Wayde van Niekerk wins the 400m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco (© Philippe Fitte)
The world will eagerly be awaiting to see what Wayde van Niekerk can do in his first international 400m since he set the world record over the distance when winning the Olympic title last summer, when he goes to his blocks at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne on Thursday (6).
Van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson’s 400m world record with a 43.03 performance in Rio, while running blind from lane eight, but then brought to his 2016 season to an abrupt end. He has so far restricted his 400m races this year to some relatively low-key domestic outings in his native South Africa during March and April.
Nevertheless, the only sprinter in history to have run faster than 10 seconds for 100m, 20 seconds for 200m and 44 seconds for 400m showed he was back in great shape when he took another of Johnson’s accolades, the 300m world best, at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Ostrava last week.
It may not be a championship distance but Johnson’s former mark of 30.85 – ironically set at altitude in South Africa – had been on the books since 2000 and withstood the attentions of the likes of Usain Bolt and LaShawn Merritt until Van Niekerk sliced 0.04 from it last Wednesday.
Johnson still holds the Athletissima meeting record of 43.66 from 1996, but it is worth noting ahead of Van Niekerk’s that the IAAF Diamond League record was set on this track in 2014: 43.74 by Kirani James.
Eight other Olympic champions will be on display at the Swiss meeting, among them men’s triple jump Diamond Trophy winner Christian Taylor.
With a world-leading 18.11m leap at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene, the third best effort ever, Taylor has already proven he is continuing his phenomenal form of recent seasons and Lausanne has a special place in his heart, having won here in 2015 with a stadium record of 18.06m.
Facing Taylor will be his compatriot Will Claye, extending a rivalry that goes back more than eight years to when they were students together at the University Of Florida.
They have had 40 competitions to date and are currently level with 20 wins each. Claye took the US title recently with a personal best of 17.91m as well as finishing second in Eugene with a wind-assisted 18.05m.
China’s Olympic bronze medallist Dong Bin will also be in action.
The women’s 400m hurdles is another loaded event with all three medallists from Rio as well as the two-time defending world champion Zuzana Hejnova.
Dalilah Muhammad won in Rio and was again in outstanding form at the recent US Championships, which she won in a personal best of 52.64 to move up to sixth on the world all-time list.
With the likes of fellow US hurdlers Shamier Little and Ashley Spencer as well as Denmark’s Olympic silver medallist Sara Slott Petersen also in Lausanne, a fast time seems almost inevitable barring any late change in the weather forecast.
Olympic champions will take on the European champions in both the women’s long jump and javelin.
USA’s world and Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta will face off against Serbia’s European indoor and outdoor champion Ivana Spanovic in the long jump. Spanovic will be making her season’s debut, having been forced to delay the start of her season.
Croatia’s surprise Olympic javelin champion Sara Kolak will compete against Tatsiana Khaladovich of Belarus as well as world record-holder Barbora Spotakova and world champion Katharina Molitor.
In many cases, the current form of the Olympic champions in Lausanne suggest that they are the favourites for the events, but in the women’s high jump it will be a tall order for Ruth Beitia to overcome the in-form Maria Lasitskene.
Lower back problems have meant that the Spaniard’s performances have been rather modest and she returns after a three-week layoff from competition.
Meanwhile, world champion Lasitskene has extended her unbeaten winning streak to 15 competitions in 2017, including a personal best of 2.04m at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Hengelo recently where she also attempted a world record of 2.10m.
An intriguing men’s pole vault brings together France’s world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie, who will be aiming for a fifth victory in Lausanne, and Sam Kendricks, who joined the exclusive six-metre club when winning at the US Championships recently and who already has IAAF Diamond League wins in Shanghai, Eugene and Paris to his name this summer.
“If I can replicate this kind of jump [from Eugene], everything is possible,” said Kendricks, who set a stadium record of 5.92m in Lausanne last year.
Canada’s world champion Shawn Barber and Sweden’s prodigious world junior record-holder Armand Duplantis are also in the field.
Twenty five years after the discipline was last held at the Pontaise Stadium, the women’s mile features on the programme this year and world 1500m champion Genzebe Dibaba leads the field.
Dibaba ran 4:14.30 in the Italian town of Rovereto last September to move up to second on the world all-time list and she will have another tilt at the world record of 4:12.56, held by Svetlana Masterkova since the Russian’s halcyon year of 1996.
Consequently, the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan and Great Britain’s Laura Muir have decided it works better for their racing plans to drop down in distance and the pair will have a relatively rare outing over 800m in which they will face Burundi’s Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba.
In the men’s shot put, Ryan Crouser is also unbeaten this year and arrives in Lausanne in remarkable form following his win at the recent US Championships with 22.65m, the longest throw in the world since 2003.
The question on everybody’s lips is: can the Olympic gold medallist challenge Joe Kovacs’ IAAF Diamond League record of 22.56m from 2015?
In recent years, Germany’s two-time world champion David Storl might have been considered to have presented the biggest challenge to Crouser, but Czech Republic’s Tomas Stanek has gone beyond 22 metres this year and emerged as the leading European putter.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF