The Mohammed VI d'Athletisme is traditionally known for its strong middle-distance races, but the sprints and field events look just as exciting at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Rabat on Sunday (14).
At the recent IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, Kenya’s Julius Yego smashed the African javelin record with an almighty world-leading throw of 91.39m, moving him to ninth on the world all-time list. The performance came under controversial circumstances, however, as it was originally deemed to have landed outside the sector, despite there being no white line to indicate that was the case.
The Commonwealth champion will hope for a more straight-forward outing in Rabat where he will be up against the man whose African record he broke, Egypt’s Ihab Abdelrahman, and Czech thrower Petr Frydrych.
Part of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, Rabat welcomes the top three throwers in the world so far this year.
World champion Pawel Fajdek is unbeaten in his past six competitions, going beyond 80 metres in three of those. The Pole threw a world-leading 82.76m in Halle and then followed it with an 80.75m victory at the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge meeting in Ostrava to jump to the top of the 2015 challenge standings.
Long-time rival and Olympic champion Krisztian Pars will be in Rabat, along with Asian champion Dilshod Nazarov, who finished between Fajdek and Pars in Ostrava with a season’s best of 79.36m.
Bondarenko and Felix looking to bounce back
At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oslo this week, world champion Bogdan Bondarenko finished fifth in the high jump. It was the first time since August 2012 that the Ukrainian had finished outside the top two in any competition.
But he will aim to get back to winning ways in Rabat, having set a meeting record and African all-comers’ record of 2.39m last year when this meeting was held in Marrakech. He will face a duo of fellow 2.40m jumpers, comprising Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov and Olympic bronze medallist Derek Drouin.
Olympic champion Allyson Felix is also aiming to rebound from a rare defeat. The three-time world champion was beaten by US compatriot Jeneba Tarmoh in a close 200m race in Birmingham last week.
Felix will move up in distance to the 400m in Rabat as she tests the waters for a possible tilt at the longer sprint at this year’s IAAF World Championships. Among her opponents is Ukraine's European silver medallist Olga Zemlyak.
Like fellow world leader Felix, French sprint hurdler Pascal Martinot-Lagarde was recently beaten in a close race. After posting a world-leading 13.06 in Eugene last month, the European indoor champion was beaten by Cuba’s Orlando Ortega by just 0.01 in Montreuil earlier this week.
Ortega won’t be in Rabat, but world junior champion Wilhem Belocian will be.
James and Ayana aim to extend winning streaks
Olympic champion Kirani James has won all four of his 400m races this year, adding to a winning streak that stretches back to May 2014.
The 22-year-old Grenadian intends to maintain that record in what will be his first race on African soil. African record-holder Isaac Makwala and Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos are expected to be his closest challengers on Sunday.
Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana produced one of the most surprising performances of the season so far when she cruised to a world-leading 5000m clocking of 14:14.32 in Shanghai last month, making her the third-fastest woman in history.
On Sunday the African champion will contest the 3000m, an event in which she has a PB of 8:24.58, and she could be set to challenge the African all-comers’ record of 8:32.00. She will be joined by two-time world champion Vivian Cheruiyot and fellow Kenyan Irene Jelagat.
Birech faces Koech while Hassan steps down in distance
Kenyan steeplechaser Jairus Birech likes racing in Morocco. Two of his biggest victories last year – the African Championships and the Continental Cup – came on Moroccan soil.
But compatriot Paul Kipsiele Koech also has fond memories of the North African country. He triumphed in Rabat at the 2009 edition of this meeting in 8:07.80, the fastest steeplechase performance in history on African soil.
The pair have already faced each other three times on the IAAF Diamond League circuit this year with Birech finishing ahead on each occasion, so he will be expected to do the same again on Sunday.
After winning the 1500m in Birmingham last weekend in 4:00.30, European champion Sifan Hassan warned that she is not yet firing on all cylinders and will continue to improve as the season progresses.
In Rabat the Dutch runner will race over two laps of the track in an attempt to better her PB of 1:59.95. France’s 21-year-old Renelle Lamote, who recently clocked a PB of 1:59.39, will provide ample opposition.
Last year’s world leader Silas Kiplagat faces world junior record-holder Ronald Kwemoi in the men’s 1500m.
After finishing fifth in the long jump in Shanghai, Birmingham and Oslo so far this year, 2008 world indoor champion Godfrey Mokoena hopes to achieve his first victory of 2015 in Rabat. He will take on fellow South African Zarck Visser and Australia's Fabrice Lapierre.
Following his double sprint triumph at the recent Asian Championships, Qatar’s Femi Ogunode will line up for the 200m in Rabat, where he’ll face Kenyan record-holder Carvin Nkanata and 2013 European indoor champion Jimmy Vicaut.
Elsewhere, German throwers Anna Ruh and Nadine Muller will clash in the discus. South Africa’s Wenda Nel leads the women’s 400m hurdles field, while Russia’s Angelina Zhuk-Krasnova is the leading entrant in the pole vault.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF