Nine things for 2019: returning stars
With 2019 now underway, over the next nine days we'll be taking a look at nine things we're really looking forward to as we enter another IAAF World Championships year.
Stars on the comeback from injury
Wayde Van Niekerk
The world and Olympic 400m champion and world record holder was sidelined for all of 2018 after sustaining a serious knee injury in a touch rugby game at the end of 2017 - precisely the kind of activity world and Olympic 400m champions are generally advised against doing.
The 26-year-old South African hasn't raced since he finished second in the 200m at the World Championships in London on 10 August 2017, two days after successfully defending his 400m world crown. When he returns, he'll have his hands full with athletes who spent much of 2018 catching up: USA's Michael Norman, the world leader at 43.61; Bahamian Steven Gardiner, the 2017 world silver medallist who dipped under 44 seconds twice in 2018; and sub-44 man Fred Kerley of the USA, who spent his first professional season crafting his race en route to taking the IAAF Diamond League title. In the 200m, he'll have to deal with Noah Lyles, who ran faster than van Niekerk's 19.84 career best in each of his five races last year.
The reigning world high jump champion experienced his season high and low within the span of just a few minutes at the Gyulai Memorial in Székesfehérvár, Hungary on 2 July. After the nearest of misses at a would-be world record of 2.46m on his second attempt, the 27-year-old Qatari injured his ankle badly on his third, ending his season as he writhed and grimaced in pain in the landing pit. Eight days later he underwent surgery to repair damaged ligaments.
As serious as the injury appeared, the prognosis is good, with Barshim, a poster boy for the upcoming World Championships in Doha, expecting to make a full recovery.
Tori Bowie had a break out year in 2016, leaving the Rio Olympic Games as a triple medallist: gold in the 4x100m relay, silver at 100m and bronze at 200m. She followed up admirably at the World Championships the following year, winning the 100m title and adding another gold to her collection in the 4x100m relay.
But Bowie hasn't raced since leaving the track with an injury at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on 26 May, her only loss in four starts in 2018. She's expected to return to action at the Millrose Games on 9 February where she's headlining the 60m - and seeing for the first time what she'll need to do to catch up after spending nine months sidelined from the sprint wars.
In most cases, an athlete returning to action after sustaining injury at age 40 wouldn't be something worth noting as we look ahead to a World Championship year. But that's clearly not the case with the Frenchman, whose career has been defined by his uncanny ability to bounce back from setbacks - and who happens to be celebrating his 41st birthday today.
Indeed, the 50km race walk world record holder, who was born in Eperney in the heart of Champagne, is much like the best vintages of his hometown's finest product: better with age. At 39, he dominated the race at the 2017 World Championships in London, clocking 3:33:12, the second fastest performance of all-time and winning by more than eight minutes to finally claim his first world title. His preparations were going well ahead of the 2018 European Championships where he would start as favourite to take a fourth 50km title. But a stress fracture in his pelvis in July thwarted those ambitions, sending him to the sidelines for the rest of the year. With Doha on the horizon, don't count him out to be in the chase for another title in Doha's midnight run.
Andre de Grasse
Like Bowie, the Canadian sprint ace left Rio with three medals: silver at 200m and bronze in the 100m and 4x100m relay, propelled by 9.91 and 19.80 personal bests. But instead of following in the footsteps of Usain Bolt, who beat him to the line in both Rio finals, de Grasse has since struggled with injury and illness. A hamstring injury ended his 2017 season in the run-up to the World Championships and last year a bout of mononucleosis slowed his return before another hamstring injury at his national championships ended it abruptly after just five races.
De Grasse, 24, recently left his previous training base in Arizona for new climes - and a new coach - in Jacksonville, Florida, with a firm focus on another double medal-winning performance in Doha.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF