Laura Muir leads the 1500m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview London, UK

Dazzling clashes across the programme in London – IAAF Diamond League

Among athletes, the London Stadium is known for its energy, revered for the din created first at the London 2012 Olympics and revived for the IAAF World Championships London 2017. This weekend’s (Sat 21, Sun 22) Anniversary Games, which forms stop 11 of the 2018 IAAF Diamond League circuit, will be no less supercharged as the athletics season reaches its heady peaks.

Muir, Obiri and Hassan to tangle in the mile

Laura Muir no doubt has eyes on the European Championships in Berlin, where she will contest both the 1500m and 5000m. She will race over one mile in London in pursuit of the British record (owned at 4:17.57 by Zola Budd). Two women who know about both distances are Hellen Obiri and Sifan Hassan. They went 1-2 over 5000m in Rabat last week, as Obiri’s world lead of 14:21.75 was shadowed by Hassan, who was rewarded with a European record of 14:22.34.

Neither can be ruled out, though it will perhaps be the finishing speed of Jenny Simpson, who came through late to win silver over 1500m at last year’s World Championships, that poses the bigger threat on Sunday evening. Muir, who owns the British best over 1500m of 3:55.22, could well get her record, but the win is far from assured.

The line up for the non-scoring men’s 1500m includes Olympic champion Matt Centrowitz and 2012 European champion Henrik Ingebrigtsen.

Coleman Rodgers and Baker take on Ujah, Gemili and Hughes

One of the defining – and nosiest – moments of last year’s World Championships was the men’s 4x100m, and many of its protagonists return for the individual 100m on Saturday.

Chijindu Ujah – who would go on to claim the 2017 IAAF Diamond League title with a win in Zurich – and Adam Gemili formed half of the British quartet who memorably ran down the USA to clinch 4x100m gold; both are entered to compete over two rounds on Saturday.

Christian Coleman wins the 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat (Jean-Pierre Durand)Christian Coleman wins the 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat (Jean-Pierre Durand) © Copyright

 

Christian Coleman and Mike Rodgers, part of the US team beaten into silver, also return to London. While Coleman, who flew back from injury to win last week’s Rabat 100m in 9.98, and Rodgers, the third fastest man this year with 9.89, might have vengeance on their mind, they will also have to contend with Ronnie Baker. Their fellow US sprinter holds the joint-fastest time in the world this year (9.88) and has won big in Eugene, Paris and Rome.

Further threats will also come from Briton Zharnel Hughes, who has lowered his PB to 9.91 this year, Olympic silver medallist Yohan Blake, and last year’s world finalist Akani Simbine.

In the non-scoring women’s 100m, Jamaica’s 2012 Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce tops the bill.

Focus on Asher-Smith in the 200m

Dafne Schippers successfully defended her world title over the 200m in London last year; on Sunday the Dutchwoman will line up against two of the athletes she defeated in that final.

Though the silver medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou leads the world in the 100m (10.85), the Ivory Coast athlete has yet to replicate that speed over the half lap distance. That is unlike Dina Asher-Smith, whose 22.29 for bronze at the Commonwealth Games rates her above Schippers this year. The Briton also has a national record in the 100m (10.92) and first IAAF Diamond League win (in Stockholm) to boast of in 2018.

Dina Asher-Smith (r), victorious in Stockholm (Giancarlo Colombo)Dina Asher-Smith (r), victorious in Stockholm (Giancarlo Colombo) © Copyright

 

The European Championships are just weeks away, and it will be a good gauge for them both, especially with Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson, the double Olympic champion, and Sherika Jackson, second fastest in the world this year with 22.05, also on the start list.

Hurdle hopes long and short for USA

Two years ago, the London Stadium was the backdrop for the women’s 100m hurdles world record, as Keni Harrison scorched over the barriers in 12.20. Unlike in 2016, when her record came in a season-long unbeaten run in the IAAF Diamond League, Harrison has tasted defeat this year, in Shanghai in May.

Brianna McNeal was the victor there and has won twice more since in the IAAF Diamond League, most recently in Rabat, most notably in Stockholm in a world-leading 12.38. The pair will race this year for the first time since they met in Székesfehérvár at the beginning of the month. That race belonged to Sharika Nelvis, who is also entered for Sunday’s two-round contest.

Jamaica’s Danielle Williams, the 2015 world champion who set a PB of 12.48 for second in Stockholm, is also entered, as is world 400m hurdles champion Kori Carter, who has recorded 12.78 this year.

Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad heads the bill in the event Carter has dropped down from. The US athlete, who won world silver in London last year, has not found consistent form this season, but still has wins from Shanghai and Oslo. Shamier Little leads the London entrants in terms of time courtesy of her 53.41 in Lausanne. Janieve Russell and Georganne Moline were second and third behind Little in Switzerland, and both return for London.

In the non-scoring men’s 110m hurdles, USA’s 2012 Olympic champion Aries Merritt compete against world indoor champion Andrew Pozzi of Great Britain.

Kendricks gunning for yet another London victory

The men’s pole vault entries is not short of past London champions. Renaud Lavillenie won Olympic gold in 2012 during a seven-year spell in which he won every annual IAAF Diamond League title (2010-16). That run was ended last year by Sam Kendricks, who went undefeated all season, including at the World Championships in London, where he won gold.

This year, Lavillenie has found form of sorts, setting the early season standard with a 5.95m before winning in Shanghai. Kendricks, who won at the World Cup event in London last weekend, has not been in the same imperious form as last year, but remains top of the standings in the race to the final, picking up maximum points with wins in Rome, Paris and Rabat. Joining them will be recently-crowned world U20 champion Armand Duplantis, who is ranked third on the 2018 world list behind the aforementioned pair, and who picked up a maiden IAAF Diamond League win in Stockholm.

Two of the medallists from April's Commonwealth Games will contest the women's javelin. Kesley-Lee Roberts of Australia won silver while South Africa's Sunette Viljoen took bronze on Gold Coast, but both are currently out of the top eight in the road to the final. Viljoen will hope the setting again inspires her – last week she won the World Cup event ahead of Kara Winger and Lu Huihui. The latter is second in the road to the final standings and in May set an Asian record of 67.69m.

While the javelin waits for a woman to take ownership of the event, the discus remains the realm of Sandra Perkovic. The Croatian is currently enjoying a streak of 13 wins, which includes the world lead of 71.38m. No other entered athlete has gone beyond 68 metres this year.

Lasitskene looking to rise again

Until last week, it was a similar story in the women’s high jump. However, in Rabat, Maria Lasitskene could only clear a best of 1.90m, meaning her run of 45 wins came to an abrupt end. Though Mirela Demireva, the Rabat winner who cleared 2.00m for the first time in her career in Stockholm earlier this month, is not present for London, Yuliya Levchenko is. Ukraine’s world silver medallist was also ahead of Lasitskene in Rabat, clearing 1.94m to finish second on countback.

High jump winner Maria Lasitskene at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai (Errol Anderson)High jump winner Maria Lasitskene at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai (Errol Anderson) © Copyright

 

Should Lasitskene falter again, British heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson could be one of the athletes to prosper. The world indoor pentathlon champion is the national record holder with 1.98m, and is also entered for the long jump.

In an event with a distinctly British feel, Johnson-Thompson will compete alongside Lorraine Ugen, the world leader with 7.05m, Jazmin Sawyers, the 2016 European silver medallist, and Shara Proctor, world bronze medallist from 2015. Christabel Nettey and Brooke Stratton, gold and silver winners respectively at the Commonwealth Games, will also compete.

Focus back on Manyonga in the long jump

Current IAAF Diamond League leader Luvo Manyonga leads the long jump entrants. The South African, who was the winner at the world championships in London last year, has two wins from three on this year’s circuit, jumping a best of 8.58m in Rome. Though his marks erred since then – an 8.25m in Stockholm saw him down in third – Manyonga returned to winning ways at London’s World Cup event, where he notched 8.51m.

He will be joined by the previous two Olympic champions, Jeffery Henderson, and Greg Rutherford – the latter a key player of 2012’s iconic Super Saturday. Juan Miguel Echevarria, world indoor champion and Stockholm winner with a windy 8.83m, has withdrawn injured.

Samba on the 400m flat

Another 2012 Olympic champion, Kirani James, is back in the stadium for the men’s 400m. The Grenadian, who was 19 when he won gold, has not raced on the IAAF Diamond League circuit since winning in Birmingham in 2016. His is an intriguing entry, as is that of Abderrahman Samba, the man who has set the 400m hurdles alight this year, going number two all-time in Paris with 46.98. Joining the fray will be world bronze medallist Abdalelah Haroun, who was second over the one-lap distance in Rabat last week.

The men’s 800m world record was set in London in 2012. Though David Rudisha, the man who owns it, won’t be present this weekend, Wycliffe Kinyamal – who hails from the same village – will be. The Kenyan, who won Commonwealth gold at the start of this season, has the fastest time this year of the entrants: 1:43.91 to win in Shanghai. Though he also won in Rome, Kinyamal was only third in Eugene, as his compatriot Emmanuel Korir won ahead of 2012 Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos. The three will race again in London, along with Pole Adam Kszczot, who in August will bid for a third straight European crown.

The men’s 5000m will see a return to London for Muktar Edris, who last year beat Mo Farah to claim the world title in the British capital. The Ethiopian has not shown blistering form this year as Birhanu Balew, running for Bahrain, has moved to the top of the IAAF Diamond League standings, winning his second points race of the season in Lausanne with a world lead of 13:01.09. That race was also notable for the late fall of Yomif Kejelcha, who put that incident to bed by winning the 3000m in Rabat last week. All three will run in London in what has the makings of another classic duel.

Away from the competition, Saturday’s programme will see the Great Britain and Northern Ireland 4x400m relay team of Christine Ohuruogu, Kelly Sotherton, Marilyn Okoro and Nicola Sanders from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games receive re-allocated bronze medals, following the disqualification of Russia and Belarus.

Thomas Byrne for the IAAF