Ivan Ukhov, perhaps the hottest man in the hottest event in the world right now, returns to the high jump apron at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Beijing on Wednesday (21).
With four men over 2.40m this year, and a fifth hovering near it, there has been plenty of talk that Javier Sotomayor’s world record of 2.45m, set in 1993, could finally fall this summer.
At the opening leg of the IAAF Diamond League in Doha almost two weeks ago, four men cleared 2.37m or better, the first time that had ever been achieved in a competition. One of them, Olympic champion Ukhov, topped them all when he cleared 2.41m.
This leap gave Ukhov the outdoor world lead for the year, just a centimetre clear of Canada’s Derek Drouin and Ukraine’s world champion Bohdan Bondarenko. Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim, who won at the 2014 World Indoor Championships, cleared 2.40m last year.
Ukhov, though, has been the most prolific of the contenders.
The Russian had a stellar indoor season, clearing 2.40m, 2.41m and a national record of 2.42m under a roof. Now, he is already at 2.41m in outdoor competition.
All eyes will be on him here, that’s for sure, where his listed opposition includes the USA’s 2011 world champion Jesse Williams and The Bahamas’ Trevor Barry.
El Sayed back after his 89.21m
Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed was the sensation of the evening in Shanghai, the Egyptian hurling the javelin a massive 89.21m with his first throw to effectively end the competition.
No one else was able to cope with that throw on Sunday night. Now, it will be interesting to observe how El Sayed copes with the pressure and rivals here.
His toughest opposition is likely to come from Kenya’s Julius Yego, El Sayed’s occasional training partner and fourth at last year’s IAAF World Championships, and the surprise Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott from Trinidad and Tobago.
The women’s hammer, part of the 2014 IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, projects a clash between world champion Tatyana Lysenko and this year’s world leader, 2013 Asian champion and local star Zheng Wang.
Lysenko threw 78.80m to win in Moscow last August but was well below-par, not even reaching 70 metres, in Tokyo on 11 May.
By contrast, Wang threw an Asian record of 77.68m at the end of March this year. On paper, Wang wins.
Ana Simic was another of the surprises of the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, taking the high jump with a personal best of 1.97m after clearing every height successfully with a first-time jump.
A repeat of that performance could see Simic win again here, with not many women in top form this early in the season.
It is six years since 2004 Olympic champion Yelena Slesarenko last cleared 2.00m or better (her best is the former Russian record of 2.06m), but she competes here, along with another two-metre performer in Spain’s European champion Ruth Beitia and St Lucia’s Levern Spencer.
Schwanitz to shine in the shot?
Germany’s world silver medallist Christina Schwanitz will start favourite in the women’s shot put, but Chinese fans will be looking for a strong performance from Gong Lijiao, while USA’s Michelle Carter will be a strong contender too.
Justin Gatlin and Veronica Campbell-Brown will, for different reasons, both be keen to compete in the Birds Nest Stadium, the athletics arena for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and next year’s IAAF World Championships.
Gatlin had hardly regained his breath after winning in Shanghai on Sunday before he was positively bubbling over about the chance to assess the World Championships stadium.
“I’ve got a lot more in the tank,” said Gatlin, adding that he was looking to run fast in 2014 and that a lot of athletes took the ‘off’ (non-championship) year for granted, but not him.
“Beijing next, a rehearsal for next year. Can’t wait,” he added.
Given the expected warm conditions, Gatlin could easily improve on the 9.92 world lead he ran in Shanghai. Michael Rodgers, Kim Collins, Dwain Chambers and China’s Su Bingtian are also in the 100m filed in the Chinese capital.
Campbell-Brown returns to the stadium in which she won the Olympic 200m title six years ago. On reputation, the Jamaican looks the best of the women’s 100m field, but a 23.08 200m in Shanghai suggests that she is some way short her top shape.
Rollins looking for good run
Both the men’s and women’s sprint hurdles are also on the programme.
The women’s 100m hurdles is highlighted by world champion Brianna Rollins, whose 12.26 last year took her to equal-third on the all-time list.
Rollins, after going unbeaten in 2013, lost narrowly to fellow US sprinter Kristi Castlin at the Drake Relays in Des Moines last month with both clocking the same time of 12.58, but bounced back with a win in Tokyo just over a week ago. Another US athlete, Kellie Wells, looks to be Rollins’ toughest opposition here.
China’s Xie Wenjun, the surprise winner in Shanghai, will face 2008 Olympic champion Dayron Robles and world silver medallist Ryan Wilson in the men's sprint hurdles.
The Beijing program also includes both the men’s and women’s 3000m steeplechase, the men’s pole vault and long jump, and a women’s 1500m.
Len Johnson for the IAAF