The US Olympic Trials begin in just a few weeks – June 22 to be exact – with several other national Trials around the same time period. Assuming that most athletes will want to rest award of the big meet, the next couple of weeks are going to be critical competitively, for most athletes as they prepare for their first “peak” of the season.
Not so coincidentally the Diamond League is getting ready to present the hottest 10 days of track and field outside of the Trials and Games starting Thursday in Rome (May 31) then rolling through Eugene (June 2), Oslo (June 7), and New York (June 9)! We’ll see how the athletes hold up under the tight schedule and intercontinental travel, but by June 10th I think we might have a fairly good idea of who’s ready heading into Trials.
Rome will start things off as it will host the third leg of the Diamond League series, and after a sizzling Doha and a lukewarm Shanghai, judging from the preliminary start lists, Rome is going to turn the heat back up! And if anyone is looking to hear things back up it will be Usain Bolt, who’s coming off a rather lackluster performance in Ostrava.
Unless there’s a serious head wind, 10.04 shouldn’t be enough to handle this field as Bolt will take on former WR holder Asafa Powell (JAM) and French record holder Christophe Lemaitre. Powell ran 9.88 behind Justin Gatlin (9.87) in Doha, so should be ready to give Bolt a solid run. Between the fast starting Powell and the strong finishing Lemaitre, we should see a Bolt closer to his opening 9.82 than the race we saw in Ostrava. Maybe we’ll get that 9.7x he was predicting before Ostrava.
Also looking to rebound is long hurdler Bershawn Jackson (US) who lead the world early in the season and was running rough shod over the competition until he suffered his first defeat in Ponce against Javier Culson (PUR) and his world leading 48.00. Both Jackson and Culson will be in Rome, and so will Brit David Greene who earlier started a war of words with the Americans over the reinstatement of quarter miler LaShawn Merritt. So expect a fired up “Batman” as he looks to avenge his earlier loss as well as American pride. The year’s first sub 48 could be around the bend.
As a matter of fact both long hurdle races could become redemption races as the women’s race will have World champion Lashinda Demus (US) who took a very uncharacteristic 6th in her season opener in Ostrava! She too will face tough competition with Jamaicans Melaine Walker & Kaliese Spencer and Czech Zuzana Hejnova in the field. Walker is the defending Olympic champion while Spencer & Hejnova were both finalists in Daegu – giving this race a definite “championship” vibe. Demus will need much better than the 57.43 she put down in Ostrava if she wants to be competitive in Rome, as this race should go somewhere in the 53 second range.
Also needing a better performance than Ostrava is Berlin 800 champion Caster Semenya (RSA). Semenya’s 2:00.80 in Ostrava was well behind the 1:58.49 of world leader Pamela Jelimo (KEN) as Jelimo looked every bit the defending Olympic champion that she is. Semenya gets another shot at Jelimo in Rome AND teammate Janeth Jepkosgei, currently #2 in the world, as the two Kenyans have been on a resurrgence tour this year.. Throw in current World champ Mariya Savinova (RUS) and we could have a preview of what London may look like in this event.
Another "mini" preview might also be in the offing in the women’s 1500, as last year’s #1, Morgan Uceny (US) is set to go up against Genzebe Dibaba (ETH) – who’s gone from being the baby sister of Tirunesh, to national record holder and world leader in the 1500 at 3:57.77! Uceny wins by getting great mid race positioning and finishing off the field over the final lap. Dibaba wins by turning up the heat early, and never stepping off the gas! The question going into this race is: how far out does Uceny let Dibaba get before trying to reel her in? This should be an exciting race to watch.
The field promises fireworks too. One of the best matchups should be in the men’s pole vault, as world leader Renaud Lavillenie (FRA) goes up against World silver medalist Lazaro Borges (CUB), and defending Olympic champion Steven Hooker (AUS). Lavillenie and Hooker are two of only 15 men in history to clear 6.00m / 19′ 8.25" – and if Hooker is ready after a couple of down seasons this pair could push each other up above that barrier again this year.
Ditto for the discus trio of Gerd Kanter (GER), Robert Harting (GER), and Piotr Malachowski (POL). Kanter is #3 all time, but it was Harting who left Daegu with gold – Kanter silver and Malachowski a finalist. Kanter is the defending Olympic champion however, and will be looking to put Harting in his place however. So expect their competitions to have a little extra “oomph” this year.
Sort of like the head to heads of shot putters Valerie Adams (NZL) and Nadzeya Ostapchuk (BLR). The gold and silver medalists in Daegu AND the gold and silver medalists indoors in Istanbul this winter, this pair enters Rome as the top two putters on the season – and by now Ostapchuk has got to be tired of being the runner up!. Adams is the defending Olympic champion and has won everything in between except for World Indoors in 2010 where Ostapchuk turned the tables. She’ll be looking for a way to repeat that in London and her search will start in Rome.
Potentially we have another Doha on our hands. Then we turn around in two days time and head to Eugene which is just as loaded with stellar fields in the 10,000 (Kenyan qualifier), shot, javelin, mile, 400 and more. I’ll be back with a preview of “Pre” right after Rome. Then a few days off and we head to Oslo and New York. This will easily be the best week and a half of track and field to date!