Sandra Perkovic in the discus at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Zagreb (Organisers) © Copyright
Preview Zagreb, Croatia

Nine Diamond League champions return to action in Zagreb

As has become tradition, local heroine Sandra Perkovic will serve as both headline act and meeting poster girl for the Hanzekovic Memorial in the Croatian capital Zagreb, the final IAAF World Challenge meeting of 2018, on Tuesday (4).

The starring cast includes nine freshly-minted IAAF Diamond League champions; for the first time in seven years, Perkovic's name is not among those, providing ample motivation for the two-time Olympic and two-time world champion to serve up revenge of sorts in front of a hometown crowd against the women who beat her into third place at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels last Friday: Cuba's Yamie Perez and Andressa de Morais of Brazil who pulled ahead in the final round.

Friday's was the first defeat Perkovic suffered in 2018, coming in her first competition after taking her fifth straight European title. Perkovic was ill in the Belgian capital, suffering from a cold that nearly sidelined her from the competition. If she's back to full strength on Tuesday, watch out.

Walsh, Crouser and Haratyk in shot spotlight

The meeting will kick-off on Monday (3) with the men's shot put competition at the City Fountains Park in central Zagreb whose headliners include New Zealand's world indoor and outdoor champion Tom Walsh, fresh on the heels of his 22.60m IAAF Diamond League record in Zurich last Thursday. He'll face among others Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, a past winner in Zagreb, and Michal Haratyk, the European champion who joined the 22-metre club in Ostrava earlier this summer.

Ryan Crouser winning at the IAAF World Challenge Meeting in Zagreb (Organisers)Ryan Crouser winning at the IAAF World Challenge Meeting in Zagreb (Organisers) © Copyright

 

Shubenkov and McNeal in the hurdles

The meeting’s signature events are the sprint hurdles contests named to honour Croatia’s inter-war hurdler Boris Hanzekovic. Diamond League champions head both fields.

On the men's side, two-time Diamond League champion and world leader at 12.92 Sergey Shubenkov heads the field, chasing a fourth Zagreb victory. He'll face Brussels runner-up and Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega of Spain and European champion Pascal Martinot Lagarde.

Sergey Shubenkov (c) in Zagreb (organisers)Sergey Shubenkov (c) in Zagreb (organisers) © Copyright

 

In the women's 100m hurdles contest, Brianna McNeal returns to action after taking her first Diamond trophy last Friday, taking on European champion Elvira Herman and Christina Manning, the winner here last year and in Berlin's ISTAF on Sunday. The field also includes 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper Nelson who will be making the final appearance of her storied career.

Naser in the 400m, Kerley to take on Guliyev in the 200m

Both Diamond League 400m champions also return to action.

Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain won by more than a second in Brussels last Friday where she clocked 49.33, the second fastest run of her rising career. Jamaican Stephenie Ann McPherson, winner of the London IAAF Diamond League leg, and European champion Justyna Swiety-Ersetic of Poland will give chase.

Meanwhile, Zurich 400m winner Fred Kerley will step down in distance to the 200m where he'll face the hardest test of his career over the distance. Kerley, who has a 20.24 lifetime best, will line up in lane eight, two to the outside of world and European champion Ramil Guliyev who has improved to 19.76 this year. Canada's Aaron Brown, who joined the sub-20 club with a 19.98 run in Oslo, is also in the field. He won here in 2016.

Ramil Guliyev (second left) in the 200m at the 2015 IAAF World Challenge meeting in Zagreb (Organisers)Ramil Guliyev (second left) in the 200m at the 2015 IAAF World Challenge meeting in Zagreb (Organisers) © Copyright

 

Brown will take the track earlier in the 100m, where the favourites will be European silver medallist Reece Prescod of Great Britain and Turkey's Jak Ali Harvey, who finished just behind the Briton in Berlin.

The women's 100m features African champion and co-world leader Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Ivory Coast and Michelle-Lee Ahye of Trinidad and Tobago, the Commonwealth champion.

In the long jump, Luvo Manyonga, another Diamond Trophy winner, will start as the man to beat. He'll take on South African compatriot Zarck Visser, who improved to 8.40m this season and Polish champion Tomasz Jaszczuk.

Morgunov riding strong momentum

Another Brussels winner returning to action is pole vault champion Timur Morgunov. The 21-year-old authorised neutral athlete cleared 5.93m to lift the Diamond trophy, the second best leap of his career, trailing only the 6.00m jump that propelled him to European silver. Shawn Barber, the 2015 world champion who has scaled 5.92m this season, and Olympic champion Thiago Braz are also on the slate.

Pole vault winner Timur Morgunov at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels (Gladys Chai von der Laage)Pole vault winner Timur Morgunov at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels (Gladys Chai von der Laage) © Copyright

 

Fedrick Dacres is another athlete who toted his Diamond trophy along to the Croatian capital. The 24-year-old Jamaican reached 68.67m in Brussels, equalling the third best throw of his career. In Stockholm three months ago he threatened the 70-metre barrier with a 69.67m winning effort.

He'll take on compatriot Travis Smikle and world bronze medallist Mason Finley of the US, throwers who joined the 67-metre ranks this season.

Back on the track, the men's 800m features Nijel Amos in his first appearance since beating world leader Emmanuel Korir to the African title in Asaba one month ago. Amos, tied with Sebastian Coe as the third fastest man of all time, clocked 1:42.14 to win in Monaco in July, suggesting he's in the best shape of his life. He'll be gunning for a successful title defence of his 800m title at the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 next weekend.

In Zagreb he'll face Poland's Marcin Lewandowski, Olympic medallist Clayton Murphy of the US and Kenyan champion Jonathan Kitilit.

Manangois vs Ingebrigtsens in the 1500m

Meanwhile, the men's 1500m features of clash of brothers: Norwegian standouts Filip and Henrik Ingebrigtsen and Kenyan stars Elijah and George Manangoi.

Elijah is the world 1500m champion and George the world U18 and U20 champion while Filip Ingebrigtsen raced to world bronze last year and his brother Henrik to European 5000m silver last month.

Ethiopia's Yomif Kejelcha, winner of the past two world indoor 3000m titles, is also in the field, making a rare appearance over the distance. In Brussels, he clocked a sizzling 12:46.79 in the 5000m to become the seventh fastest man ever.

Big win for Norah Jeruto in Zagreb (organisers)Big win for Norah Jeruto in Zagreb (organisers) © Copyright

 

Kenyan Nora Jeruto, an impressive winner of the steeplechase here one year ago, returns in the 3000m flat, just a handful of days after dipping below nine minutes in the steeplechase for the first time. The 22-year-old clocked 8:59.62 in Brussels to become the fifth fastest woman of all time. She'll face Eilish McColgan of Great Britain, the European 5000m silver medallist.

Elsewhere, South Africa's Wenda Nel, the African and Commonwealth bronze medallist, leads the field in the women's 400m hurdles.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF