Rome is ready for what promises to be an extra special men’s 100m race at the IAAF Diamond League meeting on Thursday (31).
Last Wednesday in Savona, Italy’s 19-year-old Filippo Tortu ran 10.03 to come within two hundredths of a second of the Italian record held by the man after whom this week’s annual Golden Gala meeting is named – Pietro Mennea. And Tortu’s 23-year-old compatriot Marcell Jacobs finished second in 10.08 after clocking a wind-assisted 10.04 in the heats.
So the home nation now has two young, proper contenders in one of the sport’s glamour events and there will be huge interest to see how they measure up against the sprinters who have thus far been setting the pace this season, most notably the US pair of Christian Coleman and Ronnie Baker.
Amid the jostling for position following the retirement of the world’s paramount sprinter of the past decade, Usain Bolt, world silver medallist Coleman has pushed himself to the forefront, earning the world indoor title in Birmingham two months ago and lowering the world 60m record to 6.34.
But Baker, who followed Coleman home in that world record race at the US trials in the thin air of Albuquerque in a time of 6.40 and subsequently took bronze at the World Indoors, earned an impressive victory over his rival in Eugene.
Taking advantage of a powerful following wind of 2.4m/s – 0.4m/s in excess of the maximum level for record purposes – he clocked 9.78, the fastest time run this year in any conditions and significantly faster than his legal personal best of 9.97, which currently tops the 2018 world list.
Coleman was hardly a slouch on what was the final night of action at the soon-to-be redeveloped Hayward Field, clocking 9.84 – two hundredths of a second slower than his own legal personal best from last season.
But a loss is a loss, no matter how strong the wind, and it will be fascinating to see how that internal US struggle works out as well as witnessing the overall impact as two sprinting worlds collide.
Also very much to the fore will be another sprinter who looks likely to contest the European title with the Italian pair in Berlin this summer – France’s Jimmy Vicaut, who has already run 10.00 this season.
Meanwhile South Africa’s Akani Simbine, the Commonwealth champion, has the talent to shine as brightly as any, having clocked 10.03 already, and Coleman and Baker’s compatriot Isiah Young, with a best of 9.97, along with Turkey’s world 200m champion Ramil Guliyev, who has a best of 9.97 and has run 10.10 this year, should certainly not be discounted.
Manyonga and Echevarria renew long jump rivalry
If anyone is capable of upstaging the 100m sprinters, however, it is likely to be Simbine’s compatriot Luvo Manyonga, the world long jump champion who heads this year’s world lists with 8.56m and, by his own admission, feels driven to better the extraordinary world record of 8.95m set by Mike Powell in the year he was born – 1991.
As with the sprint event, this field event has all the necessary elements to produce something extraordinary given the presence of the two young talents who duked it out with Manyonga at this year’s World Indoors – Marquis Dendy of the United States, who took bronze with 8.42m, and Cuba’s 20-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria, who ultimately outdid the South African to take gold by two centimetres with 8.46m.
The 23-year-old South African, who has since won the Commonwealth title in 8.41m, will want to put down a marker at this relatively early stage of the season against a field that also contains his hugely talented compatriot Ruswahl Samaai, the world bronze medallist who has reached 8.39m this year, and Olympic champion Jeff Henderson of the United States, whose 2018 best so far is 8.44m.
Kenyan friends and rivals Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruyiot, the training partners who took 1500m gold and silver respectively at last year’s IAAF World Championships, return to the metric mile five days after contesting the imperial version at the Eugene meeting, where Cheruyiot won in 3:49.87 and Manangoi was third in 3:52.18 behind Ethiopia’s world indoor champion Samuel Tefera, who clocked 3:51.26.
Tefera will be in the mix again, as well as two hugely talented but inconsistent performers in Djibouti’s mercurial Ayanleh Souleiman, with a best of 3:29.58, and Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat, who has run 3:27.64, as well as Manangoi’s 17-year-old brother George, the world U18 champion, who has run a personal best of 3:35.53 this season.
Ta Lou moves up to 200m
World 100m and 200m silver medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou stepped up to winning mode in Eugene, where she ran 10.88 in the 100m to defeat the world and Olympic champions Tori Bowie and Elaine Thompson, as well as her Ivorian compatriot Murielle Ahoure, the world indoor champion.
Shericka Jackson of Jamaica, who has run a 200m personal best of 22.18 this year, looks her strongest rival as she seeks to assert herself over the longer sprint distance.
USA’s world steeplechase champion Emma Coburn faces a huge challenge in the shape of three top Kenyan rivals who have all run faster than her personal best of 9:02.58. Beatrice Chepkoech – who had to double back after missing the water jump in last year’s IAAF World Championships final, has run 8:59.84, Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi, world champion in 2015 and bronze medallist last year, has run 9:00.01, and 19-year-old Celliphine Chepteek Chespol set a world U20 record of 8:58.78 last year.
The US trio of Fred Kerley, Gil Roberts and Michael Cherry – all in the team that took silver in the 4x400m at last year’s World Championships in London, look ready to dominate the men’s 400m, although Qatar’s Abdalelah Haroun and Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith will fancy their chances of earning a podium finish, along with the Dominican Republic’s 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Luguelin Santos.
Despite the presence of Jamaica’s 2015 world champion Danielle Williams in the 100m hurdles, it is harder to see any other than US athletes filling the podium given the presence of the Olympic champion Brianna McNeal (nee Rolliins), who has already run 12.43 this year, Sharika Nelvis, Jasmin Stowers and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper Nelson, who will retire at the end of this season.
USA’s world pole vault champion Sam Kendricks ticked all the boxes on home ground last week as he defeated a stellar field in Eugene with a best of 5.81m. His toughest opposition here looks likely to come from the Pole who finished third in Oregon, Piotr Lisek, although Brazil’s Olympic champion Thiago Braz, who no-heighted in Eugene, is clearly capable of great things if he can rediscover his best form, having cleared 6.03m to claim his Olympic title. Canada’s 2015 world champion Shawn Barber is also bubbling under.
Germany’s Harting brothers Robert and Christoph, respective Olympic champions in 2012 and 2016, are in a stacked discus event that also includes Lithuania’s world champion Andrius Gudzius, Poland’s double Olympic silver medallist Piotr Malachowski, Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres, who recently won the Commonwealth title with 68.20m, and Sweden’s Daniel Stahl.
The women’s discus winner looks a little less difficult to forecast, given that Croatia’s world and Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic, who has already thrown 71.38m this season – just three centimetres short of her personal best – is in the field.
The women’s high jump poses the evergreen question: who can beat Mariya Lasitskene? She has won the past two world titles and is here seeking a 40th consecutive victory in a run that goes back to 1 July 2016.
The most likely candidate appears to be 20-year-old Vashti Cunningham of the United States, silver medallist behind her at this year’s World Indoors, whose 1.94m has put her just three centimetres behind the Russian on this year’s world list.
Norway’s world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm will defend his status against a field that includes Olympic champion Kerron Clement of the United States, Kenya’s 2015 world champion Nicholas Bett and Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba, who heads this year’s world list with his 47.57 win at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting this month in his native Doha.
An 800m race involving Kenya’s world bronze medallist Kipyegon Bett and Ferguson Rotich, Ethiopia’s 2013 world champion Mohammed Aman, Poland’s world indoor champion Adam Kszczot and Bosnia Herzegovina’s 2015 world bronze medallist Amel Tuka will offer a guide of how the event will look in world terms this year.
In the men’s steeplechase, a non-scoring discipline, Kenya’s Benjamin Kigen, who unexpectedly beat the Olympic gold and silver medallists Conseslus Kipruto and Evan Jager in Eugene, has the chance to maintain his momentum, although Kipruto is unlikely to let him slip away again and France’s 2012 and 2016 Olympic silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad is unlikely to be found wanting in any fast finish.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF