Dafne Schippers at the pre-competition press conference (© Giancarlo Colombo)
One event at tomorrow’s IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels will boast two reigning world champions.
Allyson Felix, the world champion over 400m, steps back down to her favourite event where she will face Dafne Schippers, who took gold in the 200m at the recent IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015.
The pair clashed in Brussels last year with Felix getting the verdict with a world-leading time. This year, though, Felix hasn’t been focusing on pure speed work as much, while Schippers now goes into the race as the third-fastest woman in history, having clocked 21.63 in the Chinese capital.
That performance is something that Schippers took a while to come to terms with.
“Before Beijing I didn’t know I was capable of running that kind of time,” Schippers said at the press conference on Thursday (10) ahead of the AG Insurance Memorial Van Damme. “I surprised myself. I hoped to go under 22, which I did, but it was faster than thought.”
Asked if she thought breaking the world record of 21.34 was a possibility, Schippers didn’t rule it out.
“I think more about it now than I did before,” said the former heptathlete. “I’m 23, I have plenty of time. Now I’m training more for the sprints, we’ll see what happens in the next few years.”
Since winning in Beijing, Schippers has found that she is far more in demand now back home in the Netherlands.
“It’s a crazy world now for me, it’s all new,” she said. “It’s nice, but it takes a lot of energy. A gold medal is very important to the Netherlands. It’s no longer possible to walk down the street with my dog because a lot of people come up to me. I like it, though. It’s only really hectic for one month of the year.”
While Schippers doesn’t intend on competing in the combined events for the foreseeable future, she says she will at least continue to incorporate other events into her training with a view to competing in the long jump next year.
“I’m a sprinter now, but you need to have a little bit of fun,” she said. “I was used to training for all the events, so doing one other event along with the sprints is good for me.
“I often had injury problems with the high jump, but the long jump has always been ok for me so I think I’ll compete in that event. I think seven metres is possible.
“At a championships, doing both sprints and the long jump and the relay would be too much, though, so I’ll always just focus on the 100m and the 200m.”
Schippers plans on doubling up in the sprints for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio, but would likely only contest one of those events at the European Championships on home soil in Amsterdam. Before that, she is also targeting the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland.
But for now, her main aim is to finish the season on a high in Brussels.
“It’s always nice to compete against the top girls,” she said. “For me, Beijing was the most important competition of the year, so now’s the time to just have some fun. I’m tired – we’re all tired – but I still want to win, though. We all want to win; as an athlete, that’s normal.”
Felix’s last 200m race was in Lausanne where she beat Schippers in 22.09, but she knows that recapturing that kind of speed at this point of the season – in a year when the 400m has been her focus – will be difficult.
“In terms of speed, I am probably not as sharp now as I would like to be,” she said. “But it’s exciting to see new talents coming up in the event and I love new challenges.
“The 200m was an impressive race in Beijing, they ran very fast,” added Felix of the final in which three women ran faster than 22 seconds, two of whom bettered Felix’s PB. “It was hard not to be a part of that because races like that don’t come often on your way.
Felix will turn 30 later this year, but coming off a season in which she ran a lifetime best of 49.26 for 400m and a 47.72 relay split, the US sprinter has no intentions of hanging up her spikes.
“I’m not thinking about retirement,” she said. “As long as I'm able to compete at the top level, I will continue in this sport and keep focusing on the next competition. But after Rio I will see how my body feels and how the motivation is going.
“The main reason why I’ve been in this business for such a long time is that I’m a fierce competitor," she added. "I love to compete and I love to take on new challenges. And I love athletics.”
48 Beijing medallists in Brussels
Meeting director Wilfred Meert and assistant director Cedric van Branteghem also spoke to the press, providing background information behind each of the 16 Diamond Race finals being contested in Brussels.
No fewer than 48 medallists from the recent IAAF World Championships will be in action in Brussels, two of whom will be in the women’s mile.
“It’s an event with a story,” Meert said of the mile. “When we were in Beijing, Genzebe Dibaba’s coach asked me if I could change the 1500m to a mile because she wanted to break the world record (4:12.56), so we changed it.
“But then after the 5000m in Beijing and her run in Zurich, she felt fatigued and so cancelled her participation in Brussels. We considered changing it back to a 1500m, but Jos Hermens, Sifan Hassan’s manager, asked us to keep it as a mile because Hassan felt capable of breaking the world record.
“Our only problem then was finding pace makers. Chanelle Price, who paced Dibaba for the first two laps when she broke the 1500m world record in Monaco, is going to do the same here. After that, it will be up to Hassan, but she won’t be alone because Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury want to chase the American record (4:16.71).”
Meert went on to explain that the likes of USA’s Justin Gatlin in the 100m, Galen Rupp in the 5000m and Belgium’s Pieter-Jan Hannes in the 1500m are all targeting national records on Friday.
Other athletes, meanwhile, still want to channel their frustrations from Beijing into producing a satisfying end-of-season performance.
Pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie is one such athlete. “He feels obliged to jump high after his performances in Beijing and Berlin,” said Meert. “And Habiba Ghribi is still mad about losing the steeplechase in Beijing. She is in very good shape and is aiming for the world lead.
“Having seven world leads at this meeting last year was like a miracle,” added Meert. “I don’t know if we’ll see another miracle like that, but I’m hoping for three or four world leads.
“Last year most of the Diamond Races had been decided before the competition. But this year it really is a fight to the finish in almost every event.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF