Christian Taylor in the triple jump at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco (© Philippe Fitte)
Over the past few years, Monaco’s Herculis meeting has earned a reputation as one of the best IAAF Diamond League meetings in the world. Judging by the startlists, this year’s edition on Friday (17) looks set to match – and possibly even exceed – the excitement witnessed earlier this season in Lausanne, Paris and Eugene.
It is difficult to pick just one highlight, but the men’s triple jump – now widely regarded as the best event of the year – brings together the two best performers of 2015, world leader Pedro Pablo Pichardo and Olympic champion Christian Taylor.
Cuba’s Pichardo won their first encounter of the year, leaping an IAAF Diamond League record of 18.06m in Doha with Taylor setting a PB of 18.04m in second, the first competition in history in which two men surpassed 18 metres.
They renewed their rivalry earlier this month in Lausanne, this time Taylor coming out on top with a PB of 18.06m as Pichardo finished seven centimetres behind.
With their 2015 head-to-head record now level, Monaco will provide the opportunity for one of them to gain a confidence-boosting advantage just one month ahead of the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
And with this being the venue of Caterine Ibarguen’s world-leading 15.31m leap from last year, it would be a big surprise if Christian Olsson’s meeting record of 17.63m was still intact after the competition.
The men’s javelin is another event in which standards have picked up this year. Four main protagonists have emerged in 2015 and they will all be in Monaco.
Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott broke the Central American and Caribbean record with 90.16m in Lausanne, but Commonwealth champion Julius Yego has thrown even farther, having improved the African record to 91.39m in Birmingham.
In Monaco they will face Czech Republic's 2013 world champion and Diamond Race leader Vitezslav Vesely, and Finland’s 2007 world champion Tero Pitkamaki, who will be looking for his second IAAF Diamond League win this year after his victory at the opening meeting in Doha.
Dibaba’s toughest test of 2015
In recent years, Genzebe Dibaba has been unable to translate her sparkling indoor form to the outdoor arena. But, on the evidence of her performances this year, the two-time world indoor champion seems to have finally got it right for the summer season.
She is undefeated in all of her races this year and has clocked some of the fastest times in history over 1500m and 5000m.
In Monaco she will contest the 1500m – an event in which she recently smashed the African record with a time of 3:54.11 – but comes up against a trio of formidable opponents.
European champion Sifan Hassan was a convincing winner in Lausanne and Birmingham, winning by more than a second on both occasions, but USA’s 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson has twice got the better of her Dutch rival this year, winning in Eugene and Rome.
Also in the field is Britain’s Laura Muir, the surprise winner in Oslo, who will be looking to run faster than four minutes for the first time in her career.
The women’s 200m is similarly competitive.
Shaunae Miller, of The Bahamas, steps back down to the half-lap sprint, having clocked a lifetime 400m best of 49.92 in Lausanne. She is fastest in the field this year with her 22.14 national record set earlier this season, but European champion Dafne Schippers will provide stiff opposition.
So too will USA’s Birmingham winner Jeneba Tarmoh, world bronze medallist Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, world junior 100m champion Dina Asher-Smith and USA’s Tori Bowie, who returns to the scene of her world-leading 100m clocking from last year.
Lavillenie faces conquerors
It’s not often that pole vault world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie loses. But earlier this month, for the first time ever, the five-time Diamond Race winner was beaten at two IAAF Diamond League meetings in succession.
A 5.85m victory at the French Championships last weekend has reaffirmed to Lavillenie that he hasn’t lost his spark and he hopes to reiterate that in Monaco when he comes up against five of the six the men who finished ahead of him in Paris and Lausanne, including world indoor champion Konstadinos Filippidis, 2011 world champion Pawel Wojciechowski and his successor Raphael Holzdeppe.
A win against this field will go a long way towards burying Lavillenie’s demons.
It is nearly 10 years since Tianna Bartoletta won the world title, but the US long jumper is still going strong and is currently enjoying her best season to date. She has won at three IAAF Diamond League meetings this year and currently tops the 2015 world lists with 7.12m.
But every long jump competition this year has been close and Monaco will be no exception. Taking on the US champion will be Russia’s Darya Klishina, winner in Rome, Canada’s Christabel Nettey, who beat Bartoletta in New York, Olympic bronze medallist Janay DeLoach and the British duo of Shara Proctor and Lorraine Ugen.
The 100m hurdles looks just as competitive. Sharika Nelvis and Jasmin Stowers may assume the top two positions on the 2015 world lists with their PBs of 12.34 and 12.35 from earlier this year, but 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper Nelson is once again emerging as the top sprint hurdler in the world, having won the US title and at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Lausanne and Birmingham.
That trio will clash in Monaco and will also be up against world champion Brianna Rollins, NCAA champion Kendra Harrison and European champion Tiffany Porter.
Quick times expected in middle distances
In recent years the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco has become synonymous with fast 1500m races. The men’s event this year will not count towards the Diamond Race, but that doesn’t detract from its quality.
World champion Asbel Kiprop will take on Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi and double world and Olympic champion Mo Farah. The question is not so much whether they will break the 3:30 barrier; it’s more by how much will they do so.
Given the quality of the field assembled for the women’s 3000m steeplechase, it would be a surprise if the world-leading mark of 9:15.02 wasn’t beaten.
The meeting record of 9:14.17 could also be under threat. Kenya’s Diamond Race leader Virginia Nyambura lines up against world leader Hyvin Jepkemoi, US champion Emma Coburn, New York winner Hiwot Ayalew and London 2012 Olympic Games silver medallist Habiba Ghribi, who will be making her outdoor season debut.
The men’s 800m similarly oozes quality as every athlete in the field has a PB faster than 1:44.
Seven of them have achieved that feat this year, led by Ayanleh Souleiman, who recently clocked a world lead of 1:43.08 in Barcelona. The world bronze medallist faces Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos, 2011 world champion Mohammed Aman and rising Bosnian talent Amel Tuka.
World indoor champion Caleb Ndiku got spiked in his first race of the year last week in Lausanne, but the Kenyan appears to have made a swift recovery and will contest the 3000m in Monaco. He will face compatriots Isiah Koech and Edwin Soi, Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew and double European under-23 champion Ali Kaya.
Top US trio in 100m
The three fastest US sprinters of 2015 will face one another for the first time this year.
World leader Justin Gatlin takes on Tyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell in the 100m, but French champion Jimmy Vicaut is also expected to pose a threat, having recently equalled the European record with 9.86.
Similarly, the men’s shot put features the best the USA has to offer as world leader Joe Kovacs takes on 2009 world champion Christian Cantwell, two-time world indoor champion Ryan Whiting and 2007 world champion Reese Hoffa.
Following her defeat in Lausanne, world and Olympic discus champion Sandra Perkovic hopes to return to winning ways in Monaco. World silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon and 2009 world champion Dani Samuels look to be her strongest opponents.
With Cuba’s Yaimi Perez absent from Monaco, Perkovic needs only to compete at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels to secure her fourth Diamond Race.
Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova produced a world-leading 2.03m in Lausanne last week. The Russian hopes to continue that momentum in Monaco where she will face the reigning European champion Ruth Beitia and joint 2014 world indoor champions Mariya Kuchina and Kamila Licwinko.
Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu, USA’s Francena McCorory and Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson are among the world’s best 400m runners, but they all suffered surprising defeats at their respective national championships. Monaco will be their chance for redemption.
Training partners Bershawn Jackson and Johnny Dutch will clash again in the 400m hurdles but world silver medallist Michael Tinsley, NCAA champion Michael Stigler and South Africa’s LJ van Zyl could all be in the running to gain Diamond Race points.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF