season with a mammoth 93.90m effort in Doha on 5 May, will lead a German quartet that includes Johannes Vetter, Andreas Hofmann and Lars Hamann against a Czech squad composed of 2016 Diamond Trophy winner Jakub Vadlejch, 2013 world champion Vitezslav Vesely, Jaroslav Jilek and Petr Frydrych.
The German team, which will be captained by 1972 Olympic champion Klaus Wolfermann, has exhibited extraordinary form and depth this season, with Vetter improving to 89.68m in Doha, Hoffman to 88.79m in Offenburg, and Hamann to 86.71m, also at the 13 May meeting in Offenburg.
On current form, the standout on the Czech squad, captained by throwing legend Jan Zelezny, is Vadlejch who improved his season’s best to 87.95m when winning the at the European Team Championships last weekend defeating Rohler.
Each of the eight men will have six throws, with the best counting in the team tally. Frydrych will throw first and Rohler last.
In the shot put, five of the eight men who’ll enter the circle have thrown beyond 21 metres this year, led by Czech Tomas Stanek whose 22.01m on 2 June was a lifetime best. He can expect a good battle from Poland's rapidly-improving Konrad Bukowiecki, this year's surprise European indoor champion, who's improved to 21.51m and Croatia's Stipe Zunic, who reached a 21.48m PB one month ago. Franck Elemba of Congo, who finished fourth in Rio, is also in the field.
Alkana and Dutkiewicz favourites in sprint hurdles
The programme includes the sprint hurdles events for both men and women. On the men's side the spotlight will rest firmly on South African Antonio Alkana who lowered the African record to 13.11 in Prague on 5 June. The African champion will take on Garfield Darien of France and Hungary's Balazs Baji.
On the women's side, Germany's Pamela Dutkiewicz is the class of the women's field, who'll arrive undefeated in six competitions outdoors this season. The 25-year-old improved to 12.61 in Weinheim one month ago and since took victories in Hengelo, Oslo and the European Team Championships on Sunday.
Elsewhere on the infield, neutral athletes Anzhelika Sidorova at 4.75m and Olga Mullina at 4.67m along with Alysha Newman of Canada at 4.71m top the field in the women's pole vault.
The field in the men's high jump includes four men who've topped 2.30m this year: Pole Sylwester Bednarek, Majd Eddin Ghazal of Syria, Tihomir Ivanov of Bulgaria and Mateusz Przybylko of Germany. Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy will also make his first high level appearance after injury sidelined him in the run-up to Rio.
The fastest in the women's 1500m field are Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia and Rabab Arrafi of Morocco, with 4:01.42 and 4:01.75 season's bests, respectively.
And in the 200m, Marie Josee Ta Lou of Cote D'Ivoire will be the woman to beat.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF