Mutaz Essa Barshim and Bogdan Bondarenko ahead of the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco (© Philippe Fitte)
One of the most compelling rivalries of this year’s IAAF Diamond League season is set to resume at the Sainsbury’s Birmingham Grand Prix when Bogdan Bondarenko does battle again with Mutaz Essa Barshim on Sunday (24).
The men’s high jump set to be one of the highlights of the afternoon at Alexander Stadium.
The Ukrainian has won the last two meetings between the pair, including a historic contest in New York when both cleared 2.42m, and he comes to Birmingham fresh from a triumph at the European Championships last week when four jumps was all it took to lift the title on a cold, damp evening in Zurich.
With good conditions promised for Sunday, the 12th stop on the 2014 IAAF Diamond League tour, Barshim may well push Bondarenko into 2.40m territory again as the world champion looks to extend his lead in the Diamond Race with another four points.
It’s a height he’s cleared in his past three IAAF Diamond League meetings, but with three men in the field capable of competing at that level, including Barshim and Canada’s Derek Drouin, it may not be enough to guarantee maximum points.
Barshim briefly led the world with his winning Asian record of 2.41m in Rome back in June, and the Qatari matched Bondarenko jump-for-jump in New York to go one centimetre higher just six days later.
He was second to Bondarenko again at their last meeting in Monaco.
Barshim has had a month to recharge his batteries and is expected to come out firing, especially after he warmed up for Birmingham by clearing a meeting record of 2.41m at the famous German high jump meeting in Eberstadt on Thursday night.
Kirani James is another athlete ready to pick up his IAAF Diamond League campaign after bagging another championship gold medal.
The Grenadan returns to the UK just three weeks after adding the Commonwealth Games 400m title to his world and Olympic crowns from 2011 and 2012.
James dipped under 44 seconds in his last two IAAF Diamond League outings and lowered his Central American and Caribbean record to 43.74 in Lausanne on 3 July.
Something special could be on the cards in Birmingham too where he will be pushed by Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, an IAAF Diamond League winner in Monaco, and Great Britain’s newly minted European gold and silver medallists Martyn Rooney and Matthew Hudson-Smith, plus two other high quality Caribbean men in Chris Brown of The Bahamas and Luguelin Santos from the Dominican Republic.
Zurich heroes return home
Britain’s feted Zurich performers will be much in evidence throughout the programme, not least in the women’s 100m where Ashleigh Nelson and Jodie Williams, both individual sprint medallists, line up alongside fellow relay champions, Desiree Henry and Asha Philip, to take on the best of USA in Allyson Felix, fresh from her 200m triumph in Stockholm, Tori Bowie, English Gardner and Carmelita Jeter.
It’s a similar story for Zurich 100m hurdles champion Tiffany Porter who finds herself back in the mix against the world’s best, including Sally Pearson who beat her in Glasgow to take her second Commonwealth title.
The Australian will be keen to make amends after false starting in Stockholm on Thursday night, a rare mistake by the 2012 Olympic champion from which the current Diamond Race leader Queen Harrison benefited.
She beat Pearson’s predecessor as Olympic champion, Dawn Harper Nelson, and both feature in a heavily loaded line-up here alongside another US sprint hurdler, the current world champion, Brianna Rollins.
Like Porter, Eilidh Child will hear her name announced as European champion for the first time and, like Porter again, she will have her work cut out to beat a top quality field, which includes this year’s leading one-lap hurdler Kaliese Spencer of Jamaica.
Spencer is looking to extend a seven-strong win streak in her first race since claiming the Commonwealth crown last month.
US athletes Kori Carter and Georganne Moline are likely to provide the main opposition, although there’s no predicting the effect of home support on Child’s chances.
Greg Rutherford will be hoping to ride that wave too as – boosted by a successful couple of weeks collecting Commonwealth and European gold medals – the Olympic champion takes on Diamond Race leader Jeff Henderson and China’s Li Jinzhe, plus 2012 Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor.
The men’s 200m features two sub-20-second men in Nickel Ashmeade and Alonso Edward, while the 100m – one of four non-Diamond League events – provides Michael Rodgers with a chance to get over his Stockholm false start disqualification. Stockholm winner Nesta Carter, Commonwealth champion Kemar Bailey-Cole, Kim Collins and Christophe Lemaitre are among the opposition.
Two of the meeting’s biggest names also run in non-Diamond League events.
Britain’s serial double gold medal winner Mo Farah runs over the men’s two miles, where his opponents include his compatriot and double European Championships medallist Andy Vernon, and David Rudisha takes on the rarely-run 600m, the Kenyan Olympic 800m champion back in the UK after his shock defeat over two laps of the track in the Commonwealth Games final.
Kenyans out in force
There are plenty of top names in the IAAF Diamond League distance events too, not least in the historic Emsley Carr Mile, where the world-leading 1500m man, Silas Kiplagat, will be aiming to regain the Emsley Carr title he first won in 2012 and gain four more Diamond Race points against Kenyan compatriots Asbel Kiprop and Collins Cheboi.
Kenyans feature strongly in the 3000m steeplechase too: Jarius Birech, Paul Koech, and the unrelated Kiprutos, Brimin and Conseslus, with Birech favourite for a fifth straight IAAF Diamond League win.
Eunice Sum is also looking for a fifth victory in the women’s 800m where she comes up against the top young US talent Ajee Wilson.
Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba shares top place in the women’s 5000m Diamond Race standings with Kenya’s Mercy Cherono and the two go head-to-head over two miles here with an outright points lead at stake.
With five wins out of five, Valerie Adams has long since wrapped up the women’s shot Race, so the New Zealander’s task in Birmingham is to add another date to her daunting list of consecutive wins, stretching back over four seasons to 18 August 2010. USA’s Michelle Carter and Germany’s new European champion Christina Schwanitz are likely to contest the minor points.
Other big names in the field events who will be defending their unbeaten IAAF Diamond League records this summer include: Germany’s Robert Harting in the men’s discus against Poland’s Diamond Race leader Piotr Malachowski; Barbora Spotakova, fresh from her thrilling Zurich javelin victory will face silver and bronze medallists Tatjana Jelaca and Linda Stahl; Fabiana Murer against Jenn Suhr in the pole vault; and Caterine Ibarguen in a triple jump tussle with Jamaica’s Kimberly Williams.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF