Juan Miguel Echevarria in the long jump at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm (© AFP / Getty Images)
Like a two-stage firework, the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Oslo and Rabat are scheduled to light up the athletic firmament in the space of four days – and after the spectacular display by Norway’s Karsten Warholm in the Bislett Stadium, the attention now turns to the prospect of more pyrotechnics from the group of athletes assembling at the Meeting International Mohammed VI D'Athletisme in the Moroccan capital.
Manyonga and Echevarria to strike long jump sparks
Among the prime candidates to provide sparks on the night in the Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah are long jumpers Luvo Manyonga, South Africa’s world champion, and Cuba’s 20-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria, who produced a wind-assisted effort of 8.92m in March and always looks on the verge of doing something similar in more record-friendly conditions.
Add in home jumper Yahya Berrabah, who has a best of 8.18m this season, Olympic champion Jeff Henderson of the United States, who has reached 8.38m this year, and two other dynamic South African talents in Zarck Visser, who has 2019 best of 8.41m, and Ruswahl Samaai, who jointly holds the meeting record of 8.38m with Berrabah, and it is a case of lighting the blue touch paper.
Stefanidi, Morris, Newman and Sidorova contest women’s pole vault
The women’s pole vault is the first event of the programme – and perhaps that is as well given the depth of talent involved.
Greece’s world, Olympic and European champion Katerina Stefanidi has already won one Diamond League meeting in 2019 – in Shanghai – with her season’s best of 4.72m and she is looking and sounding in ebullient spirits here.
Sandi Morris, the world indoor champion and Olympic silver medallist from the United States, now back in competitive mode after her ankle surgery last September, has already cleared 4.76m this season, as has Canada’s Commonwealth Games champion Alysha Newman.
And a strong challenge can be expected from European indoor champion Anzhelika Sidorova, who will be competing in Africa for the first time.
The field events will provide a similarly huge competition – involving far huger athletes – in the men’s discus. Man-mountain Daniel Stahl, who leads the 2019 list with the effort of 70.56m he produced to win his home Diamond League meeting in Sweden, will take on Lithuania’s world and European champion Andrius Gudzius and Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres, who has reached 68.96m this season.
McLeod and Shubenkov meet again over 110m hurdles
World and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod and IAAF Diamond League champion Sergey Shubenkov will meet in another potentially monumental contest.
Shubenkov earned silver behind McLeod at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, but won the Diamond Trophy in both 2017 and 2018. Their career head-to-head record currently stands at 7-5 in favour of the Jamaican, who was the winner in Shanghai as Shubenkov finished third.
David Oliver’s meeting record of 13.12 looks distinctly insecure.
The women’s 400m sees another head-to-head as USA’s world champion Phyllis Francis meets Bahrain’s 21-year-old Salwa Eid Naser, who won the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome in 50.26, putting her second on this season’s list behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo’s 49.05.
Marie-Josée Ta Lou, the Ivory Coast’s world 100m and 200m silver medallist, narrowly missed out to compatriot Murielle Ahouré in the race for the 100m Diamond Trophy last season, and she will be keen go one better.
In Rabat she faces a field that includes double world 200m champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands, who will be looking for a sub-11-second time having won recently in Hengelo in 11.06.
Arafi, El Bakkali and Iguider hold home hopes
There will be keen home interest in the women’s 1500m, where Morocco’s Rababe Arafi will hope to replicate the Diamond League victory she earned in Shanghai, when she finished in 4:01.15.
That mark has since been superseded by five athletes, however, and four of them are in the field, including Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and the Ethiopian who now leads this year’s standings with the 3:56.28 she produced to win in Rome earlier this month, world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba.
Great home expectations rest too on 23-year-old world 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali, who began his 2019 IAAF Diamond League campaign with a 8:07.22 victory in Doha.
In the men’s 5000m, meanwhile, all eyes will be on home runner Abdelaati Iguider, the 2015 world bronze medallist at 1500m, who will seek to provide a winning flourish in what is a non-scoring event on the night.
Bondarenko and Tamberi play it again in high jump
The men’s high jump sees Ukraine’s Bogdan Bondarenko, the 2013 world champion, seeking to build on the victory he secured in Rome when he cleared 2.31m – the best jump of the season so far.
Among a field of experienced rivals will be Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi, who confirmed with his victory at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow earlier this year that he is back to fitness after the serious ankle injury he sustained shortly before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Tamberi was unable to put on a winning show when he returned to Rome’s Olympic Stadium for the first time since that fateful year of 2016 – although he still put on a show, of course, and finished with a season’s best of 2.28m.
In the heat of Rabat, both men could be upping those marks this weekend.
Perkovic under pressure
The women’s discus will see Croatia’s Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic seeking to maintain momentum in a season she hopes will see her collect a seventh Diamond Trophy.
But she will have her work cut out to dominate a field that contains numerous athletes that have thrown further than her this season, notably Cuba’s Denia Caballero, who has reached 68.46m, and Yaime Perez, who has thrown 67.78m.
In the men’s 800m, Botswana’s 2012 Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos, who already has three Diamond trophies, looks in prime form, having followed Donavan Brazier of the United States home in Rome in 1:43.65, second only this season to the American’s winning time of 1:43.63.
But the field is strong, including Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich, fourth on this season’s world list with 1:44.11, and his Kenyan compatriots Jonathan Kitilit, who has done 1:44.97 in 2019, and Emmanuel Korir, who has a season’s best of 1:44.50.
The men’s 200m sees Olympic silver medallist Andre De Grasse, for whom the past two seasons have been undermined by hamstring injuries, putting his – fingers crossed – regained fitness to the test against a field that includes Turkey’s world and European champion Ramil Guliyev.
De Grasse, meanwhile, will seek to build on his promising showing in Shanghai, where in a non-scoring men’s 200m he finished second to compatriot Aaron Brown in 20.21.
In what looks a very even field for the women’s 800m, home runner Malika Akkaoui, with a season’s best of 2:00.46, appears to have as good a chance as any of the competitors. Her rivals include Selina Buchel of Switzerland, the double European indoor champion, Britain’s 2012 European champion Lynsey Sharp, Nelly Jepkosgei of Kenya and Raevyn Rogers of the United States – with the latter two being the only runners in the field to have broken two minutes this season.
After checking the situation of Caster Semenya in view of the decisions of the Swiss Federal Court, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the head of the sports center and sports organisation of the international athletics meeting in Rabat, Alain Blondel, invited Caster Semenya to participate in the 800m, but Semenya declined the invitation so will not be competing.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF