French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie in action at the Charlety Stadium in Paris (© AFP / Getty Images)
The athletics world comes together in Paris on Saturday (1) as leading talents from the United States, Jamaica, Africa and Europe converge on the French capital for the seventh IAAF Diamond League meeting of the series in what will prove a fascinating pointer towards the IAAF World Championships London 2017 that start in just over a month’s time.
The Meeting de Paris, held since 1999 at the Stade de France, switches back this year to the historic venue of the Charléty Stadium.
Thus home pole vault world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie meets the US vaulter who became the latest member of the six-metre club last weekend, Sam Kendricks; world 110m hurdles champion Sergey Shubenkov, racing under a neutral banner, meets Jamaica’s in-form Olympic champion Omar McLeod; Jamaica’s Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson faces Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure, and in the men’s triple jump Olympic and world champion Christian Taylor faces his US rival Will Claye and the Cuban who provided him with such epic opposition in 2015, Pablo Pedro Pichardo.
Add to that the return of Bahrain’s Olympic champion Ruth Jebet, who provided the Meeting de Paris’s first world record last year in the women’s 3000m steeplechase.
Athletics riches indeed for a city already looking forward to its hosting of the 2020 European Championships and, beyond that, the 2024 – or possibly 2028 – Olympics.
Lavillennie, who won here last year with 5.93m, achieved his 2017 best of 5.83 behind Kendricks in the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, and his easy 5.80m clearance to win his sixth European Team Championships title in Lille last Sunday indicates his strong form.
But Kendricks, who took bronze behind Lavillenie’s silver in Rio, is clearly in superb form himself. With a best of 5.71m this season, Canada’s world champion Shawnacy Barber will also be in the mix. Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski and Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe, who earned surprise world title wins ahead of Lavillenie in 2011 and 2013 respectively, also compete, having both cleared 5.80m this season.
McLeod, who clocked a Jamaican record of 12.90 in winning his national title last Saturday, will headline a stacked 110m hurdles event requiring two preliminary heats. French hopes will ride high on the shoulders of Garfield Darien, winner at Wednesday night’s IAAF World Challenge meeting in Ostrava in 13.09.
McLeod’s compatriot Ronald Levy has run 13.10 this year, Devon Allen of the United States has run 13.11, as has South Africa’s Antonio Alkana, disqualified for a false start at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm.
Shubenkov will try to build on his second place at Stockholm, where Britain’s European indoor champion Andrew Pozzi, also here, was disqualified for a false start.
Thompson won her national title last week in the fastest time seen this year, 10.71, just 0.01 off her personal best. Ahoure, who has a season’s best of 10.83, looks best equipped to challenge. Compatriot Marie-Josee Ta Lou, who won the 200m in Ostrava in 22.44, currently leads the road to the final with 13 points and will also be one to watch – as will home runner Carole Zahi, winner in Lille.
Paris will witness the triple jump competition that never happened at last weekend’s US Championships in Sacramento, where Taylor made only a token appearance, flying over from Europe and deliberately fouling out on his first attempt, in order to activate the wild card he has to defend his world title in London. Claye won the US title in a personal best of 17.91m; Taylor returned to Europe and set a meeting record of 17.57m in Ostrava on Wednesday.
Also competing will be the Cuban who competed so thrillingly with Taylor in 18-metre territory two years ago, Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who has a best of 17.04m this season, fellow Cuban Alexis Copello, who has reached 17.09m this season, Germany’s Max Hess, who won in Lille with 17.02m, and Portugal’s evergreen 2008 Olympic champion Nelson Evora.
The 20-year-old Jebet, who produced a historic time of 8:52.78 here last year, will face an 18-year-old from her original country of origin, Kenya, in the shape of Celliphine Chepteek Chespol, who earned a breakthrough victory in Eugene with her world U20 record of 8:58.78.
The race could hardly be stronger, as the Olympic silver and bronze medallists, Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng and Emma Coburn of the United States, are also here.
Germany’s Olympic javelin champion Thomas Rohler will seek to maintain his stupendous standards. His throw of 93.90m at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season in Doha put him second on the world all-time list behind Jan Zelezny, and since then he has produced three more 90-metre-plus throws, managing two in Wednesday’s meeting at Ostrava, where he recorded 91.53m and 91.02m.
Teammate Johannes Vetter, second in Ostrava with 87.88m, and the Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, who beat Rohler in Lille last Saturday with a competition record of 87.95m, was third in Ostrava with 86.43m. Both are in Paris as well.
Home eyes in the men’s 800m will be on Pierre-Ambrose Bosse, fourth at the Rio Olympics, who will be running his first race over his specialist distance this season following injuries. The field contains a wealth of talent including Botswana’s 2012 Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos, also seeking his best form, plus a hugely talented Kenyan contingent of Kipyegon Bett, Robert Biwott, Alfred Kipketer and Ferguson Rotich.
Qatar’s Olympic high jump silver medallist Mutaz Essa Barshim, who has the top five performances of 2017 with a best of 2.38m, is already assured of a place in the IAAF Diamond League final and can concentrate on perfecting his preparations for London.
Not so Gianmarco Tamberi. The extravagantly gifted Italian grievously injured his ankle at last year’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco, where he set a national record of 2.39m before coming to grief in an attempt at 2.42m. His season finished, he was a forlorn spectator in Rio, cheering on his teammates with his leg in a brace.
In Ostrava on Wednesday night he managed his best of the season so far, 2.20m, but knows he will need to step up to reach a level commensurate with his talents.
Ukraine’s 2013 world champion Bogdan Bondarenko has also had his preparations affected by injury and illness, making his first competitive appearance of the season at this month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo, where he achieved 2.29m.
Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Kenya’s Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon lead the IAAF Diamond League standings in the women’s 1500m, and both are in Paris seeking the points that will confirm their place in the final. Hassan leads the 2017 lists with her 3:56.14 clocking in winning on home soil in Hengelo, while Kipyegon’s best this year is 3:59.22.
Ameer Webb, who held off the emerging talent of Christian Coleman to win the 200m at the US Championships in 20.09, has already qualified for his IAAF Diamond League final, and looks favourite in a field that also contains Greece’s Lykourgos-Stefanos Tsakonas, who has run 20.33 this year.
Hungary’s Anita Marton and China’s Gong Lijiao, winner in Shanghai and Rome, with respective season’s bests of 19.63m and 19.56m, look favourites in the women’s shot put. Both have already qualified for their IAAF Diamond League final.
Floria Guei, who has a best of 51.51 this season, will receive strong home support as she takes on a women’s 400m field that includes the powerful Jamaican trio of Olympic bronze medallist and national champion Shericka Jackson, who has run 50.05 this season, Stephenie Ann McPherson (50.68) and 35-year-old Novlene Williams-Mills (50.14). Courtney Okolo of the United States, who ran 49.72 last year and has done 50.72 this season, is another to watch.
Kenya’s 21-year-old Ronald Kwemoi, winner of the 3000m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha with a world-leading time of 7:28.23, will face a strong challenge from Ethiopia’s world indoor champion Yomif Kejelcha, the only qualifier so far for the men’s 5000m final.
The meeting will also feature a triathlon put together to showcase home Olympic decathlon silver medallist Kevin Mayer, who will have high hopes in London now that USA’s world record-holder Ashton Eaton has retired.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF