Bogdan Bondarenko jumps 2.40m in Tokyo (© Getty Images)
World records are hard to come by in athletics but such has been the depth of the men’s high jump in the past two years that nobody would be surprised if Bohdan Bondarenko or Ivan Ukhov – or even perhaps Mutaz Essa Barshim or Derek Drouin – scaled 2.46m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome on Thursday (5).
Bondarenko, the world champion, and Olympic champion Ukhov have already respectively jumped 2.40m and 2.41m outdoors this season while world indoor champion Barshim and Drouin, who has also gone over 2.40m this year, have also been in impressive form.
Add into the equation Erik Kynard, who was close at a US record of 2.41m at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the year in Doha last month, as well as Russia’s Aleksey Dmitrik and the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea in Rome’s famous and historic Olympic Stadium is one of the most outstanding men’s high jump fields ever seen outside of a major championship.
The meeting record in Rome is far from shabby, standing at 2.38m to Bondarenko’s compatriot Andrey Sokolovskiy from 2005, but definitely looks in danger.
On the track, one of the most popular events in the Italian capital has been always been the men’s 1500m.
It was at this meeting that Hicham El Guerrouj set the current world record of 3:26.00 back in 1998 and this year’s race brings together Kenya’s 2013 world champion Asbel Kiprop and Djibouti’s 2014 world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman, the latter having a spectacular win over the mile in 3:47.32 on Saturday.
Second and third in that race, Kenya’s Silas Kilagat and Ethiopia’s Aman Wote, will also be involved on Thursday while the Kenyan pair of James Magut and Collins Cheboi finished fifth and sixth in Eugene but were also under 3:50 and will be involved again in Rome.
Among the women’s events, a lot of interest will be focused on how 2013 IAAF World Athlete of the Year Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce performs after her disappointing 200m in Eugene, when she suffered problems with her left leg.
She bounced back with a relatively low-key 100m win on Tuesday night in Switzerland but she will face a much stiffer test with the likes of the Ivory Coast’s world silver medallist Murielle Ahoure and three other Moscow 2013 100m finalists in her race.
Diago makes Diamond League debut
Kenya’s Eunice Sum is another Moscow world champion who will be in action and the 800m winner in the Russian capital will come up against Cuba’s prodigious 18-year-old Sahily Diago, who recently ran a world-leading 1:57.74 but whose only other experience of racing in Europe came at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships.
Genzebe Dibaba will have her first outdoor outing of the year over 5000m and will be looking to assert the type of authority over her opponents she showed during the indoor season, after finishing a disappointed sixth despite a personal best over 3000m in a terrifically high quality race in Doha last month.
Dibaba will face again Kenya’s world silver medallist Mercy Cherono, who was second in the Doha 3000m and comes to Rome full of confidence after being part of the team that set a 4x1500m world record at the recent IAAF World Relays.
The women’s triple jump brings together the three medallists from last year’s IAAF World Championships with Colombia’s world champion Caterine Ibarguen defending a 12-competition winning streak, having last lost in the London 2012 Olympic Games final.
Ibarguen will face Russia’s world silver medallist Yekaterina Koneva, who bounded out to 14.83m on home soil in Adler last Friday, and Ukraine’s 2011 world champion Olha Saladukha.
Talking of winning streaks, the longest at an elite level in the sport belongs to Valerie Adams and the New Zealand shot putter will be looking for her 48th consecutive victory but, for once, might be under a bit of pressure as she will face Germany’s in-form Christina Schwanitz, the only other woman over 20 metres this year.
The men’s discus will witness a repeat of last summer’s World Championships final with no fewer than the top eight from Moscow in action. Mmost of the smart money once again is on the contest boiling down to a duel between Germany’s three-time world champion Robert Harting and his regular Polish rival Piotr Malachowski, who won in Doha and currently tops this year’s world list with 69.28m from when he beat Harting in the German city of Halle just over two weeks ago.
The women’s 400m hurdles has Jamaica’s Kaliese Spencer arriving fresh, if that’s the right word after her long transatlantic trip, from her impressive win in a world-leading 54.29 in Eugene on Saturday.
Also on the start line will be world silver medallist Dalilah Mohammad from the USA.
Fast women’s 100m hurdles likely
The spotlight will be on two more US hurdlers in the women’s 100m hurdles, Moscow winner Bianna Rollins and the surprise world indoor 60m hurdles champion Nia Ali.
Australia’s Olympic champion Sally Pearson had to settle for the silver medal on both occasions and will be looking for a big win in what could potentially be one of the highlights of the meeting.
Over 400m, world champion LaShawn Merritt will want to recover his winning ways after losing a thrilling race to Kirani James in Eugene, when both men dipped under 44 seconds.
The Grenadian has not made the trip to Rome but Merritt instead faces another fast man from the Caribbean, Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos, as well as Saudi Arabia’s improving Youssef Ahmed Masrahi, who was second behind the US sprinter at the opening encounter in this year’s Diamond Race in Doha last month.
The men’s triple jump can boast of another Olympic champion from two years ago, the USA’s Christian Taylor, but the mantle of favourite current falls on Eugene winner Will Claye, with Russia’s world indoor champion Lyukman Adams also in the field.
Back in 2000, Norway’s Trine Hattestad set a women’s javelin world record of 68.22m and, 10 years later, Barbora Spotakova improved the meeting record to its current mark of 68.66m.
It’s not surprising then that the Czech thrower has chosen Rome to be the venue of her first serious competition since giving birth to her first child last year.
Lined up against her will be some familiar faces despite her absence from the big time, including Australia’s 2014 world leader Kim Mickle and Slovenia’s Martina Ratej.
It seems implausible that the men’s 3000m steeplechase will be anything other than an inter-Kenyan battle for supremacy between Ezekiel Kemboi, Paul Kipsiele Koech, Brimin Kipruto and Conseuls Kipruto.
Panama’s Alonso Edward, returning to the form that saw him speed to a world silver medal five years ago in Berlin, is the top man in the 200m and has run 20.00 this season.
The programme also has a men’s 100m and 800m which are not Diamond Race events.
The sprint again features the USA’s Justin Gatlin who caused a sensation and headlines around the world when he beat Usain Bolt at this meeting 12 months ago.
Ethiopia’s current world champion, both indoors and outdoors, Mohammed Aman and Botswana’s Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos should be the main protagonists over two laps of the famous Olympic stadium.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF