Mutaz Barshim wins again in Oslo (© Giancarlo Colombo)
Seven world leaders and 10 world champions will converge on the eastern Czech city of Ostrava for the 57th Golden Spike, an IAAF World Challenge Meeting, on Wednesday (13).
Indeed, hot names of early season standouts appear throughout the main programme at the city’s Mestsky Stadium which in September will play host to the IAAF Continental Cup. At the moment, premiere among those is Juan Miguel Echevarria, the 19-year-old who set the athletics world alight on Sunday when he flew 8.83m through the Stockholm mid-afternoon sky, the longest jump in the world for almost 24 years.
The wind gauge was brutal, registering the leap at 2.1m/s, a scant one-tenth of a metre per second too strong to render the young Cuban's leap eligible for record purposes. Nonetheless, only five men have ever sailed farther in the event under any conditions, marking Echevarria as the next great hope to breach the nine-metre barrier.
Echevarria has yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, so he hardly needs the burden of expectations to weigh upon his every appearance. Particularly in Ostrava this week where the strong field assembled includes world champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa, who's already jumped 8.58m this season, and Olympic champion Jeff Henderson of the US, who's gone 8.44m.
But you can't help but let your mind wander just a little bit after watching several replays of Echevarria's phenomenal leap. Among the sell-out crowd of 15,000 expected will be world record-holder Mike Powell and Robert Emmiyan, the European record-holder (8.86m). You know they’ll be watching intently.
Barshim vs Lysenko
Another rivalry in the making will be on display in the men’s high jump where Mutaz Barshim and Danil Lysenko, the reigning world champions outdoors and indoors, face off once again.
The pair have squared off twice since Lysenko upset Barshim to steal the world indoor title, the Qatari prevailing on both occasions with 2.36m efforts. Barshim, the world leader at 2.40m, is also gunning for another addition to his meet record crossbar collection. In Ostrava that stands at 'just' 2.33m, suggesting a trip to the airport’s over-sized item check-in desk is likely in his future.
Can Guliyev’s momentum continue?
On the track, the men's 200m field includes four men who've dipped under 20 seconds this spring, led by world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, who rides the momentum from back-to-back IAAF Diamond League wins in Oslo and Stockholm into Moravia. In Oslo he clocked 19.90, just 0.02 shy of his lifetime best, and three days later 19.92.
Co-world leader Clarence Munyai is also in the field, making his first appearance since a disappointing fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games two months ago. The 20-year-old made waves after he clocked 19.69 at altitude in Pretoria at the South African championships in March. Canada's Aaron Brown and Trinidad & Tobago's world bronze medallist Jereem Richards bring 19.98 and 19.99 season's bests respectively.
Schippers targeting Kratochvilova
Meanwhile, the half lap features the biggest name on the women's programme, two-time world champion Dafne Schippers, who has a solid 22.34 to her credit this spring. Watch out for Murielle Ahoure, the world indoor 60m champion making her 2018 200m debut.
The target? Jarmila Kratochvilova's 22.07 meeting record set in 1981, 11 years before Schippers was born.
On the straight, world champion Justin Gatlin headlines the men's 100m, taking on compatriot Mike Rodgers, the year's second fastest man at 9.92, and Akani Simbine, the Commonwealth champion.
A second 100m race features a field of sprinters above the age of thirty, a unique farewell contest for 2003 world champion and long-time Ostrava favourite Kim Collins, who, at 42, claims to be on his farewell tour.
Rounding out the men's sprints is the Gyulai Memorial 400m, honouring the late IAAF General Secretary, which features Qatar's Abdalelah Haroun, eighth on this year's world list at 44.35 and Czech star Pavel Maslak. Keep an eye out for triple jumper extraordinaire Christian Taylor, who'll be dipping into the one-lap pool 10 days after lowering his lifetime best to 45.07.
In the men's high hurdles, Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega takes on Hungary's world bronze medallist Balázs Baji and world indoor 60m hurdles champion Andy Pozzi. At 13.17, Ortega is the third fastest in the world this year.
A rare 800m start for Dibaba
On the middle distance programme, it's the women's 800m which will attract the most attention, given Genzebe Dibaba's rare appearances in the two-lap event.
The 27-year has already shown impressive range this season, arriving as the world leader over 1500m (3:56.68) and 5000m (14:26.89) outdoors after taking the 1500m/3000m double at the World Indoor Championships. She has a 1:59.37 PB from last year; a similar performance could bring a victory on Wednesday.
Figuring prominently into the landscape of Mestsky Stadium is a statue of Czech running legend Emil Zatopek, who is also honoured on the programme each year with a distance race run in his name. It covers 3000m this year, and features Ethiopian rising star Selemon Barega, the Eugene 3000m and Stockholm 5000m winner, Shanghai 5000m winner Birhanu Balew of Bahrain, and Telahun Bekele, along with the pair another 13:04 5000m runner this season.
Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia returns to defend her 1500m title, aiming to improve on the 4:00.96 meeting record she set last year. She'll face Kenyan Nelly Jepkosgei, who ran a 4:00.99 personal best in Doha last month, along with compatriots Dawit Seyaum and Habitam Alemu, who have both clocked under 4:03 this season.
The class of the women's steeplechase field is 22-year-old Kenyan Norah Jeruto, who clocked her 9:07.17 season's best in Rome. On paper, her nearest rival is compatriot Daisy Jepkemei, the 2012 world U20 champion, who improved her lifetime best to 9:15.56 in Shanghai.
Crouser vs Walsh, 2018 round five
A strong slate of field events includes the fifth shot put showdown of the year between the season's two 22-metre men: Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and world champion Tom Walsh. Crouser has thrown 22.01m or better in each of his six competitions this season while Walsh leads the world at 22.67m. Crouser has a 3-1 edge over Walsh this season and 10-6 lifetime.
Local eyes, meanwhile, will focus on Tomas Stanek who joined the 22-metre club indoors this year en route to world indoor bronze. At 21.97m and 21.95m respectively, Michal Haratyk of Poland and Darlan Romani of Brazil are on the big men's trail.
The javelin, always a favourite in a meeting whose director is world record-holder Jan Zelezny, features Olympic champion Thomas Rohler, Czech hope Jakub Vadlejch, and rising Indian talent Neeraj Chopra. Rohler has thrown 91.78m this year, the Czech 89.02m and Chopra 87.43m.
World champion Sam Kendricks heads the pole vault field, where he'll face among others local star Jan Kudlicka.
Women’s hammer and men’s discus take centre stage on Tuesday
As is now tradition, the meeting opens on Tuesday with the women’s hammer, a regular fixture on the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, and, in a slight shift from tradition, the men’s discus, which kicks off the meeting at 18:30.
Also non-traditional is that for the first time since 2014, world record-holder Anita Wlodarczyk won't be in Ostrava looking to add to an unbeaten streak. Her goal this time will be to secure her first victory of the season after back-to-back losses. The most recent was last Friday where she was beaten by Gwen Berry of the US, who threw a world-leading North American record of 77.78m. They'll face off here again.
And in the discus, world champion Andrius Gudzius and world leader Fedrick Dacres butt heads three days after each achieved lifetime bests.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF