Bogdan Bondarenko at the 2013 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne (© Gladys von der Laage)
Despite a plethora of recently crowned World champions taking part in the first of this year’s IAAF Diamond League finals in Zurich on Thursday (29), if there is one person who has the potential to usurp the modern phenomenon that is Usain Bolt then that man may be Bohdan Bondarenko.
The lanky Ukrainian high jumper returns to Switzerland where back in early July he advertised for the first time that Javier Sotomayor’s 20-year-old World record of 2.45m was now finally, perhaps, living on borrowed time.
At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne, he went over 2.41m – the best performance in the world for 19 years – and he equalled that mark just two weeks ago when winning at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
What was significant about his performance in Moscow was not just his victory but the fact that he had two decent attempts at 2.46m.
In a virtual repeat of the sharp end of the Moscow final, arguably the best High Jump competition in history with seven men over 2.32m, six of those jumpers will compete in Zurich.
Bondarenko, with four victories to his name this season, can clinch the Diamond Race if he finishes third or better in Zurich.
Bolt himself will race over 100m and will face the one man who has beaten him over that distance this year, US sprinter Justin Gatlin, however the Moscow silver medallist is in pole position in the Diamond Race and, like Bondarenko, can take the US$40,000 first prize if he finishes better than third.
It is unfair to pick out one single event on the women’s side but the clash between the Ethiopian rivals Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba over 5000m whets an appetite that was not sated at the World Championships.
It was the clash that many of the sport’s fans wanted to see in Moscow, but Dibaba, after her 10,000m win, stood aside to give some of her younger team-mates a chance of glory, and Defar won the shorter distance with relative ease in her compatriot’s absence.
However, Dibaba has the fastest time of the year with the 14:23.68 she ran at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris last month and it should be an intriguing battle of wills and talent.
In effect, whoever wins out of the two will take the Diamond Race, although three other runners, including Dibaba’s younger sister Genzebe, have slim chances of also coming out on top in the season-long series.
Four disciplines have already had their Diamond Races already decided, and the winners have already been determined as long as they are on the start line in Zurich, but that doesn’t make their events any less interesting.
One of the undoubted stars of the World Championships was local hero Aleksandr Menkov, who lived up to all the expectations and pressure to take the Long Jump gold medal with a leap of 8.56m, the best distance in the world for more than four years.
The Russian has four victories in the Diamond League this year, an unbeatable lead, and can now concentrate on adding to his growing reputation as well as defending his Diamond Race crown. In Zurich he will face the three men who finished immediately behind him in Moscow, albeit at a distance.
Hejnova hoping to stay unbeaten
Czech 400m hurdler Zuzana Hejnova was another athlete who lived up to her billing as the favourite in in Moscow, winning in a national record of 52.83.
She has publicly said that she wants to go through the Diamond League undefeated and she is now just one race away from achieving that ambition.
Christina Obergfoll provided one of the most emotional moments in Moscow, with the German javelin thrower finally lifting a major title after so many near misses, and she has already secured the Diamond Race.
Obergfoll will face Russia’s Maria Abakumova, whose nerves got the better of her at the World Championships where she had to settle for the bronze medal but who bounced back and threw a world-leading 69.75m in Elstal, Germany, on Sunday.
Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman has been putting his country back on the athletics map after the brief prominence of their marathon runners in the late 1980s and early 90s. The World Championships 800m bronze medallist will go over his preferred distance of 1500m and will be looking for a modicum of redemption after failing to progress after a rough semi-final in Moscow.
One event where the Diamond Race is far from over is the women’s 800m. This race features the Moscow gold and silver medallists, Kenya's Eunice Sum and Russia’s Mariya Savinova, as well as the courageous front-running fourth-place finisher Alysia Montano of the USA.
With Burundi’s Diamond Race leader Francine Niyonsaba unfortunately absent due to injury, the situation is that the first person across the line in Zurich will be the Diamond Race winner.
In the men’s 400m, Grenada’s 2011 World champion Kirani James will be looking to restore his confidence after his dramatic meltdown over the final 50 metres in Moscow.
He was the dominant figure over one lap of the track prior to Moscow but saw his title taken by the USA’s LaShawn Merritt, who produced a thrilling run to win in 43.74.
James has a two-point lead over Merritt in the Diamond Race, and with their head-to-head tally standing at two each this season, it will be a ‘winner-takes-all’ battle for both the 2013 bragging rights and the US$40,000 Diamond Race first prize.
Oliver aiming for an eye-watering time
David Oliver shed a few tears in Moscow after his 110m Hurdles triumph following several injury-interrupted years and the US sprint hurdler now has the chance to cement his place as the top of the pile for 2013 as he bids to become the first man to go under 13 seconds this year.
The men’s 3000m Steeplechase sees a rematch between the Moscow gold and silver medallists, the Kenyan compatriots Ezekiel Kemboi and Conseslus Kipruto, and while the former won his third World title little more than a week ago, the latter is leading the way in the Diamond Race and only needs to finish third to clinch victory.
On a track in which two World records have been set in the last 18 years and four men have run under the super-elite benchmark of eight minutes, Kemboi’s world-leading time of 7:59.03, set last month at in Paris, could be under threat.
Like Kemboi, German discus thrower Robert Harting won his third successive World title in Moscow, but in similar fashion to the Kenyan steeplechaser, all the cards will have to fall in his favour on Thursday if he is to enjoy a second big payday.
Poland’s 2013 World Championships silver medallist Piotr Malachowski leads the Diamond Race by six points and so second place, regardless of whether it is Harting who is the winner or not, will be sufficient for him to take the honours.
The women’s 200m sees 2013 World champion and world leader Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce go to her marks for the first time since her triple gold medal triumph in Moscow, and a win would secure her victory in the Diamond Race.
The women’s jumps see two wide open Diamond Race contests that will go down to the wire.
The Pole Vault has no less than four women still in contention. USA’s London 2012 Olympic Games champion Jennifer Suhr, Cuba’s Yarisley Silva and Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg – who finished second, third and fourth in Moscow – can all take the crown and cash if they win, while Brazil’s 2011 World champion Fabiana Murer also has her chance but must win and rely on Silva to finish no higher than third.
The Long Jump sees a three-way tussle between USA’s Brittney Reese and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, the gold and silver medallists in Moscow, while Great Britain’s Shara Proctor is also in the hunt and can take the honours if she can upset the odds and win in Zurich.
The first Diamond Race of 2013 to be formally decided will be the women’s Shot Put on Wednesday night when, as has become traditional, the Zurich main railway station plays host to the event.
Valerie Adams, who went into the history books as the first woman to win four consecutive individual World titles in Moscow, looks well-positioned to make it a hat trick of Diamond Race victories following her wins in 2011 and 2012.
The New Zealander has now been undefeated in 40 contests and has a four-point lead, but Germany’s Christina Schwanitz will be not only hoping to improve on her recent best of 21.41m, which she reached to get the silver medal in Moscow, but also keeping her fingers crossed that Adams, who is based in Switzerland for much of the year and something of a local celebrity in Zurich, has a very rare off day.
The men’s Shot Put is the only event in Zurich that is not a Diamond Race final – it will be concluded next week in Brussels – and features six of the top seven from Moscow including Germany’s two-time World champion David Storl as well as USA’s Ryan Whiting and Canada’s Dylan Armstrong, the 2013 World Championships silver and bronze medallists respectively.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF