Noah Lyles after his 19.69 win in Lausanne (Gladys Chai von der Laage) © Copyright
Preview Rabat, Morocco

Sprints back in the spotlight in Rabat – IAAF Diamond League

In the first year after the retirement of Usain Bolt, there had been a widespread suspicion that the 100m was going to be somewhat devoid of the charisma that the Jamaican legend brought to the event, but the race at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat on Friday (13) could finally put that notion to bed.

The three quickest 100m men of the year so far will take on the fastest man in history over 60m when Noah Lyles, Ronnie Baker, Mike Rodgers and Christian Coleman come together on the start line at the Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah.

Although the four US sprinters all know each other well, it will be the first time that they have collectively have been on the same start line together.

The focus of attention is on Lyles, the youngest of the quartet who only turns 21 next week, especially in the wake of his flying 19.69 200m in Lausanne a week ago.

Lyles also holds the joint world lead in the 100m with 9.88 when winning at the US Championships last month – where the four might potentially have met in the final before Coleman withdrew – with Lyles coming through to win from Baker’s then-personal best of 9.90.

Baker then improved to win the 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris two weeks ago in 9.88.

Lyles, Baker and Rodgers have proven form in the past month or so, but the big question is: what will Coleman bring to the table?

He thrilled athletics aficionados when he set a world indoor 60m record of 6.34 earlier this year before going on to win the world indoor title in Birmingham. In his first outdoor race of the season, he clocked a wind-assisted 9.84 to finish second to Baker at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene but a slight injury has meant he had to take a break from competition since the end of May. However, the world 100m silver medallist will return to the fray in Rabat.

With ideal conditions for fast times expected in the Moroccan city on Friday evening, a world lead is a distinct possibility.

Ayana’s meeting record in danger

The other most eagerly-anticipated event is arguably the women’s 5000m which brings together world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya and Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba.

Dibaba, the world record-holder at 1500m, also has the fifth fastest 5000m time to her name with 14:15.41 from 2015 while Obiri has a 14:18.37 personal best, which makes her the eighth fastest of all time.

The pair have duelled over this particular distance twice in the past; firstly, in Rome last year, the race in which Obiri produced her lifetime best, taking the victory with Dibaba a distant sixth. Dibaba then won in Eugene this year in 14:26.89, with Obiri a well-beaten third, nearly 10 seconds behind.

The meeting record belongs to double Olympic champion Almaz Ayana, who clocked 14:16.31 in 2016 but despite it being a marvellous mark both women apparently have it in their sights.

It would also be unwise to discount the in-form Agnes Tirop of Kenya or the Ethiopian duo of Senbere Teferi and Letesenbet Gidey. They are all capable of upsetting the odds.

The women’s 200m brings together Bahamas’ Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Jamaica’s world and Olympic 400m bronze medallist Shericka Jackson.

Miller-Uibo is undefeated this year. She won the Commonwealth 200m title in 22.09 and improved her season’s best to 22.06 when winning at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai. She also clocked a world-leading 49.52 to win the 400m in Eugene.

Jackson has stepped down in distance this year and proven herself against the best in the world over the shorter distance. The Jamaican took silver behind Miller-Uibo at the Commonwealth Games earlier in the year in a personal best of 22.18. She then bettered that mark with 22.05 to win in Paris two weeks ago.

Double world silver medallist Marie-Josée Ta Lou is a late withdrawal, but the field also contains sub-11 100m runner Dina Asher-Smith from Great Britain and US champion Jenna Prandini.

400m duo to raise their profile

The men’s 400m features two not particularly well-known Jamaicans but nevertheless a pair who could make a big impact in Rabat.

Akeem Bloomfield and Nathon Allen ran 43.94 and 44.13 when finishing second and third at the NCAA Championships recently and it will be interesting to see whether their form has carried over in their first outing over one lap of the track in Europe this summer.

The field events have some fascinating fields as well.

In the pole vault, 2012 Olympic champion and world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and USA’s Sam Kendricks, the world champion, will renew their rivalry having already met six times this year alone. But a lot of attention will be paid to Timur Morgunov, an authorised neutral athlete having his first competition outside Russia this year, whose recent soaring clearance at 5.92m went viral among pole vault fans.

Johannes Vetter, the world champion, has had to withdraw from the javelin owing to a slight injury but his German compatriots Thomas Rohler, the Olympic champion, and Andreas Hoffmann have both thrown beyond 91 metres this season.

Factor in Estonia’s Magnus Kirt and Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, fourth and fifth on the 2018 world list who have both thrown beyond 88 metres this year, and a memorable javelin competition could be in store.

The women's high jump sees Maria Lasitskene aiming to notch up her 45th consecutive win and extend her winning streak which goes back more than two years.

The men’s 3000m steeplechase will, perhaps, draw the biggest interest from domestic fans. Morocco's world silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali has talked in recent days about making a bid to go under eight minutes which means that Kenya’s world and Olympic champion Conselsus Kipruto may be forced into running much faster than his world-leading 8:08.40 if he is to come out on top.

South Africa’s world and Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya has forsaken running over two laps of the track and instead takes a tilt at the 1000m, a non-IAAF Diamond League event, for only the second time in her career.

After Semenya’s stunning 1:54.25 over two laps of the track in Paris, the 1000m world record of 2:28.98 by Russia’s Svetlana Masterkova from 1996 could be in danger.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF