ATHLETICS: Coleman, Norman, Benjamin, Crouser, Thompson all to be challenged at the Pre Classic at Stanford

After a week off, the IAAF Diamond League ramps up with four meets in four weeks, starting with the Nike Prefontaine Classic, held this year at Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, while a new Hayward Field is being built.

It’s the only Diamond League meet in the U.S. and has a sensational cast for 2019. Expected highlights:

Men/100 m:
A preview of the U.S. Nationals in Des Moines, with Christian Coleman (9.85 world leader) facing World Champion Justin Gatlin (10.00 so far in 2019), Michael Rodgers (10.00), Cameron Burrell (10.12) and Cravon Gillespie, who exploded at the NCAA meet to run 9.93 for second. Is Gatlin – at 37 – still in the mix? Will Britain’s Zharnel Hughes (9.97) or Jamaica’s Tyquendo Tracey (10.00) surprise everyone?

Men/400 m:
Is Michael Norman the all-conquering superstar he has looked like in running 43.45 at the Mt. SAC Relays in April? He will get another stern test, running against current and former NCAA champs like Fred Kerley (44.81 this season) and Kahmari Montgomery (44.23), along with returning 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt. Now 33 – his birthday was 27 June – Merritt hasn’t run a competitive 400 m since bowing out in the 2017 Worlds semis in London. A world-class talent since 2004, is he finished, or is there more in the tank?

Men/400 m hurdles:
Rai Benjamin was second to Abderrahmane Samba (QAT) in shanghai in May (47.80) and won in Rome in 47.58 in his two meets this season. Now he’s running at home against a good field that includes 2016 Olympic champ Kerron Clement (USA), American T.J. Holmes, Kyron McMaster (IVB) and Turkey’s Yasmani Copello. Something special this time?

Men/Pole Vault:
All the stars are here, with the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Renaud Lavillenie (FRA), 2016 Olympic champ Thiago Braz (BRA), 2017 World Champion Sam Kendricks (USA), world leader Mondo Duplantis (SWE: 6.00 m/19-8 1/4) and NCAA champ Chris Nilsen (USA: 5.95 m/19-6 1/4). Nilsen has won nine competitions in a row, beating Kendricks at the Drake Relays and Duplantis at the NCAAs.

Men/Shot Put:
Rio Olympic champ Ryan Crouser has won all seven of its meets this season and has been over 22.00 m (72-2 1/4) in six of them. Except for the Doha Diamond League win, he’s competed only in the U.S. The top four on the world list are entered, with Tom Walsh (NZL) standing second at 22.27 m (73-0 3/4).

Women/100 m:
This is not a Diamond League event, but it is one of the most intriguing. New sensation Sha’Carri Richardson (10.75) is here, as is 2008-12 Olympic champ Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who co-leads the world list at 10.73. Last year’s top star, Marie-Josee Ta Lou (CIV) is in, as is American Aleia Hobbs (11.03 in 2019). But there will be a lot of interest in two recovering Americans: 2017 World Champion Tori Bowie and 2016 Olympian English Gardner. Will either be contenders when the U.S. Trials come in July?

Women/200 m:
After suffering with injuries, Jamaica’s double Olympic gold medalist Elaine Thompson is suddenly the world leader in both the 100 and 200m after her sensational 10.73/22.00 double at the Jamaican Nationals. She will face a formidable field in European champ Dina Asher-Smith (GBR: 22.18 this season), World Champion Dafne Schippers (NED: 22.78), 400 m star Salwa Eid Naser (BRN: 22.56), American Jenna Prandini (22.53) and others.

Women/800 m:
Twice Olympic champ Caster Semenya (RSA) is here, ready to run, but also waiting for the decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal on her appeal from the IAAF’s hydrodrogenism rules. She won her only 800 m race of the season in Doha in 1:54.98, by far the world leader. The only one anywhere close is American Ajee Wilson (1:57.98) from her third in Doha. But will Semenya try to run after the world record?

Women’s 1,500 m:
Although not part of the Diamond League program, a terrific race is assured with Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay (3:57.40 in 2019) facing off against Britain’s Laura Muir (3:56.73), Rababe Arafi (MAR: 4:01.15) and others. But this will be the outdoor debut for American Shelby Houlihan, who won at Pre last year in 3:59.06, announcing her arrival on the world stage. She will likely have to run faster on Sunday to win again.

Women/3,000 m:
Another great field, including the return of Rio Olympic 10,000 m champ Almaz Ayana (ETH), who hasn’t been seen on the track since the 2017 World Championships. She will have to deal with Hellen Obiri, who beat Ayana in the 2017 Worlds 5,000 m and took the 2019 World Cross Country title. Then there is Sifan Hassan (NED), who knows the Stanford track well, having set a 10,000 m best in the Payton Jordan Invite back in early May. There are a host of other quality entries, but can anyone beat Obiri?

Women/3,000 m Steeplechase:
As usual, the field is too big at 17 runners, but this is a great field, starting with the world-record holder, Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN: 8:44.32); the World Champion, Emma Coburn (USA); the 2017 Worlds silver medalist, Courtney Frerichs (USA); the 2015 World champ, Hyvin Kiyeng (KEN); and the no. 3 performer all-time, Cellphine Chespol (KEN: 8:58.78). Five of the top seven in history are here, including Norah Jeruto, who won the Diamond League race at Bislett Games in Oslo in 9:03.71.

Women/High Jump:
With Russia’s dominant Mariya Lasitskene – the world leader at 2.06 m (6-9) – headlining this field, the question is about American Vashti Cunningham. She’s won all six of her meets this season, but hasn’t left the U.S. At 1.97 m (6-5 1/2) this season and a lifetime best of 1.99 m (6-6 1/4) from 2017, is this time for a PR?

The top four on the world list are in: China’s Lijiao Gong (19.84 m/65-1 1/4), American Chase Ealey (19.67 m/64-6 1/2); Danniel Thomas-Dodd (JAM: 19.48 m/63-11) and German Christina Schwanitz (19.23m/63-1 1/4). Add in 2016 Rio winner Michelle Carter and this is essentially a preview of the Doha Worlds.

The facility, originally opened in 1935, normally seats 2,158, but seats have been added for this meet. The program begins with the men’s vault at 12:43 p.m. on Sunday and NBC has coverage from 1-3 p.m. Look for results here.