As the last big event before the IAAF World Championships get underway in Moscow on August 10, the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco will have a special resonance for those athletes who will gather in the Stade Louis II on Friday evening (19).
And the meeting itself will have a special gathering with the likes of Olympic champions Renaud Lavillenie, Sally Pearson, Christian Taylor and Anna Chicherova among the competitors.
Following the tropical storms of Thursday, the forecast for the meeting – according to meet director Jean-Pierre Schoebel – will be good. Warm conditions in a sheltered stadium could lead to some outstanding performances at the Herculis meeting as markers are laid down ahead of Moscow
Home favourite Lavillenie, the Olympic and European Pole Vault champion, will be hoping to match or improve upon his performance on Sunday at the French Championships when he recorded 5.95m – equalling his own world-leading performance for the season.
While the Frenchman has now registered the top four vaults in the world this year, he knows he cannot underestimate the challenge of the two men who stand below him in the listings – Germans Raphael Holzdeppe, who has reached 5.91m this year, and Bjorn Otto, the Olympic silver medallist, who has a vault of 5.90m to his credit from the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
As Lavillenie prepares his challenge for a World title which he says would be “the end of a circle”, having earned bronze at the last two World Championships, he acknowledges that the Monaco meeting will provide him with the ideal test for Moscow given that both his main German rivals will be there also.
It would not do, either, to count out the challenge of Greece’s rapidly improving Konstantinos Filippidis, who holds the national record at 5.80m.
Lavillenie estimated that, depending on the conditions, he would be aiming for around 5.60m to 5.70m here. “Just for this meeting, the main goal is the victory because with that I keep my lead in the Diamond League race,” he said.
As things stand, he is on 10 points, one ahead of Filippidis and two ahead of Otto. “I jumped here in Monaco in 2009 and 2011, which were both good performances. I am looking forward soon to getting my record outdoors – 6.01m. But for that, the conditions have to be good. Sometimes you don’t see the difference between 5.90m and 6m but there is a difference. It can depend on the strength of the pole, the conditions and other factors. But if I can manage, I will do it.”
Christian Taylor, who will seek to defend his World Triple Jump title in Moscow having added the Olympic gold to his collection, is also seeking to use Monaco as a big marker to his rivals.
Among those on the night will be Italy’s renascent 36-year-old, Fabrizio Donato, who won European gold and Olympic bronze last year after two lean years outdoors.
“I can’t believe we are still talking about Donato,” said Taylor with a grin. “For me it is exciting because it shows I might have 15 years to come!”
He acknowledged that both Italian jumpers – Donato and the European Indoor champion Daniele Greco – were strong rivals. “But with respect,” he added, “I also believe I’m the best out there. If you don’t have that fighting attitude it doesn’t make sense to be here now. I believe they are both threats, but I’m here to win.”
The Italian pair will dispute that, as will Cuba’s rising star Pedro Pichardo, whose 17.69m in Havana last month tops this year’s rankings ahead of the 17.66m with which Taylor won at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham.
“I started the year off from a short approach, and I have high expectations,” said Taylor. “I want to be remembered for championships. I believe I am a championship performer.”
Meanwhile, however, the US athlete has the chance of further strengthening his Diamond Race lead in the event – with 12 points, he is six points clear of his nearest challenger, Benjamin Compaore, and seven clear of Teddy Tamgho, neither of whom will be competing here.
Vicaut looking for another sub-10
The men’s 100m will offer Jimmy Vicaut the ideal opportunity of building upon his ground-breaking performance at the French championships, where he broke 10 seconds for the first time in recording 9.95.
Recalling the last World Championships in Daegu, Vicaut said: “It was a surprise for me in 2011 when I reached the final. I had come from the European Junior Championships and suddenly I was around all the top guys.”
On the subject of his sub-10-second run, he added: “I felt very relaxed during the Paris race. After three years of running against the 10-second goal, I was very happy to reach it. Now my goal is to produce the same kind of race and go under 10 seconds again.”
It looks as if Justin Gatlin, the former Olympic champion, will be able to open up a clear lead in the Diamond Race as neither of the two others with whom he stands on eight points, Tyson Gay and Nesta Carter, will be racing. Among the others who will be trying to frustrate him in that goal will be Jamaica’s Nickel Ashmeade, with a best of 9.93, and fellow US sprinter Michael Rodgers.
For Sally Pearson, Australia’s World and Olympic 100m Hurdles champion, this meeting will be vital in gauging to what extent she has recovered from the leg injuries which have prevented her racing at top speed so far this season.
She takes on a field which includes USA’s Olympic bronze medallist Kellie Wells and Britain’s Tiffany Porter, eager to show that her week of uninterrupted training has moved her closer to her ideal level.
Asked where she wanted to see progress, she replied with a laugh: “All over. The whole race and the time would be nice.
“We had a little stint of competitions – Birmingham, Ostrava, Lausanne – and then eight days of training which have been really good. I have been able to bring back a bit of fitness which I hadn’t lost but was maybe hidden somewhere.
“It hasn’t been as much of a struggle to get up to speed. It’s still not there, but I’m hoping I will see an improvement. There are still four weeks to go to the 100m Hurdles final in Moscow and that is a long time for an athlete. I am working on my start, making sure it’s back to where it usually is. I’m usually first out and over the first hurdle first. So those are the key things for me – starting, and keeping strong to the finish.”
Pearson also acknowledged the talent of the French competitor, Cindy Billaud, who will be in the field after running 12.59 at the national championships.
The women’s High Jump brings together the Olympic gold and silver medallists, respectively Anna Chicherova of Russia and Brigetta Barrett of the United States, along with the woman who has two World titles and an Olympic silver to her name, Blanka Vlasic of Croatia.
The latter has ruled out returning to her best until next season after a year which has been ravaged by two operations to her achilles tendon. But her competitive instincts remain intact. It will be a fascinating competition.
In the men’s 800m, Duane Solomon of the United States, who leads this year’s world list with 1:43.27 set in a solo effort at last month’s US Championships, will take on a field including Kenya’s London 2012 bronze medallist Timothy Kitum and European bronze medallist Pierre Ambroise-Bosse of France.
Another Jeter vs Fraser-Pryce clash, this time over 200m
The women’s 200m promises a high-level competition between Jamaica’s double Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who has taken up the longer sprint in earnest this year, and Carmelita Jeter of the United States, another 100m specialist who has added the 200m to good effect, having won silver at the last World Championships. Fraser-Pryce, who won the Jamaican Championships in 22.13, which tops the 2013 world listing, is unbeaten this year.
Botswana’s World 400m champion Amantle Montsho, who has the third best 2013 time of 49.87 to her credit, faces a field which includes Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills and Rosemarie Whyte, as well as the highly experienced Francena McCorory of the United States.
The men’s 1500m should provide a compelling spectacle as Kenya’s former Olympic and 2011 world champion Asbel Kiprop, whose 3:31.13 recorded at the Doha Diamond League meeting tops this year’s world lists, will take on a field which includes Leo Manzano, the Olympic silver medallist in London, and Londoner Mo Farah, who memorably won gold for Britain in the 5000m and 10,000m. Farah ran his personal best of 3:33.98 on this track in 2009, and is seeking to match or better that as he sharpens up for the World Championships.
As he acknowledges, the 1500m – which is not part of the Diamond Race on this occasion – will provide him with a new challenge and he will seek to stay in the mix for as long as possible against a field which also includes Kenya’s Andrew Rotich and Bethwell Birgen.
Vulnerable meeting record in 5000m
In the men’s 5000m, Bernard Lagat of the United States, the World silver medallist, will take on Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya, and in the absence of Farah a strong challenge will come from the Briton’s US training partner Galen Rupp, who followed his friend home to take silver in the London 2012 10,000m, and Kenya’s Augustine Choge. The meeting record of 12:53.11 could be under threat.
The men’s 400m Hurdles will see Felix Sanchez, who tearfully regained his Olympic title in London after a gap of eight years, take on Puerto Rico’s World silver medallist and London Olympic bronze medallist Javier Culson.
Another double Olympic champion, javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway, will go up against the European champion from the Czech Republic, Vitezslav Vesely, and Olympic silver medallist Oleksandr Pyatnytsya of Ukraine.
Jennifer Simpson, the World 1500m champion from the United States, takes on a strong challenge in her specialist event from Olympic bronze medallist Maryam Yusuf Jamal and Viola Kibiwot of Kenya.
Russia’s European indoor champion Darya Klishina will take part in the Long Jump with strong competition from Britain’s Shara Proctor, Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare and Funmi Jimoh of the United States.
Sandra Perkovic, already 16 points clear of her nearest challenger in the Diamond Race for the women’s Discus, can put herself out of sight with another win. The Olympic champion faces the second placer in that race, Yarelis Barrios of Cuba, who took bronze in London, and World silver medallist Nadine Muller of Germany.
Perkovic has achieved the four farthest throws in the world this year, with the best of them – 68.96m – coming at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne earlier this month. Barrios was second on that occasion, registering 67.36m, making her the third best thrower so far this year.
The women’s 3000m Steeplechase looks set to be another battle between the two Kenyans leading the Diamond Race, with Lydia Chepkurui two points ahead of Milcah Chemos.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF