US sprinter Michael Norman (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Osaka, Japan

Norman’s 200m seasonal debut among expected highlights in Osaka

Expectations will be high when Michael Norman takes to the 200m startline on Sunday (19) at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix Osaka, part of the IAAF World Challenge and IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge.

In his first race of 2019, the 21-year-old blazed to 400m victory at last month’s Mt SAC Relays in a PB of 43.45, the fastest season debut in history. This will be his first race since that performance and it doesn’t seem too unreasonable to suggest he could challenge his 200m PB of 19.84, set at last year’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris.

The meeting record of 19.96 was set by Isaac Makwala in 2018. Meanwhile, the stadium and Japanese all-comers’ record of 19.76 was set by Tyson Gay at the 2007 IAAF World Championships.

Along with US compatriot Christopher Belcher, Norman will face two of the three fastest Japanese men of all time at the distance, Shota Iizuka and Kenji Fujimitsu.

High quality hammer

Given that the meeting is part of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, the women’s field for that discipline is unsurprisingly strong.

Deanna Price and Gwen Berry exchanged North American records last year with Price ending 2018 as the holder of the mark with 78.12m, putting her fourth on the world all-time list. Berry, who has a best of 77.78m, sits just one place below Price on that list, but tops the 2019 world list with 76.23m.

World silver medallist Wang Zheng of China will be competing for the first time since winning the Asian title with a season’s best of 75.66m. Compatriot Luo Na, who beat Wang to the Asian Games title last year, is also in the field, along with world bronze medallist Malwina Kopron, two-time European bronze medallist Joanna Fiodorow and 2016 European bronze medallist Hanna Skydan.

The Japanese all-comers’ record is 74.76m, while the meeting record is 74.27m. Given that eight of the nine women boast PBs beyond 75 metres, both marks look to be on borrowed time.

Hurdles highlights

World champion Sally Pearson will likely need to improve on her season’s best of 12.99 if she hopes to win the 100m hurdles in Osaka. She will face US indoor champion Sharika Nelvis, Olympic bronze medallist Kristi Castlin, 2015 Pan-American Games champion Queen Harrison and Olympic finalist Pedrya Seymour.

In the 400m hurdles, Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad takes on the much-improved Tia Adana Belle of Barbados and 2015 world bronze medallist Cassandra Tate.

Fresh from competing at the IAAF World Relays, where he helped USA win their 4x100m heat in 38.34, Cameron Burrell lines up in the 100m alongside the ill-fated Japanese quartet that was disqualified for passing the baton out of the zone: Yoshihide Kiryu, Ryota Yamagata, Shuhei Tada and Yuki Koike.

USA’s Olympic 4x100m champion English Gardner, who returned to action last year after a long injury spell, will contest her first 200m in almost two years. She’ll take on 2016 world U20 champion Candace Hill and 2017 NCAA champion Kyra Jefferson.

The men’s 800m looks to be a duel between Kenyan champion Jonathan Kitilit and world and Olympic finalist Alfred Kipketer.

Japanese field eventers out in force

Over the past two years, long jumper Yuki Hashioka has established himself as one of the most exciting talents in Japanese athletics.

He bettered eight metres for the first time at the age of 18 in 2017, then won the world U20 title in Tampere last year and improved his PB to 8.09m. He has already started 2019 in flying form, leaping a wind-assisted 8.25m at the Texas Relays and a lifetime best of 8.22m to win the Asian title in Doha last month.

The national record of 8.25m looks well within Hashioka’s reach and he’ll start as marginal favourite in Osaka when he takes on world indoor finalist Dan Bramble and 19-year-old Lin Chia-Hsing of Chinese Taipei who has jumped 8.14m this year.

Two athletes who have already broken Japanese records this year will be in action in Osaka.

Javelin thrower Haruka Kitaguchi launched her spear out to 64.36m in Tokyo earlier this month to add 56 centimetres to the Japanese record. The 2015 world U18 champion will aim to produce a home victory for the local crowd but will need to be at her best when she faces European bronze medallist Liveta Jasiunaite of Lithuania and Su Lingdan of China.

High jumper Naoto Tobe was one of the revelations of the 2019 indoor season, leaping a national indoor record of 2.35m, the best ever jump by a Japanese athlete, indoors or out. He finished third at the recent Asian Championships, one place behind compatriot Takashi Eto, who recently equalled his PB with 2.30m. Both men will renew their rivalry in Osaka.

Japan’s Olympic finalist Ryohei Arai narrowly beat Huang Shih-Feng of Chinese Taipei to the bronze medal at the Asian Championships last month, so this weekend’s competition in Osaka will be an opportunity for the 2015 Asian champion to gain revenge. 2013 world champion Vitezslav Vesely is also in the field and should prove a formidable opponent.

Elsewhere, Omar Craddock takes on Zhu Yaming and Nazim Babayev in the triple jump, while Oceanian record-holder Brooke Stratton faces 2015 world silver medallist Shara Proctor in the long jump.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF