Elaine Thompson wins the 200m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
Sixteen IAAF Diamond League champions will be crowned on Thursday (24) at the Weltklasse in Zurich, the first of two 2017 IAAF Diamond League finals.
In all, 17 freshly-minted world champions and 14 reigning Olympic champions will be on the slate before a sell-out crowd of 25,000 at Zurich’s Letzigrund Stadium. In eight events, the two will be going head-to-head in the battle for the Diamond Trophy and each discipline’s US$50,000 winner’s check in a new championships-style format introduced this year.
Athletes competing in Zurich --and those who will compete in the remaining 16 Diamond disciplines in Brussels on Friday 1 September-- earned their spots in the finals by accumulating points at the 12 IAAF Diamond League meetings leading up to the two finals where the winners of each Diamond event will be crowned the 2017 series’ champions.
Schippers v Thompson at 200m
Among the most loaded fields on a programme loaded with loaded fields is the women’s 200m, which features a showdown between Jamaica’s Olympic champion Elaine Thompson and Dafne Schippers, who earlier this month successfully defended her world title over the distance.
The field also includes Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the Olympic 400m champion. The last time the three lined up in the same 200m race, in the series’ Eugene leg in late May, Miller-Uibo prevailed in 21.91.
Farah vs Edris and Coburn vs Jebet
Likewise, the men’s 5000m will attract considerable attention with six-time world and four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah making his final appearance on the track. It won’t be victory lap, either, as he’ll be taking on Ethiopian Muktar Edris, the man who beat him to the world title --and ended a four year unbeaten streak-- over the distance in London 10 days ago.
Meanwhile, in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, Emma Coburn, who lead a US 1-2 finish at the World Championships, faces Ruth Jebet, the Olympic champion. Coburn raced to a 9:02.58 Area record in London to move up to No. 6 all-time while Jebet, the world record holder, finished a well beaten fifth in London. Kenyans Hyvin Kyeng and Beatrice Chepkoech, third and fourth in London, are also in the field.
While the London triumphs by Coburn and Edris can’t be characterised as surprises, Karsten Warholm’s in the 400m hurdles certainly can. The 21-year-old Norwegian stormed to victory in 48.35, his fifth victory in as many finals this season, to produce one of the biggest surprises at London Stadium earlier this month. Here, he'll meet up with Olympic champion Kerron Clement, who took bronze in London, and Yasmani Copello, the world silver medallist. Look out as well for Bershawn Jackson, the 2005 world champion who'll be competing in a Diamond League contest for the final time. The 34-year-old, who won the event's Diamond Trophy twice, will be retiring at the end of this season.
Vetter and Rohler, Spotakova and Kolak head-to-head
There’s a similar scenario in both javelin contests which feature world and Olympic champions. On the men’s side, the competition is expected to be a battle between Germans Johannes Vetter and Thomas Rohler, respectively the London 2017 and Rio 2016 winners, who moved up to No 2 and No 3 all-time this season, Vetter with 94.44m and Rohler with 93.90m.
The women’s contest features a duel between Czech Barbora Spotakova, who claimed a second world title earlier this month, and Croatia’s Sara Kolak, the Rio Olympic champion. Kolak was fourth in London but arrives as the world leader at 68.43m from Lausanne.
The theme continues in the women’s shot put, where China’s world champion Gong Lijiao takes on Michelle Carter of the US, the Olympic champion. The field also includes Anita Marton of Hungary, who took silver in London ahead of Carter. Gong is the world leader at 20.11m.
The same goes in the women’s triple jump which kicks off the Diamond Trophy portion of the meeting at 18:25 local time. In London, Yulimar Rojas succeeded Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen as world champion. Here the young Venezuelan will be looking to end the Colombian’s streak of Diamond League series triumphs at four. By far the class of the event this year, Rojas and Ibarguen, both members of the 15-metre club, lead the world this season with 14.96m and 14.89m leaps, respectively.
An eighth Diamond Trophy for Lavillenie?
The three jumps on the men’s programme all feature newly-crowned world champions who are unbeaten in 2017: Luvo Manyonga of South Africa in the long jump, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim in the high jump, and Sam Kendricks of the US in the pole vault.
In the latter, the story line will follow Renaud Lavillenie, the bronze medallist in London, who is the only athlete to have won the Diamond Trophy in each of the series' seven seasons. The 30-year-old Frenchman hasn't won at a Diamond League meeting this season but arrives in the heels of back-to-back season's bests: 5.89m in London and 5.91m in Warsaw one week ago.
Kendricks on the other hand, rides a 10-meet win streak to Switzerland’s northern reaches, and arrives as the world leader at 6.00m and clearly as the man to beat. Poles Piotr Lisek and Pawel Wojciechowski with 5.89m and 5.93m season’s bests, will figure prominently as well.
Barshim too arrives undefeated this season in nine competitions, and fresh off a 2.40m world lead in Birmingham. He'll need to be pushed to go higher and perhaps even challenge his 2.43m lifetime best set in the Diamond League final in 2014. That's not likely in a season in which Barshim is head and shoulders, figuratively and almost literally, above the rest of the field.
Like Barshim, Manyonga is undefeated in eight long jump starts this season and comes armed with the year's four farthest jumps and seven of the best eight, topped with his 8.65m at altitude at home in late April and an 8.61m Diamond League record from Shanghai.
Should the South African perform below par, his compatriots Ruswhal Samaai and Godfrey Mokoena, the London bronze medallist and a past Diamond Trophy winner, respectively, could be in position to challenge. As could Jarrion Lawson of the US, who reached an 8.44m season's best to take silver in London.
Semenya targetting 20th straight 800m win
One athlete wearing both world and Olympic crowns is South African Caster Semenya who will start as a strong favourite to retain the Diamond Trophy in the 800m as she sets out to increase her unbeaten streak in the event to 20. The 26-year-old South African toughest opposition should come from London silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba and Kenyan Margaret Wambui.
Rounding out the action in the middle distances is another athlete bringing gold medal momentum to Zurich: 1500m world champion Elijah Motonei Manangoi. The Kenyan prefaced his London triumph with impressive victories in Doha and Monaco, the latter in 3:28.80, a lifetime best and the fastest in the world this year. His compatriot Timothy Cheruiyot and Norway's Filip Ingebrigtsen, who took silver and bronze behind Manangoi are also in the field.
Pearson and Gardiner looking for strong London follow-ups
In London, sprint hurdler Sally Pearson returned to the top of the World Championships podium. In Zurich, the Australian will be chasing her first Diamond Trophy. But she'll have to get past London silver medallist Dawn Harper Nelson, a four-time Diamond Trophy winner, one more time. Sharika Nelvis, who's won seven races this season, should be considered a threat as well.
The men's 400m features two men who've dipped under 44 seconds this season, Steven Gardiner of The Bahamas, the world silver medallist, and Isaac Makwala of Botswana, who was sidelined from the London final due to illness. The two have clocked 43.89 and 43.84 this year, respectively.
In the 100m, world champion Justin Gatlin will be gunning for his fourth Diamond Trophy in the event. He'll face London fifth place finisher Akani Simbine of South Africa and Asafa Powell, who's returning to action for the first time since June's Jamaican championships.
Women’s pole vault takes center stage at the main station
The meeting begins on Wednesday (23) evening with the women's pole vault at Zurich's central train station, now a traditional setting which kicks off the Weltklasse festivities.
While not a Diamond event in Zurich, the field is championships calibre, lead by Olympic and world champion and world leader at 4.91m Katerina Stefanidi. She'll be joined by London silver and bronze medallists Sandi Morris and Robeilys Peinabdo and local star Nicole Buchler.
US$ 1.6 million on the line
US$ 100,000 will be at stake in each of the 16 Diamond Trophy disciplines in both Zurich and Brussels for a total combined prize purse of $3.2 million, with $50,000, along with the Diamond Trophy, going to each winner. Prize money will be paid as follows:
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF