If it was the one-lap stars - on both the flat and over hurdles - who shone in the opening leg of the IAAF Diamond League circuit in Doha last Friday, it could well be sprinters over the shorter distances or for that matter the sprint hurdlers, who catch the eye as the second stop of the tour hits Shanghai on Saturday (May 12).
McLeod seeking third Shanghai win
Arguably, the race of the meeting is the men’s 110m hurdles – an event with a long and rich tradition at the premier Chinese one-day meeting. In a stellar field, which would grace any world or Olympic final, the star attraction is world and Olympic champion Omar McLeod, who is seeking a hat-trick of Diamond League wins in Shanghai.
Nonetheless, the Jamaican hurdle king faces formidable opposition and knows should he put a foot wrong a classy line up of opponents will be certain to pounce, led by 2017 world silver medallist and Diamond League winner Sergey Shubenkov.
Other stellar names on show include: world 110m hurdles record-holder Aries Merritt of the US, Spain’s Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega and the Jamaican duo Ronald Levy and Hansle Parchment, who recently finished 1-2 at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
The women’s 100m hurdles looks no less attractive with a powerful quintet of US athletes expected to dominate.
The first four from last week’s opening IAAF Diamond League in Doha clash once more, as race winner and world record-holder Kendra Harrison takes on 2016 Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, Sharika Nelvis, and 12.35 performer Jasmin Stowers. Also entered is former Olympic champion and 2017 world silver medallist Dawn Harper-Nelson in what is her farewell season in the sport.
Local eyes on local speedster Su
In a meet, which has attracted 20 reigning world and Olympic champions few events can match the men’s 100m for quality. Local attention will be focused on the “dash duo” Su Bingtian, the World Indoor 60m silver medallist and the man who triumphed in this event in Shanghai 12 months ago, and World Indoor 60m fourth-place finisher in Birmingham Xie Zhenye.
The challenge is considerable, led by world champion Justin Gatlin of the USA – the 2014 and 2016 100m winner at this meet who also triumphed here in 2005 in the meet’s previous incarnation then known as the Golden Grand Prix. Following his third-place finish in his pet event in Doha last week, World 200m gold medallist Ramil Guliyev of Turkey steps down in distance to contest the 100m.
Further bolstering the quality of the event are 2017 Diamond League champion CJ Ujah of Great Britain and the 2016 Olympic 100m bronze medallist Andre de Grasse of Canada following an injury-troubled 2017.
Miller-Uibo’s Diamond League debut
The marquee women’s sprint event – the 200m – promises to be no less mouthwatering as all three podium finishers from last year’s World Championship final in London clash.
The 2015 and 2017 world 200m champion Dafne Schippers returns to her speciality event after finishing sixth – albeit in a non-too-shabby 11.03 - over 100m in Doha. The Dutch athlete faces Marie-Josée Ta Lou, the world 200m silver medallist, who triumphed over the shorter sprint in Doha and on the evidence of that display will be a major factor over the half-lap distance.
World 200m bronze medallist Shaunae Miller-Uibo is also likely to be a significant factor. She makes her seasonal Diamond League debut buoyed by winning the Commonwealth 200m title in Gold Coast last month courtesy of a swift 22.09 – a performance which elevates the tall Bahamian to number two on the world lists.
Another athlete to be considered is 2016 Olympic 400m bronze medallist Shericka Jackson of Jamaica, who last month posted a lifetime best of 22.18 to win Commonwealth silver.
Can Gardiner’s momentum continue?
Last week in Doha, Steven Gardiner arguably served up the performance of the meet with a stunning 400m victory in a national record of 43.87 and the Bahamian is back once again aiming to impress. The 22-year-old world silver medallist faces red hot opposition from the two men who finished directly behind him in Doha – Abdalleleh Haroun of Qatar and Botswana’s 2017 Diamond League winner and recently-appointed Commonwealth champion Isaac Makwala. Fred Kerley, a 43.70 athlete at his best, and his US compatriot, the World Indoor silver medallist Michael Cherry, also start in a race where the meet record of 44.02 looks vulnerable.
The women’s 400m hurdles makes its 2018 Diamond League debut led by Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad. Look out too for Jamaica’s world number two and Commonwealth champion Janieve Russell, who is in marvellous early season form.
Rising Kenyan star and recently minted Commonwealth 800m champion Wycliffe Kinyamal could be the one to beat over two-laps as the 20-year-old makes his Diamond League debut.
Standing in opposition will be Kinyamal’s compatriot Jonathan Kitilit, the second fastest man in the world this year, and experienced Pole Marcin Lewandowski, the World Indoor 1500m silver medallist in Birmingham in March. World Indoor 800m silver medallist Drew Windle and his US teammate Clayton Murphy, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist, will also look to be in the mix.
Tefera in loaded men’s 1500m
Justus Soget of Kenya, who placed third in the 1500m in Doha in a non-Diamond League event, will once again be gunning for a top three spot in the metric mile.
His countryman Timothy Cheruiyot, the world and Commonwealth silver medallist, boasts outstanding credentials as does Ethiopia’s rising teenage talent Samuel Tefera, who stormed to 1500m gold at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
The World indoor bronze medallist Abdelaati Iguider of Morocco and the 34-year-old Ethiopian Aman Wote, who finished one place behind in Birmingham, also compete.
Four reigning world champions are on show in the field led by Mariya Lasitskene who is aiming for a 39th successive victory in the women’s high jump. The reigning world indoor and outdoor champion was last defeated in June 2016 and expect fireworks and a possible 2.00m plus jump as the 25-year-old makes her 2018 Diamond League debut.
Other potential challengers include: Commonwealth champion and 2016 Shanghai victor Levern Spencer of St Lucia, Ukraine’s World University Games gold medallist Oksana Okuneva and German Marie-Laurence Jungfleisch, a 2.00m jumper at her best.
Gong returns as world champion
A fascinating women’s shot serves up a battle of the generations as world champion and home favourite Gong Lijiao, 29, seeks a fourth Shanghai Diamond League victory. Also representing the senior brigade is two-time Olympic and four-time world outdoor champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand. The 2014 IAAF World Female Athlete of the Year gave birth to daughter Kimoana in October and has quickly returned to competitive action winning Commonwealth Games silver last month. World Indoor champion Anita Marton, 29, of Hungary will also look to mark her mark for the more established names.
The younger generation is led by 21-year-old world leader Raven Saunders of the USA and her compatriot, Dani Hill, who finished runner-up in Shanghai 12 months ago. Another athlete with the ability to figure is Jamaica’s Danniel Thomas-Dodd, who has made a flying start to 2018 with World Indoor silver and Commonwealth gold.
Twelve months ago, Luvo Manyonga soared to victory in Shanghai with a stunning Diamond League record of 8.61m and since then the South African has snared the world outdoor title, world indoor silver, the Diamond League crown and Commonwealth gold in a stunning period of success. Manyonga will once again be the man to beat. Lying in wait will be Olympic champion Jeff Henderson, who after a difficult 2017 campaign, is showing signs of a return to his best with a world leading leap of 8.44m last month.
China boast a strong three-pronged challenge led by Gao Xinglong, who triumphed at this meet in 2016 and who finished second in 2017. Also entered is Australia’s 2012 World Indoor silver medallist Henry Frayne, who has enjoyed a resurgence in form in 2018 which saw him grab Commonwealth silver on the Gold Coast.
Kendricks vs Lavillenie
The quality is also undisputable in the men’s pole vault led by world champion Sam Kendricks, who is hunting a hat-trick of Shanghai Diamond League victories. Leading the challengers is Renaud Lavillenie of France, who in March was crowned World Indoor champion for the third time.
Three former world champions in German Raphael Holzdeppe, Shawn Barber of Canada and Pole Pawel Wojciechowski also start. Watch out too for the latter’s compatriot, 2017 world silver medallist Piotr Lisek.
Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen is the lead protagonist in the women’s triple jump. The 34-year-old Colombian opened her campaign with a 14.54m effort in Medellin and will look to reassert her dominance inside the Shanghai Stadium.
Her main opposition will be world leader Kimberly Williams, who has enjoyed an outstanding year winning World Indoor silver and Commonwealth gold. Williams’ fellow Jamaican Shanieka Ricketts, the Commonwealth silver medallist, and former world silver medallist Hanna Knyazheva-Minenko of Israel will also be a factor.
China also have high hopes in the women’s javelin led by 2017 world bronze medallist Lyu Huihui. Standing in opposition will be Poland’s Marcelina Witek, who made a breakthrough performance earlier this month to climb to number two on the world lists with a 66.53m effort in Bialograd. Other hopefuls are European champion Tatsiana Khaladovich of Belarus and Turkish record-holder Eda Tugsuz.
In the non-Diamond League events, World champion Muktar Edris leads the entries in a high-class 5000m. The Ethiopian, who won this race in Shanghai two years ago, will be up against World 5000m bronze medallist Paul Chelimo of the USA. World and Olympic steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto, with a personal best of 13:47.5, also makes a rare outing over the 12-and-a-half lap distance. World and Olympic fourth placer Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya, who claimed a Commonwealth 1500m silver medal, is the most prominent name in the women’s steeplechase.
Steve Landells for the IAAF