Usain Bolt at the pre-meet press conference in Zurich (© Gladys Chai van der Laage)
Fifteen recently crowned Olympic champions, 14 reigning World champions and 17 current world leaders will converge upon Zürich’s Letzigrund Stadium on Thursday (30) for another sold-out edition of the Weltklasse Zürich, the first of two high-powered 2012 Samsung Diamond League series finals.
The evening competition’s roster includes many of the biggest names in the sport who will feature in some of the finest face-offs of the season, promising a dramatic conclusion to many of the 17 events whose winners will be decided.
Some athletes, such as Olympic champions Valerie Adams, Sandra Perkovic, Christian Taylor and Renaud Lavillenie, are coming to claim and lift the Diamond Race Trophy they've already clinched. But many events remain very much up for grabs, with any one of a number of scenarios – given the double points on offer in Zürich and Brussels (7 Sept), 8 for first, 4 for second and 2 for third – leading to wildly different outcomes in the battle for each Trophy and the USD 40,000 prize that accompanies it.
All eyes on Bolt
The biggest name on the programme is that of Usain Bolt, the twice double Olympic individual sprint champion who will be contesting his favourite distance, the 200m, in Zürich. The 26-year-old World record holder followed up his 19.32 Olympic title defence with a solid 19.58 meet record in Lausanne last week. With the Jamaican loose and running pressure-free, the 19.79 meet record set by Wallace Spearmon in 2010 is clearly in danger.
In the race for the Diamond Trophy, Dutchman Churandy Martina (19.85 PB, NR in Lausanne) and Birmingham winner Nickel Ashmeade of Jamaica, with 12 and 11 points respectively, are in the driver’s seat if they can finish closest in what is expected to be Bolt’s wake. In all, six of the field’s eight starters have dipped under 20 seconds this season, including Olympic bronze medallist Warren Weir (19.84) and rising star Jason Young (19.86), both of Jamaica.
Rudisha against the clock
Bolt’s double sprint triumph in London captured headlines across the globe, but so too did David Rudisha’s powerful and courageous solo run towards a 1:40.91 World record, bar none the most sensational performance of the entire 2012 Olympic Games.
The 23-year-old Kenyan’s only post-Olympic outing will be in Zürich – anyone who has witnessed Rudisha’s displays of speed over the past three seasons knows that whenever he takes to the track, anything is indeed possible. An immediate target is Wilson Kipketer’s 1:41.24 meeting record set 15 years ago, still the fifth fastest performance of all-time.
As has become the norm in the event this season, Rudisha will be chased by three fast teenagers: Olympic bronze medallist Timothy Kitum (1:42.53 PB, SB) of Kenya, Ethiopia’s World indoor champion Mohammed Aman (1:43.20 PB, SB), and another Kenyan, Leonard Kirwa Kosencha (1:43.40 PB, SB). Duane Solomon (1:42.82) of the U.S., who finished fourth in that legendary London final, is also in the field.
In the Trophy race, Rudisha (8 pts) is in a good position to take his third Trophy. Only Aman (6 pts) is within striking distance and will have to win to keep Rudisha from a third straight series triumph.
Fraser-Pryce vs Jeter, 2012 round 6
Back to the sprints, where one of the hottest showdowns of the evening will come in the women’s 100m, pitting Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.70 PB, SB) against silver medallist Carmelita Jeter (10.78 SB). The pair have met five times over the distance this season, with the American carrying a 3-2 edge, although the Jamaican has tallied 11 Diamond Race points to Jeter’s 9. At the moment, post-Olympic momentum seems to be on Jeter’s side having beaten Fraser-Pryce into second in both Lausanne and Birmingham.
The strong field also includes Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix (10.89 SB, PB), who also reached the 100m final in London, and Blessing Okagbare (10.92 SB, PB) of Nigeria, the winner in Monaco, another Olympijc finalist.
Can Richards-Ross unseat Montsho?
The women’s 400 will be another Olympic final rematch, featuring the top-four finishers from London, and seven of the eight finalists. Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross will be chasing her third Samsung Diamond League victory of the season - and a sixth straight win - along with an improvement of her 49.28 season's best from the U.S. trials in late June.
But another Zürich win alone by Richards-Ross (currently 8 points) won’t be enough to unseat World champion Amantle Montsho’s bid for a second straight Diamond Race victory. Despite a disappointing fourth place finish in London, the African champion has amassed 16 points on the circuit and will have to finish outside the top-three behind a Richards-Ross victory for the American to lift the trophy under the tie-break rules. (Click here for scoring rules in the event of a tie.)
Olympic bronze medallist Christine Ohuruogu and DeeDee Trotter, the Olympic silver and bronze medallists, world leader Antonina Krivoshapka (49.16 PB, SB) and Natalya Antyukh, the 400m Hurdles Olympic champion, fill out the formidable field.
Will Blake’s 100m momentum continue?
Meanwhile, the men's 100, while not on the Diamond League programme, will certainly attract quite a bit of attention with Olympic silver medallist and World champion Yohan Blake leading the field.
The 22-year-old Jamaican is gradually filling out his role as "World record holder-in-waiting’ as he continues to narrow the daunting gap his training partner Bolt has created. Entering the season with a 9.82 best from Zürich last year, Blake’s gone 9.75 twice this season before his 9.69 sizzler in Lausanne which lifted him to No. 3 all-time.
The field also includes Tyson Gay (9.80 SB) and Ryan Bailey (9.88 SB, SB) of the U.S., who were fourth and fifth in the Olympic final.
Shot Put spotlight at Zurich’s main station
The meet actually begins today (Wed 29) with both the men’s and women’s Shot Put competitions held at Zurich’s main station, giving the sport’s strongest athletes much deserved time in the spotlight.
With 20 points, Valerie Adams has already clinched the women’s Diamond Trophy for the second straight year, but that doesn’t mean the fiercely competitive Olympic champion will be visiting as just another tourist. She’ll be looking to extend her win streak to 29, currently the second longest in the sport, only behind Robert Harting’s 32. With a 21.11m season’s best, she’s more than half a metre better this season than the next closest, London silver medallist Yevgeniya Kolodko (20.48m SB, PB), and well beyond a metre better than the rest. Among the New Zealander’s targets is the train station best of 20.63m set by Nadezhda Ostapchuk in 2010, coincidentally the last competition that Adams has lost.
In the less predictable men’s competition, three men are still alive in the Trophy hunt. Olympic bronze medallist Reese Hoffa (22.00m SB) has 16 points coming in and is in pole position, comfortably ahead of Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski (21.89m SB) of Poland and Canadian Dylan Armstrong (21.50m SB) who are tied with 10. Hoffa will have to remain off this podium and defeated by one of the other two to be toppled.
It’s not just about those three, however. With World champion and Olympic silver medallist David Storl (21.86m PB, SB) and World indoor champion Ryan Whiting (21.66m SB) in the hunt, this field too is loaded.
Perkovic’s victory tour continues
The throws theme continues with the start of the Samsung Diamond League programme on Thursday with the women’s Discus Throw where Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic (69.11m PB, SB), like Adams, will arrive in Zürich with plenty of extra room in her hand luggage for the Diamond Trophy she’s already clinched.
The Olympic champion has collected 22 points in the series this season and will be looking to end her season with a fifth straight victory. Her closest challengers are Germany’s Nadine Muller (68.89m SB, PB) and Yarelis Barrios (68.03m SB, PB) of Cuba, the series winner in 2010 and 2011.
Harper vs Wells in the 100m Hurdles
Back on the track, the focus in the women’s sprint hurdles will continue to fall on Americans Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, the Olympic silver and bronze medallists who will arrive with 8 and 10 series points, respectively. Head-to-head, it’s Harper who has a big 5-0 advantage over her compatriot, and underscored by a 12.37 personal best this season, the 2008 Olympic champion will start as favourite.
With 3 points, Ginnie Crawford is a long shot for the series victory - she’ll have to win the race outright while both Harper and Wells finish outside the top-three.
Sanchez, Culson and Tinsley reunite in 400m Hurdles
The men’s 400m Hurdles will feature a reunion of the Olympic podium with champion Felix Sanchez’s appearance taking on added significance: the Dominican hero will be aiming to celebrate his 35th birthday with a fifth career victory at Letzigrund. Given his 47.63 world lead at London’s Olympic stadium, Felix is in near career-best form but his task will present a strong test.
Olympic silver medallist Javier Culson, who has already clinched the Diamond Race (16 points) will be his chief opposition, along with London bronze medallist Michael Tinsley, who defeated Sanchez in Stockholm.
Chemos faces challenge from Assefa and Ghribi
In the women’s 3000m Steeplechase, three women are still in the hunt with Kenyan Milcah Chemos in good position to win a third series title.
Chemos (9:07.14 SB, PB) is the current Diamond Race series leader with 12 points and can control her own destiny with a top-two finish. Otherwise, Ethiopian Sofia Assefa (9:09.00 SB, PB), currently with seven points, could conceivably lift the Trophy, as could Olympic silver medallist Habiba Ghribi (9:08.37) of Tunisia, who has collected 6. Ethiopian and Hiwot Ayalew (9:09.61 SB, PB) could be a factor in the race as well.
Women’s 1500m, men’s 5000m battles wide open
Rounding out action on the track will be wide open contests in the women’s 1500m and men’s 5000m.
In the women’s race, Ethiopian Abeba Aregawi and Bahrain’s Olympic bronze medallist Maryam Yusuf Jamal lead the Diamond Race with 13 and 8 points respectively, and will start as favourites. The latter improved her season’s best to 4:01.19 in Stockholm where Aregawi finished third as a follow-up to her firth place showing in the Olympic final. Others to watch include Kenyan Viola Kibiwott (3:59.25 SB, PB) and Jamal’s compatriot Mimi Belete (4:01.72 SB).
The men’s 5000 meanwhile is nearly impossible to call. Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel (12:46.81 SB, PB) and Hagos Gebrhiwet (12:47.53 SB, PB) lead the standings with 8 points apiece, with Kenyan Isiah Koech (12:48.64 SB, PB) just one point behind.
Although he played into the hands of winner Mo Farah in the Olympic final, Gebremeskel did live up to his podium expectations with a silver medal finish ahead of Kenyan Thomas Longosiwa, who is also in the field here. Former World champion Bernard Lagat, who was fourth in London, Koech who was fifth, Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Galen Rupp and John Kipkoech, a sub-12:50 runner this season, are also in the field.
Taylor and Lavillenie to collect their spoils
Like Adams, Perkovic and Culson, Christian Taylor and Renaud Lavillenie will be coming to Zürich to pick up the Trophy they’ve so diligently worked towards winning all season long. With 15 points, Taylor, the Olympic Triple Jump champion and world leader at 17.81m, will be looking to add to his series wins in Eugene, London and Stockholm victories for his first overall Samsung Diamond League triumph, while Lavillenie will be taking home a third successive Diamond Race Trophy in the Pole Vault.
The Frenchman has 16 points, nine clear of German Björn Otto (5.92m SB, PB), the London silver medallist, and will be targeting his own 5.97m world leader. They’ll be joined by Olympic bronze medallist Raphael Holzdeppe (5.91m SB, PB) and German Malte Mohr who has also topped 5.91m this year.
Taylor meanwhile will be challenged by Italians Fabrizio Donato (17.53 SB) and Daniele Greco (17.47 SB) who were third and fourth in the Olympic final.
Grabarz and Williams down to the wire
The situation in the men’s High Jump however is the polar opposite with Briton Robbie Grabarz and Jesse Williams of the U.S. arriving in a virtual tie for the lead with 13 and 12 points respectively.
Momentum is currently with Grabarz, the 24-year-old who has been the event’s biggest surprise this season. Just a 2.28m jumper at the end of 2011, he’s improved all the way to 2.37m this summer, his latest career best coming just six days ago in Lausanne. And after winning the European title and tying for bronze at the Olympics, he’s shown he’s a strong competitor as well.
In Zürich it’ll be Williams, as World champion, who’ll have more to prove. After a strong early season, he’s struggled later in the summer, finishing a distant and disappointing ninth at the Games. His best outing in three competitions in August came in Lausanne where he was well back in seventh.
With just four points, Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov and co-bronze medallist Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar won’t be in the overall hunt, they’ll be very much in the picture for the meet win. Barshim recently improved to 2.39m in Lausanne where Ukhov topped 2.37m.
Can Veselý hold on?
Despite a disappointing fourth place showing in the Olympic final, Czech Vítezslav Veselý has been the season’s most consistent javelin thrower, and will hope to illustrate that with a series victory here.
The 29-year-old, the world leader at 88.34m, has collected 14 points on the circuit and captured the title at the fiercely competitive European championships, but fell more than a metre short of surprise winner Keshorn Walcott’s modest 84.58m winner in London. He’s sitting in reasonably good position; only Ukraine’s Oleksandr Pyatnytsya (9 points) has the possibility to topple him. Pyatnytsya will have to win outright with the Czech finishing third at best.
In good form at the moment is Finland’s London bronze medallist Antti Ruuskanen who improved his career best to 87.79m at the national championships over the weekend.
Sokoleva vs Deloach in the Long Jump
And in the women’s Long Jump, Yelena Sokoleva (7.07m PB, SB), the Olympic silver medallist, will be looking to hold her edge in the Trophy chase. The Russian arrives with 14 points, six ahead of London bronze medallist Janay Deloach (7.03m SB, PB) of the U.S. For Brittney Reese, the reigning Olympic, World and World indoor champion, her outing will be a matter of pride. Oddly enough, the American has yet to score a single point on the Diamond League circuit this season.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF