For the world’s leading athletes converging on Oslo for the sixth IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season, a mass of posters at their hotel next to the central station serves as a vivid reminder that this year marks the 50th anniversary staging of the ExxonMobil Bislett Games.
Champions past and present will be in the stadium on Thursday night (11), and inevitably much of the focus will be on Oslo’s unique annual presentation, the Dream Mile, and Genzebe Dibaba’s attempt to better the world 5000m record set in the same stadium by her elder sister Tirunesh in 2008.
But if the Bislett Games is to see its 28th senior world record on this special night – and the first since that mark of 14:11.15 set by Dibaba senior – it could well come in the field rather than the track, given the stellar collection of men’s high jumpers assembled.
Russia’s Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov is here, along with the silver and bronze medallists from London 2012, respectively Erik Kynard of the United States and Canada’s Derek Drouin, the Commonwealth champion. Ukraine’s world champion Bogdan Bondarenko is here. So is China’s Zhang Guowei, who jumped 2.38m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai.
Anyone else? Oh yes, and Mutaz Essa Barshim is here too – the Qatari marvel who became the second-highest jumper of all time last season in clearing 2.43m, and who has already won his opening two IAAF Diamond League meetings this year with efforts of 2.38m in Shanghai and 2.41m in Eugene.
Can Barshim, who confirmed once he got here that he would also be competing at next month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, rise to the occasion and better the 22-year-old record of 2.45m set by Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor – who will be among the illustrious guests watching on the night?
Another victory would give the Qatari a maximum 12 points from three IAAF Diamond League outings – something only Sandra Perkovic has managed thus far, although the women’s discus is not on the Oslo programme.
Others who could match the Croatian’s three-out-of-three record in the Diamond Race by the end of the night are Caterine Ibarguen in the women’s triple jump, Kaliese Spencer in the women’s 400m hurdles and Piotr Malachowski in the men’s discus.
Dibaba’s quest is part of an Oslo family tradition. Not only did her elder sister set the current 5000m mark in the Bislett Stadium, but in 2008 it also played host to the only race in which Tirunesh, Genzebe and Ejegayehu Dibaba all lined up against one another.
So Dibaba junior – who ran an outdoor personal best of 14:19.76 at her last IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene – has plenty of markers to aim for en route to her sister’s record, not least the 14:14.32 her Ethiopian compatriot Almaz Ayana set in Shanghai, which is the fastest run so far this year.
Ayana is not in the field here, but Dibaba’s opponents include fellow Ethiopian Gelete Burka, who has a best of 14:31.20, and Kenya’s Viola Kibiwot, who has run 14:33.48.
The expected 15,000 sell-out crowd is expected to include an Ethiopian fanbase of about 1500.
Commenting on the task ahead, Dibaba said: “I will be paced to 2km then I will take over myself. The weather conditions are supposed to be perfect so I hope to take my sister’s record.
“I’ve spoken to my sister and she told me to use the unique atmosphere in the great stadium.”
That atmosphere will be at a pitch during the final event of the Dream Mile, which has produced epic performances down the years, most notably in 1980 when Britain’s Steve Ovett set a world record of 3:48.8, and five years later when his compatriot Steve Cram lowered the record to 3:46.32.
For this year’s 50th anniversary Dream Mile, Oslo’s meeting director Steinar Hoen has assembled an outstanding field containing two Olympic champions and seven athletes who have run faster than 3:50.
Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, Olympic champion in 2008 and world champion in 2011 and 2013, is already a three-time winner of the Dream Mile, and he will be seeking to re-establish his dominance after a couple of rare defeats in last year’s IAAF Diamond League.
Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria will seek to replicate his 2012 Oslo win when he triumphed in the 1500m, while Silas Kiplagat of Kenya will be keen to extend his form of last season, when he finished as world No.1 with a best of 3:27.64 in the 1500m.
Fastest man in the field is US veteran Bernard Lagat, who has a best time of 3:47.28 and is seeking to run close to 3:50 for a world M40 masters’ record. Meanwhile home hopes will rest on European 1500m silver medallist Henrik Ingebrigtsen.
But watch out for Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman, who has a best of 3:47.32 and is after a hat-trick of Dream Mile wins.
Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya, twice and Olympic champion and three times a world champion, will be racing against the young pretender, fellow Kenyan Jairus Birech, who established himself as world No.1 last year.
Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor is a dangerous wild card in a men’s long jump that also includes Britain’s Olympic champion Greg Rutherford, who won in Birmingham on Sunday with an effort of 8.35m.
Fifteen years ago, Oslo wowed to a world record from home javelin thrower Trine Hattestad. After a gap of 13 years, the women’s javelin has returned to this meeting and the field contains Olympic champion and world record-holder Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic, and the women who have won the past two world titles – Russia’s Maria Abakumova and Christina Obergfoll of Germany.
Spotakova returned to action last year, winning the European title after giving birth. And both her rivals are also coming back from a year off after having babies. It could be the mother of all competitions.
Veronica Campbell-Brown, Jamaica’s double Olympic 200m champion, makes the first Oslo appearance of her long career in the 100m. But she will be up against the Ivory Coast’s world 100m and 200m silver medallist Muriel Ahoure, who is based in Oslo.
Also in the field is Carmelita Jeter of the United States, who has run 10.64, the second-fastest time ever, and is seeking to re-establish herself as the world No.1.
If the women’s triple jump contains as much drama as in its last IAAF Diamond League running, the Oslo crowd will be more than happy. Ibarguen, Colombia’s world champion, produced a jig of joy in Eugene after extending her three-year unbeaten run with her final effort, surpassing the 15.04m which appeared likely to give Ekaterina Koneva the victory.
The two women meet again at Bislett, with Ukraine’s three-time European champion Olga Saladukha also in contention.
Valerie Adams, unbeaten in 56 competitions in the shot put, is still returning to fitness after surgery on her shoulder and elbow last year. In her absence, the Diamond Race is on in earnest. Germany’s European champion Christina Schwanitz is stacking up the points, having finished second in Shanghai and first in Birmingham.
Spencer of Jamaica will seek to maintain her unbeaten IAAF Diamond League run in the women’s 400m hurdles after victories in Shanghai and Birmingham in 54.71 and 54.45 respectively.
In the women’s 100m hurdles, Jasmin Stowers of the United States – who won the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of 2015 in Doha in a world-leading 12.35 – seeks a change of fortune after a fall and a disqualification for a false start ruined her chances in Rome and Birmingham respectively.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF