Hellen Obiri on her way to winning the 5000m at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels (© Gladys Chai von der Laage)
Four months of high-octane action, 12 enthralling qualifying meetings, and 16 newly-crowned champions in Zurich last week. The 2019 IAAF Diamond League now boils down to the AG Memorial van Damme in Brussels, the second final in the series, which will see another 16 winners crowned on Thursday and Friday (5-6).
With the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 starting on 27 September, this year is the first in which the IAAF Diamond League has concluded ahead of a major global championships. It has slightly changed the dynamic of the season; whereas before the IAAF Diamond League finals have been an opportunity for athletes to either gain revenge on their rivals or prove their form following a major championships, this year athletes are using Zurich and Brussels to provide a glimpse of what to expect in Doha in three weeks’ time.
Not forgetting, of course, that each winner in Zurich and Brussels will pocket $50,000, a Diamond trophy and a wild card entry for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019. It is little wonder, then, that the fields for the second IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels are so loaded.
The action in the Belgian capital kicks off in the city centre on the eve of the main competition when the men’s shot put takes place in Place de Brouckere.
Eight men with PBs of 22.00m or farther – exactly one quarter of history’s 22-metre club – will line up for the competition and it would be a surprise if that barrier isn’t bettered by at least a couple of the athletes in the field.
With his 22.44m victory in Paris two weeks ago, world champion Tom Walsh showed that he is rounding into form at the right time. The New Zealander will defend his Diamond League title against the likes of Olympic champion and world leader Ryan Crouser, Diamond League record-holder Darlan Romani, Polish duo Konrad Bukowiecki and Michal Haratyk, and 2017 Diamond League champion Darrell Hill.
Sprint clashes galore
Top sprinters are often accused of avoiding one another outside of major championships, but many of the fields in Brussels are brimming with the world’s best talent at the shorter distances.
Fred Kerley and Michael Norman haven’t raced at all since the US Championships six weeks ago, where Kerley pulled off a surprise victory, clocking a PB of 43.64 to finish 0.15 ahead of Norman, the world leader. Norman hinted afterwards that he had been carrying a niggling injury into that race, but the recent break from competition will hopefully mean he arrives in Brussels in the kind of form that carried him to victories in Stockholm, Eugene and Rome earlier this year.
Jamaica’s multiple world and Olympic gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has looked untouchable in almost all of her IAAF Diamond League 100m appearances this year. Another win in Brussels would land her with her first Diamond League trophy since 2015.
European champion Dina Asher-Smith once again looks to be her toughest opponent. The Briton finished second in the 200m in Zurich last week and beat Fraser-Pryce at that distance in Birmingham a few weeks ago. Blessing Okagbare can never be discounted. Marie-Josee Ta Lou is also in the field but looked to have picked up an injury at the recent African Games.
At the age of 22, Noah Lyles has already made history. Up until last week, no man had ever won Diamond trophies over 100m and 200m, but Lyles – winner of the 200m trophies in 2017 and 2018 – won the 100m in Zurich. He now could make further history by winning both sprint titles within the same season.
After clocking a world-leading 19.50 in Lausanne and a meeting record of 19.65 in Paris, Lyles starts as the overwhelming favourite for the 200m in Brussels. World champion Ramil Guliyev has finished in the top two in four of his Diamond League appearances this year, while Canadian duo Andre De Grasse and Aaron Brown should also prove to be formidable opponents.
Jamaica’s Danielle Williams ended Kendra Harrison’s 2019 winning streak in the 100m hurdles at the recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, so the world record-holder will be out for revenge in Brussels when she lines up against the 2015 world champion.
Tobi Amusan finished third behind Williams and Harrison in Birmingham, then went on to win at the African Games and the ISTAF meeting in Berlin. Two-time world indoor champion Nia Ali has similarly produced consistently good results in recent weeks, so will also be a factor.
Like Harrison, Orlando Ortega won the Diamond trophy back in 2016 and the Spaniard will be keen to win another on Friday. Defending champion Sergey Shubenkov has struggled for form since his fall in Rabat and may not be at his best in Brussels, but US champion Daniel Roberts will be full of confidence after his recent 13.08 win in Paris.
If Roberts or US compatriot Freddie Crittenden wins, the wild card would allow Crittenden – who finished fourth at the US Championships – to compete in Doha.
Obiri, Cheruiyot and Kipruto defend middle-distance crowns
The endurance events in Brussels are no less loaded than the sprints.
World champion Hellen Obiri is targeting a third consecutive Diamond League title in the 5000m, but to achieve that she will need to defeat two world record-holders. European champion Sifan Hassan, who broke the world mile record earlier this year, and Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech, the world record-holder in the steeplechase, are both in the field.
Agnes Tirop, who beat Obiri over 5000m in Stockholm and over 10,000m at the Kenyan Championships, is also a big contender. German record-holder Konstanze Klosterhalfen and African 3000m record-holder Letesenbet Gidey both finished ahead of Obiri in Stanford, so may once again be a threat in Brussels.
Aside from a close runner-up finish in Doha back in May, Timothy Cheruiyot has won all of his races across all distances this year. It is the 1500m in which he is most dominant, underlined by his world-leading 3:28.77 run in Lausanne and 3:29.97 victory in Monaco, and he is seeking a third consecutive Diamond trophy in Brussels.
Ayanleh Souleiman finished second to Cheruiyot in Stockholm and Stanford, while Jakob Ingebrigtsen was runner-up behind the Kenyan in Lausanne. Both men will be in Brussels along with Uganda’s Ronald Musagala, who won in Paris and Birmingham in Cheruiyot’s absence. Marcin Lewandowski, who clocked a Polish record of 3:31.95 in Monaco, could also be a factor.
Conseslus Kipruto isn’t in quite the same form he was in 12 months ago when he won the Diamond League steeplechase title wearing just one shoe. He made his season debut in Paris with an 8:13.75 clocking for fifth place, then pulled out of the African Games two days later. But fortunately for the world and Olympic champion, no one else in this event currently looks unbeatable.
Soufiane El Bakkali is the world leader at 8:04.82 and won in Doha, Monaco and Paris. But the Moroccan was beaten on home soil at the recent African Games by Benjamin Kigen, who has also had some mixed results this year. The Ethiopian trio of Getnet Wale, Chala Beyo and Lamecha Girma have regularly featured near the front of the leading packs throughout this season and should once again contend for a top placing in Brussels.
One week after compatriot Donavan Brazier won the men’s event in Zurich, Ajee Wilson will be hoping to complete a US 800m Diamond League double in Brussels. The 25-year-old has won in Stockholm, Monaco and Birmingham this year and clocked a season’s best of 1:57.72 to win the US title, making her the fastest in the field.
Based on performances in recent weeks, USA’s Hanna Green, Jamaica’s Natoya Goule and Britain’s Lynsey Sharp look as though they will be Wilson’s toughest opponents on Friday.
Taylor, Perkovic and Ibarguen aiming for record-equalling seventh trophy
Three athletes in Brussels could challenge Renaud Lavillenie’s record tally of seven Diamond trophies.
Christian Taylor has won six consecutive Diamond trophies in the triple jump, but he heads to Brussels off the back of two consecutive defeats in the series. Long-time rival Will Claye beat Taylor in Paris with a stunning meeting record of 18.06m, while Pedro Pablo Pichardo, another 18-metre performer at his best, was victorious in London.
Like Taylor, Sandra Perkovic will have to avenge some recent defeats if she is to win a seventh Diamond trophy. The world and Olympic discus champion is yet to win at an IAAF Diamond League meeting this year, but has been steadily improving as the season has progressed. Cuba’s Denia Caballero, winner in Stockholm and Paris, and Yaime Perez, the victor in Rabat and Birmingham, will be tough to beat in Brussels.
Caterine Ibarguen will defend her Diamond League title in the long jump but will need to beat the likes of multiple world champion Brittney Reese and world leader Malaika Mihambo if she is to win a seventh Diamond trophy.
Across the nine pole vault competitions so far in this year’s IAAF Diamond League, there have been six different winners. All of them – Katerina Stefanidi, Sandi Morris, Angelica Bengtsson, Katie Nageotte, Anzhelika Sidorova and Alysha Newman – will be in Brussels, along with world indoor record-holder Jenn Suhr. But in such a competitive event where so much is down to conditions, trying to pick a winner is a near impossible task.
The situation in the men’s discus is a bit more clear-cut as it has been dominated by two men: Sweden’s Daniel Stahl and Fedrick Dacres of Jamaica. Dacres is the defending Diamond League champion, but Stahl is the world leader at 71.86m and holds a 6-2 advantage over Dacres in their 2019 head-to-head record.
World high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene is undefeated outdoors this year, but four other women in the Brussels field have jumped 2.00m or higher this year. One of those is world and Olympic champion Nafissatou Thiam, who produced a surprise long jump victory in Birmingham and could do likewise in the high jump in Brussels with the help of the home crowd.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF