Mutaz Essa Barshim at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo (© AFP / Getty Images)
Will the Bislett Stadium witness its first 2.40m high jump? Can home athletes Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Karsten Warholm make the most of events showcasing their rising talents? Will Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya maintain her now customary dominance over two laps? All will become clear at the Oslo Bislett Games on Thursday (15), the fifth IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season.
It is no secret that meeting organiser Steinar Hoen, Norway’s 1994 European indoor high jump champion, longs to see the world record of 2.45m that has stood to Javier Sotomayor since 1993 broken in his home stadium.
Two years ago Hoen, who won the Bislett meeting in 1994 with a clearance of 2.35m, reorganised the set-up on the infield to give a stellar high jump field the best opportunity of attacking the Cuban’s longstanding record, but chilly weather frustrated that ambition.
On Thursday evening, for the first time this season, the Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallists – respectively Derek Drouin of Canada, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Ukraine’s Bogdan Bondarenko – will compete together, with Hoen hoping they will strike sparks off each other and manage, at the least, to break Sotomayor’s 28-year-old stadium record of 2.37m.
There is no question that the talent assembled is up to the task; four of the field have cleared 2.40m. While Drouin has only reached that altitude once, 2013 world champion Bondarenko has managed 2.40m or higher six times, and Barshim, second on the world all-time list with a clearance of 2.43m, has managed it seven times. Bondarenko’s compatriot Andriy Protsenko has also achieved that landmark 2.40m height.
Also included in a field stacked with talent are the Chinese jumper whose exuberant post-victory celebrations lit up that dank evening two years ago, Zhang Guowei, plus Britain’s 2012 European champion Robbie Grabarz and last season’s surprise package, Madjd Ghazal of Syria, who cleared 2.36m last year.
Sadly for the home fans there is no latter-day Hoen on whom to focus as these high-fliers set about their task – but there are other points of interest that have been set up enterprisingly by the organisers.
In a break from tradition, the trademark Oslo Dream Mile – that has over the years produced world records and illustrious winners such as Steve Ovett, John Walker, Said Aouita, Steve Cram, Seb Coe and Hicham El Guerrouj – has been transformed for the first time this year into the Dream U20 mile.
The clear intention is to throw the spotlight on Norway’s prodigious rising talent Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who, at 16, became the youngest runner to break four minutes for the mile as he clocked 3:58.07 – in his first race at the distance – at last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
“I believe I can run even faster,” the 16-year-old told reporters here today as he sat alongside one of his two elder brothers, 24-year-old Filip, who last year won the European 1500m title that 26-year-old elder brother Henrik won in 2012.
“I’ve been doing very well lately and I can run maybe even faster.”
Filip, meanwhile, is preparing for a concluding 1500m race that contains the kind of names that usually contest the concluding Dream Mile – including the Kenyans Silas Kiplagat and Elijah Manongoi, with respective personal bests of 3:27.64 and 3:29.67. Also in the hunt will be Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti, who has a best of 3:29.58, Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco (3:28.79),Marcin Lewandowski of Poland and the Czech Republic’s Jakub Holusa.
There will be a strong home focus too on the men’s 400m hurdles, where 21-year-old Karsten Warholm, a former decathlete who has been making big strides recently in the 400m hurdles, setting national records at the European Championships and the Rio Olympics, where he ran a best of 48.49 in the heats before going out in the semifinal.
Warholm recently opened his outdoor campaign with a huge national record of 44.87 in the 400m flat. His growing hurdling credentials will be put to a severe test, however, as he is the slowest in a field that includes the 31-year-old US Olympic champion Kerron Clement, whose best, admittedly from 2005, is 47.24. But Karsten’s winter form – a 45.96 indoor 400m, plus a world indoor 300m hurdles best of 34.92 – promises well.
If Warholm was looking for inspiration as a combined-eventer-turned-specialist athlete, he need look no further than one of the marquee names of Thursday’s programme, the former heptathlete and now world 200m champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands.
Schippers, who took Olympic 200m silver behind Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson last summer, will take on a field where the main opposition looks like coming from the Ivory Coast’s 2013 world 100m and 200m silver medallist Murielle Ahoure.
Schippers will be running on her 25th birthday; an ideal present would be an improvement on her early season’s best of 22.29.
If Semenya does win again over two laps, the victory will not come cheaply as the field also includes the women who chased her home in Rio last summer – silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, and Margaret Wambui of Kenya.
Canada’s Olympic 200m silver medallist and 100m bronze medallist Andre De Grasse will be seeking a repeat of his 100m victory in Oslo last year, but he will face strong opposition in the form of France’s Jimmy Vicaut, who has clocked 9.97 this year, and Britain’s Chijindu Ujah, who won this month’s 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome in 10.02 and looks ready to dip below 10 seconds.
Two of the Borlee brothers from Belgium, Kevin and Jonathan, will feature in what looks set to be a competitive and open 400m, with other contenders including world and European indoor champion Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic, Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith and talented African runners Baboloki Thebe of Botswana, who has run 44.89 this year, and South Africa’s Pieter Conradie.
Brothers Robert and Christoph Harting, Olympic discus champions in 2012 and 2016 respectively, will help make up a strong field that includes Poland’s world champion Piotr Malachowski.
The women’s discus will be similarly competitive as Croatia’s Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic, who has taken an early IAAF Diamond League lead in the road to the final, will face a field which includes Cuba’s world champion Denia Caballero.
Another Olympic champion, long jumper Tianna Bartoletta of the United States, faces a similarly testing time against a field that includes the British trio of Lorraine Ugen, Jazmin Sawyers and Shara Proctor.
New Zealand’s Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney will be favourite to win the women’s pole vault, while the 100m hurdles looks a close call between USA’s Olympic bronze medallist Kristi Castlin, world bronze medallist Alina Talay of Belarus, and Britain’s 2014 European champion Tiffany Porter.
Meanwhile there will be more rising home hopes on behalf of Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal, seventh in the Olympic 3000m steeplechase final last year, against a tough field which includes Sofia Assefa of Ethiopia, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF