Renaud Lavillenie in action at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome (© Getty Images)
Following their fantastic feats already in this season’s IAAF Diamond League, all eyes will be on Renaud Lavillenie and Pedro Pablo Pichardo at the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea meeting in Rome on Thursday (4).
Lavillenie went over an IAAF Diamond League pole vault record of 6.05m in Eugene on Saturday, rising to equal second on the world all-time outdoor list.
If the French world record-holder is not suffering too badly from jet-lag after travelling from Oregon then at least the stadium and meeting record of 5.94m, which dates from 1984 and was set by Sergey Bubka when it was then also a world record, could be in danger.
If you are looking for historical omens which point in Lavillenie’s favour, then the Golden Gala and French pole vaulting superlatives are linked as it was here that Thierry Vigneron set two world records at successive meetings in 1983 and 1984, although the latter was before he was beaten by Bubka in the same competition.
However, among Lavillenie’s rivals in Rome will be Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe, who beat the Frenchman to the 2013 world title and the last time this discipline was held in Rome, two years ago
After almost 18 months of injuries and poor form, Holzdeppe produced his best performance since August 2013 when he went over 5.80m for third place in Eugene.
Triple jumper Pichardo bounded into the IAAF Diamond League record books when he leapt to 18.06m in Doha at the opening meeting of the 2015 series three weeks ago to become the third best performer ever.
The 21-year-old 2012 world junior champion edged closer to Jonathan Edwards’s world record of 18.29m on Friday in Havana when he improved his Cuban record at his third successive meeting, this time to 18.08m.
Edwards holds the Golden Gala meeting record at 17.60m, from 1998, while the stadium record is Khristo Markov’s 1987 IAAF World Championships winning distance of 17.92m. On current form, there is a good chance than a whole plethora of standards could fall to the prodigious Pichardo if he can continue his winning streak.
Conditions should be good, the weather forecast is for the mid-20s which is just a few degrees cooler than in Doha, June in the Italian capital usually providing excellent weather conditions for the jumps.
Olympic champion Christian Taylor, who pushed Pichardo hard in Doha and jumped beyond 18 metres, is not in Rome. Instead, the challenge might come from France’s European champion Benjamin Compaore and USA’s Will Claye, who was second on the 2014 list behind Pichardo.
Stowers on show again
Like Pichardo, US hurdler Jasmin Stowers was also in magnificent form in Doha, reducing her personal best and the IAAF Diamond League record in the women’s 100m hurdles to 12.35.
In a loaded field, the discipline having great depth this year, Stowers will face the reigning Olympic, world and Diamond Race champions in the shape of Sally Pearson, Brianna Rollins and Dawn Harper Nelson, as well as her in-form US compatriot Sharika Nelvis.
In the men’s 400m hurdles, some would argue that world champion Jehue Gordon doesn’t get the respect and attention an athlete of his calibre deserves but the Trinidadian has a chance to get a profile-building win, and bounce back after his failure to finish in Eugene, in what could be a fast race.
Among his opponents are Eugene winner Johnny Dutch, European champion Kariem Hussein, two-time world silver medallist Javier Culson and Olympic silver medallist Michael Tinsley.
A huge contingent of US athletes have descended on Rome, including 2011 world 1500m champion and 2014 Diamond Race winner Jenny Simpson, who should have an entertaining battle over 1500m with Ethiopia’s latest emerging talent Dawit Seyaum.
Although she took the world junior title in 2014, Seyaum still provided one of the upsets of the Doha meeting when she won, and set a world-leading time of 4:00.96.
Simpson has said that she has put chasing Mary Slaney’s long-standing US 1500m record of 3:57:12 on the back burner this season and is just concentrating on winning races, but both women will be looking to become the first to run faster than four minutes outdoors this year.
No pacing duties this time for Nyambura
Another surprise winner in Doha was Virginia Nyambura, who was originally employed as a pacemaker in the 3000m steeplechase but stayed in the race to slice more than 30 seconds off her best time.
Now the 2010 Youth Olympics champion has the chance to prove it was no fluke and that she can be a consistent threat in the senior ranks.
The men’s 5000m hasn’t seen a really fast race so far this season and the world-leading time is a relatively modest 13:10.54 by Ethiopia teenager Yomif Kejelcha, when winning in Eugene last Friday.
But all that could change in the 1960 Olympic stadium where 20 years ago Moses Kiptanui set what was then a world record of 12:55.30.
Kejelcha is in this race but, perhaps, the favourite is his countryman Hagos Gebrhiwet after his hugely impressive 3000m win in Doha, defeating Mo Farah.
Among the other men aiming to run faster than 13 minutes will be fellow Ethiopians Muktar Edris and world junior cross-country champion Yasin Haji, as well as the good Kenyan runners Isiah Koech and Paul Tanui.
Justin Gatlin still polarises many opinions in international athletics but it would be disingenuous to ignore him. His 2015 list-topping 100m and 200m runs of 9.74 and 19.68, in Doha and Eugene respectively, in themselves have certainly caught the eye.
In Rome, last year’s 100m and 200m Diamond Race winner will go over the shorter distance, and many will remember that it was over 100m in this stadium where he sensationally beat Usain Bolt in 2013.
In the women’s sprints, Jamaica’s pocket rocket Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is another who has made the long trip from Eugene to be in Rome.
On Saturday, she clocked a world-leading 100m of 10.81 and on Thursday she will go to her marks in the 200m.
There are intriguing contests in all three throws being contested on Thursday but perhaps the one that takes pride of place is the men’s javelin, which sees Tero Pitkamaki in action in the wake of his 88.62m winning throw in Doha and up against the current Olympic and world champions, Keshorn Walcott and Vitezslav Vesely.
The women’s discus will see Cuba’s Denia Caballero looking to impress internationally after her huge improvement to 69.51m in Havana last week, but she will face the formidable figure of Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic, who has again gone beyond 70 metres this season and for whom defeats are something of an anathema.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF