Almaz Ayana in the 10,000m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Expected highlights on day eight – Rio 2016 Olympic Games

As the athletics programme at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games runs into its eighth day, and the penultimate session in the Olympic Stadium takes place in the evening, here's what to look out for on Friday (19).

Women to hit heights

The evening session get under way in the field at 20:30 (local time) with the women’s pole vault final.

It is an event with staggering depth: seven of the 12 finalists have cleared 4.80m or more this year (indoors and out).

Jennifer Suhr showed no signs of the virus that struck her earlier this week, having only one failure to make the final as she attempts to defend her 2012 title.

Her US teammate Sandi Morris also had a fault-free qualifying and tops the 2016 world list with a huge 4.93m.

Sandi Morris at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images)Sandi Morris at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images) © Copyright

Greece’s Ekaterini Stefanidi cleared 4.60m on her first attempt to also make the final. Two wins out of four in the IAAF Diamond League and a European title already this season make her a serious gold medal contender.

World champion Yarisley Silva needed three attempts to clear 4.55m before popping over first time at 4.60m to make the final, and she surely must also be a threat.

After home hope Fabiana Murer crashed out in qualifying, Eliza McCartney, Alana Boyd, Martina Strutz and Nichole Buchler – who complete the 4.80m club in the final – will have medal hopes.

Hammer title up for grabs

The exit of overwhelming favourite Pawel Fajdek in the qualifiers has thrown the men’s hammer final (starting at 21:05) wide open.

His training partner Wojciech Nowicki led the qualifiers with 77.64m, one of only two automatic qualifying marks.

He will be licking his lips at the opportunity left open to him after bronze medals at the World and European Championships in the past 12 months.

Wojciech Nowicki at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images)Wojciech Nowicki at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images) © Copyright

The other man to get the Big Q was Ivan Tsikhan, who hit 76.51m.

Tajikistan’s world silver medallist Dilshod Nazarov and defending Olympic champion Krisztian Pars from Hungary were both below the automatic qualifying mark in making the final but went through without any significant problem and, like Nowicki, they will relish the opportunity to throw for gold.

Women’s 5000m less open

Even if she hadn’t set a 10,000m world record on the first day of athletics, or qualified for the final 13 seconds faster than anyone else, Almaz Ayana would have still been the favourite for gold in the 5000m.

The Ethiopian won the world title last year at a canter and came within two seconds of the world record at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome and that ranks her No.1 on the 2016 world list by nearly 17 seconds.

However, her opening day outing was only her second competitive trip over 25 laps of the track.

Given the unprecedented pace, fatigue could be a factor for the Ethiopian. If it isn’t, the world record could be.

Almaz Ayana in the 10,000m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images)Almaz Ayana in the 10,000m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images) © Copyright

Ayana’s teammate and world silver medallist Senbere Teferi was the second fastest in qualifying and the Kenyan trio of Hellen Obiri, Mercy Cherono and Vivian Cheruiyot should also end up battling for the medals.

Four-time world champion Cheruiyot won 5000m silver and 10,000m bronze in London four years ago, and took silver behind Ayana on the opening day.

Each might have a gold medal chance, but only if the race pace is anything less than historic.

Nine on the line for Bolt

The men’s 4x100m relay will see Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter of all time, make probably his final Olympic appearance. It does provide another chance for him to become an even greater icon in the sport.

He sat out while his teammates qualified second in their heat in 37.94.

Bolt won’t win his ninth gold as easily as he has made the previous eight look. The US quartet was fastest in qualifying with 37.65 and would love to halt Jamaica’s historic charge for a third consecutive title.

Usain Bolt after winning the 200m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images)Usain Bolt after winning the 200m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Getty Images) © Copyright

Behind the USA, world silver medallists China ran an Asian record of 37.82 before a Japanese quartet lowered it with a scorching 37.68. Canada, 2008 and 2012 silver medallists Trinidad and Tobago, and 2004 Olympic champions Great Britain will add to the spectacle and the drama.

The women’s relay contest has already produced drama. The US women made the final after a re-run, having been disqualified from their heat for stepping out of lane only for their second exchange to have been judged as obstructed.

Running alone, they posted 41.77 – the fastest time of qualifying – to replace China in the final.

In 2012, the US team won gold with a world record but they have lost out to Jamaica at the subsequent two World Championships.

The Caribbean island team was second fastest in the heats with 41.79 and will be eager to affirm their sprint authority, not least to help Veronica Campbell-Brown increase her Olympic medal haul to eight.

Nigerian and Ukrainian teams have picked up surprise medals at the past two Olympics and both also have berths in the final, along with Great Britain, Trinidad and Tobago, who won world bronze last year, and the always well-drilled Germany.

Morning walks to start the day

The men’s 50km race walk will start the day’s action at 08:00 on the streets of Pontal, in the western part of Rio.

World champion Matej Toth claims to have recovered from a tibia injury. If he finishes in the top three it will be Slovakia’s first ever Olympic medal in athletics since the county became independent.

France’s Yohann Diniz also goes after his first Olympic medal. He is the world record-holder and tops the 2016 world list with 3:37:48.

Jared Tallent’s 2012 first place was only confirmed following a doping ban for Sergey Kirdyapkin and, after being denied his moment in London, it would be poignant if the Australian can mount a challenge. Ireland’s 2013 world champion Rob Heffernan could also figure.

Matej Toth in the 50km race walk at the London 2012 Olympic Games (AFP / Getty Images)Matej Toth in the 50km race walk at the London 2012 Olympic Games (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright

After the men are finished, the women’s 20km race walk will be held on the same roads from 14:30.

Favourite Liu Hong won the world title in Beijing 12 months ago and could find the Midas touch again.

Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez could uphold Mexico’s proud race walking tradition. She set an area record of 1:26:17 behind Hong in Rome so is in top form while 2012 silver medallist Qieyang Shenjie also has podium potential.

Ensuring good crowds and high decibels in Pontal, there is a home medal hope with Erica De Sena. She is ranked fourth in the world this year and, bolstered by partisan support, could bring more joy to the host nation.

Thomas Byrne for the IAAF