It’s no surprise that success at the IAAF World U18 Championships has a strong correlation with success at the IAAF World U20 Championships, and one athlete who’ll be hoping to continue that trend is South Africa’s Zeney van der Walt, who will be the clear favourite for 400m hurdles gold in Tampere in the absence of world leader Sydney McLaughlin.
The 18-year-old took gold at the final edition of the World U18 Championships in Nairobi last year and she tops the entries for Tampere with her time of 55.05, clocked at altitude in Pretoria to finish second at the South African senior championships back in March, where she set a national U20 record.
She came close to that mark when winning in Celle Ligure in her final outing ahead of Tampere, clocking 55.42, her fastest time at sea level. A repeat of that would likely be good enough for gold next week.
Jamaica’s Shiann Salmon is likely to be a strong challenger, as the only other athlete with a best below 56 seconds. She has already taken victory at the Carifta Games this year, where she clocked 56.22, and she set her PB of 55.78 to win the Jamaican U20 title by more than two seconds back in March.
Canada’s Xahria Santiago should also be in the medal shake-up, holding a strong PB of 56.69, and the 18-year-old will be hoping to improve on her third-place finish at the last edition of this event two years ago in Bydgoszcz.
Switzerland’s Yasmin Giger looks the best of the Europeans, at least on paper. She was European U20 champion last year, where she clocked a PB of 55.90 to take gold, though on her final tune-up race earlier this month in La Chaux-de-Fonds, she was well off that with her time of 57.70.
The US challenge is led by Jurnee Woodward, who ran 57.53 to defeat Brooke Jaworski (57.63) at the US Junior Championships last month, and a repeat showing from both of them will have them in the mix for medals. Jamaica’s Sanique Walker, a silver medallist at the IAAF World U18 Championships last year, set a PB of 57.19 this year and is also worthy of huge respect, while Hungary’s Sara Mato and Slovakia’s Emma Zapletalova have both dipped under 58 seconds this season so will be eyeing a spot in the final.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF