Usain Bolt on his way to the 100m world record in New York (© Getty Images)
The Adidas Grand Prix in New York City might see not only a number of meeting records, but also its biggest ever crowd at the IAAF Diamond League meeting on Saturday (12).
Event tickets almost sold out with two weeks to go, and the meeting organisers even had to add a standing-room-only section at Icahn Stadium. And it will be located, of course, near the start line of the 200m.
The favourite in this event, the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt, set his first ever 100m world record at this stadium in 2008, but he hasn’t been back since. The return of the Jamaican superstar has drawn a fair share of attention and set high expectations for the meeting.
Bolt hasn’t run faster than 20 seconds for the 200m this year, with his fastest time being 20.13 achieved on a cold and wet night in Ostrava. But on Saturday, competing on a lucky track and in warm weather, he is poised to run a big season’s best.
With the 200m in New York not being a part of the Diamond Race, Bolt is not set to meet his main rivals at Icahn. However, Anguilla’s teenage talent Zharnel Hughes, who trains with the Racers Track Club alongside Bolt, and last year’s Race winner Alonso Edward from Panama will keep the world record holder on his toes.
Other sprint races also have strong Jamaican presence. In the 100m, the trio of Nesta Carter, Kemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade will take on 2007 world champion Tyson Gay, the fastest man in the field this year.
Stephenie Ann McPherson is just one point behind USA’s world indoor champion Francena McCorory in the overall 400m standings, but she hasn’t won in a head-to head battle yet. Another strong contender is The Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller. The 21-year-old set a personal best of 50.17 in April, and then set a national 200m record of 22.14 last month.
Nigeria’s world bronze medallist Blessing Okagbare is set to open her 200m campaign against the home favourite Tori Bowie.
Pichardo and Bartoletta set to liven up the runway
While the sprints will undoubtedly attract most of the spotlight, records are anticipated elsewhere.
World triple jump leader Pedro Pablo Pichardo has produced fireworks in each of his competitions this year. After jumping 18.06m in Doha and improving to 18.08m in Havana, he promised to get closer to the world record of 18.29m soon. Olympic silver medallist Will Claye is set to challenge the Cuban in a competition where Teddy Tamgho’s meeting record of 17.98m could be under threat.
Tianna Bartoletta won in her both long jump IAAF Diamond League appearances this year, but none of those victories was easy. The competition in New York this weekend looks to be another close battle as she will be up against Christabel Nettey, the steadily improving Canadian.
Although Bartoletta jumped a wind-aided 7.11m in Eugene, Nettey shares the official world lead of 6.99m with the US athlete. Shara Proctor equalled her own British record of 6.95m earlier this year and is just four points behind Bartoletta in the Diamond Race standings.
The meeting records in all three throwing events are under serious threat.
Andreas Thorkildsen’s javelin mark of 87.02m will be challenged by world champion Vitezslav Vesely and Finland’s 2012 European bronze medallist Ari Mannio, who will be competing for the first time since setting a PB of 86.82m last week.
Joe Kovacs, holder of the best three throws in the men’s shot put this year, will take on 2009 world champion Christian Cantwell and two-time world indoor champion Ryan Whiting. The target for the US trio will be Cantwell’s meeting record of 21.68m.
World and Olympic discus champion Sandra Perkovic will be aiming to break her own meeting record of 68.48m, set two years ago. The Croatian faces Cuba’s Yaimi Perez, Germany’s Shanice Craft and USA’s Gia Lewis-Smallwood, the only woman to defeat Perkovic last year.
Vlasic and Rudisha target morale-boosting performances
Apart from Bolt, there will be two more notable comebacks in New York. Meeting record-holders Blanka Vlasic and David Rudisha have been plagued with injuries but are getting back to their best. Vlasic is set to challenge her mark of 1.94m set in 2013, while the Kenyan, who ran 1:41.74 in New York in 2012, won’t be thinking about records this time.
Rudisha pulled up injured in the 600m in Ostrava just two weeks ago and had to withdraw from the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham. But he is ready to take on a strong field in the Big Apple. Duane Solomon and Robby Andrews impressed at the IAAF World Relays, helping the USA beat Kenya in the 4x800m. The top US milers Matthew Centrowitz and Leo Manzano will be there to test their speed, as well.
In the women’s 800m, Ajee Wilson, the second-fastest in the world this year with 1:57.87, will lead the US challenge against the British duo of 2011 European indoor champion Jenny Meadows and 2012 European champion Lynsey Sharp.
The long distances will provide interesting duels between the top Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes. Current Diamond Race leader Virginia Nyambura will take on 2014 Diamond Race winner Hiwot Ayalew in the 3000m steeplechase, while Olympic bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa faces world silver medallist Hagos Gebrhiwet in the 5000m.
The weather forecast – 29C with 55% humidity – is not conducive for fast times, so expect tactical races with a last-lap sprint.
In her only outdoor outing this season, at a low-key meeting in Churchville, Olympic pole vault champion Jennifer Suhr jumped a world-leading 4.81m from a shortened approach. In New York, the home favourite will be tested by the powerful Greek duo of Ekaterini Stefanidi and Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou. Brazil’s 2011 world champion Fabiana Murer is also expected to be in the mix, having recently won in Birmingham with 4.72m.
Trinidad and Tobago’s world 400m hurdles champion Jehue Gordon is looking forward to bounce back from a fall at the Prefontaine Classic. In New York he will be an underdog against Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson and USA’s Olympic silver medallist Michael Tinsley.
Another world champion, David Oliver, will race the up-and-coming US talent Aleec Harris and Cuba’s Orlando Ortega in the 110m hurdles.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF