The men’s discus at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games promises to be a new episode of a favourite TV show with a familiar cast.
Defending champion Robert Harting of Germany arrives as the third best in the world so far this year, having thrown 68.04m in June.
It’s a timely return for Harting, who missed the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 with a knee injury, but before that had won three consecutive world titles. As one of four men with marks beyond 68 metres this year, Harting can expect to be a medal contender once again in Rio.
Harting is an outspoken performer whose victory celebrations are often unpredictable and ethusiaistic.
When he won the 2009 world crown in Berlin, he famously carried the hapless mascot Berlino around the track by his ankles, the costumed bear dangling over Harting’s back. In London, he took a run down the 100m hurdles set up on the homestretch.
While experienced, Harting is far from an inevitable champion, as he ahppily acknowledges.
"In 2012 I was at a totally different, much higher level," he said recently. "I have to accept that. I am no longer the hunted, now I'm the hunter, but I like that."
The world leader is Poland’s world champion Piotr Malachowski at 68.15m, and a second mark at 68.10m better than any others on the list.
Malachowski won the world title in Beijing last year in Harting’s absence, and established himself as a steady championship performer. The current discus leader of the Diamond Race, even Harting has conceded that he has to be considered the favourite.
And not only is Harting not leading the world list for this year, he’s not even leading the list for his own family.
Younger brother Christoph Harting stands second on the year’s list with a mark two centimetres farther than Robert’s. The younger Harting competed last year in Beijing but will be on his biggest stage yet in Rio.
Big throws expected
If London’s quality of competition is any guide, the winning mark here will be well in excess of Malachowski’s year leader, and there are plenty of others in the field capable of beating that mark.
Iran's Ehsan Hadadi, silver medalist in London, is one, although to date this year he has not been impressive.
The world silver and bronze medallists, Philip Milanov of Belgium and Robert Urbanek of Poland, are looking to follow up on their success in the Chinese capital.
Milanov has been the better of the two so far this year, placing second to Malachowski at the Doha stop of the IAAF Diamond League, while Urbanek lingers much further down on the 2016 list.
Another interesting contender is Jamaica’s Frederick Dacres, currently fourth on the world list with 68.02m. Dacres was seventh last year in Beijing and represents a broadening base of events where the tiny island nation is a medal threat.
There are no medals for team finishes, but if you’re a contender for the final you’re more likely to be wearing the uniform of Germany than any other. After the Harting brothers, Daniel Jasinski will be the third entry from Germany, and at ninth on the world list he’s only the fourth-best German discus thrower this year.
Parker Morse for the IAAF