Dibaba takes on Ayana and the world record; Women’s 5,000m, 9:32pm (Paris time)
Almaz Ayana, photo by PhotoRun.net
Though the women’s 5,000m is dripping in quality, it’s not hard to know where to look to find our winner. Let’s start with the two women who must be giving Tirunesh Dibaba the occasional sleepless night – not alone because of their incredible form so far this season, but because both look capable of breaking her 5,000m world record in the not-too-distant future. If the pace is right and the weather obliges, we may even see it go on Saturday night. Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana came up just three seconds short of Dibaba’s world record when running 14:14.32 in May and with a rival of the most threatening kind now in opposition, Ayana looks capable of much faster. That rival happens to be Tirunesh Dibaba’s younger sister, Genzebe, who has gone on a record-breaking rampage since joining forces with coach Jama Aden in recent years. In February, Dibaba broke the world indoor 5,000m record with 14:18.84 and outdoors, she’s already run 14:19.76 and 14:21.29 so far this year. Others deserving of respect, but unlikely to bother the leading duo too much over the closing kilometres, include Faith Kipyegon, Senbere Tofiri and Mercy Cherono.
This, though, is really about two athletes: Ayana and Dibaba – against each other, against the clock, and against the sweltering temperatures inside the Stade de France.
Prediction: Genzebe Dibaba, 14:22
Jamaica’s sprint queen faces America’s latest challenger; Women’s 100m, 8:52pm
English Gardner, photo by PhotoRun.net
For many years now, the battle for supremacy in the women’s 100m has mostly been a duopoly between Jamaica and the United States. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce remains the event’s undisputed champion, but she finally appears to have a contender from her rival sprint superpower worthy of the highest respect. With time appearing to have caught up with Carmelita Jeter, the US was in dire need of someone to challenge Fraser-Pryce’s dominance and in 23-year-old English Gardner, they have the perfect candidate.
Gardner scorched to victory at the US Championships last weekend in Eugene in 10.86 and in her semi-final, recorded a wind-legal personal best of 10.79. Coincidentally, that’s exactly how fast Fraser-Pryce ran in winning the Jamaican Championships. Not to be discounted is Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure, who has already run a national record of 10.81 this year, or indeed Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor. The race will serve as the perfect appetiser for when these four clash again – this time in their national vests, rather than their sponsor’s – at the World Championships next month. How refreshing it is to see the top sprinters go to their marks together, unafraid of defeat, outside of a major championship. If only the men would do likewise.
Prediction: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 10.83
The return of Adams; Women’s shot put, 6:50pm
Valerie Adams, photo by PhotoRun.net
Since August 2010, Valerie Adams has taken on the world’s best female shot putters 56 times. Her record: 56-0. Take that, Mayweather. However, earlier this year the New Zealander faced the daunting prospect of retirement after struggling to regain fitness following double surgery (left shoulder, right elbow) last year. In May, as she slowly climbed her way back to health, she spoke to the New Zealand sports website, Stuff, about her desire to maintain that winning streak. “I do know that one day this winning streak is going to come to an end, but when that will be I don’t know. One thing for sure, I’m not going to start competing till I’m ready.”
Now, seven weeks out from the World Championships, it seems Adams feels ready to make her return to action and extend that streak to 57. Her strongest opposition will come from China’s Lijiao Gong, Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, America’s Michelle Carter and Belarus’s Natalya Mikhnevich, who have all thrown over 20m this year. If Adams’ arm is still as strong and powerful as it was before surgery, though, they don’t stand a chance.
Prediction: Valerie Adams, 20.82m
Can anyone stop Makhloufi? Men’s 1500m, 9:02pm
Taoufik Makhloufi, photo by PhotoRun.net
The 2012 Olympic 1500m champion may have missed most of 2013 through injury and been slightly below his best when returning to action last year but so far in 2015, it seems Taoufik Makhloufi is better than ever. He opened his season in Eugene in May when finishing a close third over 800m behind half-mile specialists Nijel Amos and Mohammed Aman, a run that was visually impressive, even if the time was pedestrian for a man of his calibre.
Earlier this week, Makhloufi proved his wheels are as sharp as ever when running 2:13.08 for 1,000m in Nancy, France, which was the fastest time over 1,000m for 16 years. On Saturday, he squares off against some of the world’s best over 1500m, including World Indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman and 3:27 man Silas Kiplagat. Souleiman started the year in sizzling form with an 800m win in Doha before taking the Bowerman mile at the Prefontaine Classic in 3:51.10. Kiplagat, meanwhile, was narrowly beaten in the Dream Mile in Oslo recently, running 3:51.72. Back in 2012, though, Makhloufi showed that at his very best, he is virtually unbeatable. Given his mid-week performance over 1,000m, he may well be back to that level again.
Prediction: Taoufik Makhloufi, 3:29.1
Lavillenie versus the world record; Men’s pole vault, 7:28pm
He’s the 2014 IAAF World Athlete of the Year, the pole vault world record holder, but what matters most about Renaud Lavillenie this weekend – at least to the tens of thousands of fans who filter into the Stade de France – is that he is French. Few countries embrace their athletics heroes like the French, and the time could be ripe for Lavillenie to repay that love with another world record vault in front of his home crowd. His current mark, set in 2014, stands at 6.14m. At the press conference in Paris on Thursday, Lavillenie said he hoped the conditions would be dry, hot and still. It appears he will have his wish. The 28-year-old has already cleared 6.05m this season, so a 6-metre clearance can be almost counted on. The question is: can he find another 10 centimetres and lift himself over 6.15m? If he does, the roof will surely lift off the Stade de France along with him.
Predicition: Renaud Lavillenie, 6.00m
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