Kendra Harrison wins the 100m hurdles at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham (© AFP / Getty Images)
With the IAAF Diamond League finals just weeks away, the women’s 100m hurdles at Birmingham’s Muller Grand Prix on Sunday (18) will be one of the most intriguing events of the meeting.
Not only does it pitch three of the seven fastest women of all time against one another – including world leader Danielle Williams and world record-holder Kendra Harrison – but there will be a fierce battle for the two remaining spots in the IAAF Diamond League final.
Williams, Harrison, Tobi Amusan and Christina Clemons are among the six women who have already done enough to book their place in the Brussels final, but will still be racing in Birmingham. For them, the most important aspect of this race will be to gain a psychological advantage over their opponents ahead of the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
Meanwhile, the likes of two-time world indoor champion Nia Ali, USA’s Queen Claye, Jamaican duo Megan Tapper and Janeek Brown are among those vying for the seventh and eighth lanes in the final. Even Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, currently 17th in the standings, could in theory do enough to move into the top eight qualifiers.
It’s a similar situation in the women’s 200m where two of the four qualified finalists – two-time world champion Dafne Schippers and European champion Dina Asher-Smith – will line up against six women with ambitions of making it to Zurich.
Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo is currently ninth in the standings following her 22.09 victory in Monaco, but another victory in Birmingham would be sufficient for the Bahamian to qualify for Zurich where she could defend her Diamond League title.
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, the winner in Stanford with 22.05, are also in the field, along with world silver medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou.
Following the withdrawal of world silver medallist Christian Coleman, who has already secured his place in the IAAF Diamond League final, Akani Simbine, also Zurich-bound, will start as the fastest man in the 100m field.
The South African, who finished third in Shanghai and fourth in Monaco, is running into good form and won at the recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in London with 9.93, just 0.01 shy of his season’s best.
Four other men in the line-up – Ivory Coast’s Arthur Gue Cisse, 2011 world champion Yohan Blake, Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse and Japan’s Yuki Koike – have also bettered the 10-second barrier this year.
With just one qualifying meeting left for the men’s 400m ahead of the IAAF Diamond League final, there are still no automatic qualifiers. USA’s Michael Cherry and Jamaica’s Akeem Bloomfield, the winner in London, look poised to capitalise on the absence of world leader Michael Norman and US champion Fred Kerley in Birmingham. NCAA champion Kahmari Montgomery is the fastest in the field with a best this year of 44.23.
The men’s 400m hurdles is also surprisingly open ahead of the IAAF Diamond League final, although next week’s meeting in Paris represents another scoring opportunity. Brazil’s Alison Santos has broken the South American U20 record on five occasions this year, most recently with his 48.45 to win the Pan-American Games title. The 19-year-old, now the third fastest U20 400m hurdler in history, will be making his IAAF Diamond League debut.
Santos may be the fastest in the field this year, but the likes of Yasmani Copello, Takatoshi Abe and Thomas Barr are more experienced on the circuit.
It may not be a scoring discipline in Birmingham, but the men’s 110m hurdles pits Olympic champion Omar McLeod against US champion Daniel Roberts in what will be their first ever clash.
Field event throwdowns
A persistent injury throughout the off-season set back Sandra Perkovic during the first half of the season as the world and Olympic discus champion uncharacteristically finished fifth in Stockholm and third in Rabat. Following a two-month break from competition, though, the Croatian returned to top form at the European Team Championships second league, throwing a season’s best of 68.58m.
That still puts her behind Cuban duo Yaime Perez, the winner in Rabat, and Denia Caballero, the Stockholm victor on the 2019 world list, but it seems as though Perkovic is rounding into form at the right time.
US champion Valarie Allman, South American record-holder Andressa de Morais and German champion Kristin Pudenz add further quality to the field.
The men’s javelin is of a similar high standard with six of the top seven throwers in the world this year slated to compete. Five of the men in the field – including world leader Magnus Kirt, Olympic champion Thomas Rohler, Asian champion Cheng Chao-Tsun and European silver medallist Andreas Hofmann – have lifetime bests beyond 90 metres and, more importantly, have already done enough to guarantee a place in the IAAF Diamond League final.
World and Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi returns to the scene of her first ever victory at an IAAF Diamond League meeting. The Diamond League leader recently set a season’s best of 4.83m and, provided the wind isn’t too much of a factor like it was last year, will start as favourite in a field that includes world leader Jenn Suhr, Canada’s Alysha Newman, world bronze medallist Robeilys Peinado and 2015 world champion Yarisley Silva.
Despite being the world leader with 2.33m and topping the Diamond League standings, authorised neutral athlete Ilya Ivanyuk is yet to win at an IAAF Diamond League meeting this year. He will aim to rectify that in Birmingham but will be up against world bronze medallist and London winner Majd Eddin Ghazal, Diamond League champion Brandon Starc and Asian Games champion Wang Yu.
While the women’s long jump in Birmingham features some of the discipline’s best specialists, the focus for many will be on world heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam and world indoor pentathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who will clash for the first time in an IAAF Diamond League setting in what will be their only head-to-head ahead of the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
Just one centimetre separates the pair on season’s bests, Johnson-Thompson having jumped 6.68m this year to Thiam’s Belgian record of 6.67m. But the Briton is a 6.93m performer at best and will be cheered on by the home crowd.
Diamond League leader Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, world indoor champion Ivana Spanovic and 2018 world leader Lorraine Ugen will likely be the top contenders as the jumpers vie for points in the last qualifying meeting of the season.
Middle-distance meeting records under threat
Birmingham’s 9:17.43 is the slowest of all IAAF Diamond League meeting records in the women’s steeplechase but will surely be consigned to history on Sunday as six women in the field have bettered that mark this year.
World record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech starts as favourite and, just as she did in Shanghai and Stanford, will want to ensure the pace is fast to give her the best chance of victory. If the pace drops, however, then the likes of Norah Jeruto – who beat Chepkoech in Oslo – and 2015 world champion Hyvin Kiyeng, who has an 8-7 head-to-head record against Chepkoech, could take advantage.
Aside from the meeting record, seven of the as-yet unassigned places in the IAAF Diamond League final will be up for grabs.
The oldest women's meeting record is Sonia O’Sullivan’s 4:24.27 in the mile set when the meeting was held in Sheffield in 1992, but that will be seriously challenged on Sunday.
Gabriela DeBues-Stafford will have a crack at the Canadian record of 4:17.87 she set in Monaco last month, but will take on Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen, who appears set for a swift clocking following her national records of 8:20.07 for 3000m and 14:26.76 for 5000m in recent weeks.
Ethiopia’s Axumawit Embaye, the field’s only other sub-4:20 performer, should also contend for valuable Diamond League points.
Ajee Wilson lines up for the women’s 800m in Birmingham as the only guaranteed finalist for that discipline in Brussels next month. But Jamaican record-holder Natoya Goule, who finished a close second to Wilson in Monaco last month, will be full of confidence following her victory at the Pan-American Games.
Raevyn Rogers, Lynsey Sharp and Olga Lyakhova will be looking to consolidate their positions in the top eight in the Diamond League standings.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF