ATHLETICS Preview: Baker vs. Coleman in Diamond League Final in Brussels

The IAAF Diamond League schedule will conclude with the AG Memorial Van Damme in Brussels (BEL) on Friday, with 15 events to be held and $1.6 million in prize money up for grabs.

As with the Weltklasse im Zurich meet on Thursday, the Diamond League Finals are the best-paying meets outside of a major championship, with $100,000 per event, paid $50,000-20,000-10,000-6,000-5,000-4,000-3,000-2,000 paid to the top eight place winners.

But, it has been noted that the winner of the 2018 Diamond League will not get a “Wild Card” entry into the 2019 IAAF World Championships – we were wrong on this in Wednesday’s issue – and that the direct entry will be for the winner of the 2019 Diamond League events (see the IAAF regulations here).

The first final of the Brussels schedule was held in the elegant Grand Place in the center of the city on Thursday, with China’s favored Lijiao Gong winning her second straight Diamond League title at 19.83 m (65-0 3/4) over American Raven Saunders (19.64 m/64-5 1/4).

Three athletes will be doubling back from Zurich: Dafne Schippers (NED) in the women’s 200 m (she was fifth in the 100 m in Zurich), Dutch star Sifan Hassan in the 1,500 m (second at 5,000 m) and Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen, who won the triple jump and will compete in the long jump. Hassan is driving and Schippers and Ibarguen are flying. The expected highlights:

∙ Men’s 100 m: World leader Ronnie Baker of the U.S. – 9.87 – faces World silver winner Christian Coleman (9.94 this season), African champ Akani Simbine (RSA: 9.93), European silver medalist Reece Prescod (GBR: 9.94) and the king of inconsistency, Mike Rodgers (USA: 9.89). Baker has emerged as a sprinter to be watched, but a win over Coleman here would stamp him as a legitimate medal contender for the future.

Coleman looked unbeatable indoors, setting the world record at 60 m. But he has been run down when the distance extended to 100 m. Can Baker come on to win?

∙ Men’s 800 m: No doubt about the favorite: it’s Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir. He’s the world leader at 1:42.05 and is four-for-four in Diamond League races in 2018. His last race was 1:42.79 at the Birmingham Grand Prix. Behind him could be American Clayton Murphy (1:43.12), Kenyans Ferguson Rotich (1:43.73), Wyclife Kinyamal (1:43.12) or Jonathan Kitilit (1:43.46) or Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski (1:44.32).

∙ Men’s 5,000 m: No American man has ever won a Diamond League title in the 1,500 m, 3,000 m Steeple or 5,000 m. But in a winner-take-all final format, is this the year that Paul Chelimo can break through for the U.S.?

Tactically brilliant, Chelimo is one of six in the field who have run sub-13:10 this year, at 13:09.66. The top entries are Ethiopians Selemon Barega (13:02.67), Abadi Hadis (13:03.62), Getaneh Molla (13:04.04) and current World Champion Muktar Edris (13:06.24), plus Kenya’s Richard Yator (13:04.97).

∙ Men’s 110 m Hurdles: Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov was clearly the best in the world (12.92) … until he was out-leaned by Pascal Martinot-Largarde (FRA) at the Europeans, with both timed in 13.17. Both are here, along with Orlando Ortega (ESP: 13.08 in 2018) and Jamaica’s Commonwealth champ Ronald Levy (13.13).

∙ Men’s High Jump: With Mutaz Essa Barshim (QAT) out with injury and Russia’s Danyil Lysenko now ineligible for doping, this event is in disarray. Maybe Australia’s Brandon Starc (2.36 m/7-8 3/4)? Maybe Germany’s European Champion Mateusz Przybylko (2.35 m/7-8 1/2)? American Bryan McBride, who also cleared 2.35 m (7-8 1/2), but back on 9 June? It’s anyone’s guess.

∙ Men’s Pole Vault: All of the usual suspects are here, with 2012 Olympic champ Renaud Lavillenie (FRA) trying for his eighth Diamond League title. He won the first seven in a row, but American Sam Kendricks – who won the World Championshiips – won last year. The new European Champion and Swedish wunderkind Mondo Duplantis is in, the world leader at 6.05 m (19-10 1/4), along with 2015 World Champion Shawn Barber (CAN), 2016 Olympic winner Thiago Braz da Silva (BRA) and Russia’s Timur Morgunov, who jumped 6.00 m (19-8 1/4) at the European Championships and lost!

∙ Men’s Triple Jump: There are four Americans among the eight finalists, but the question is what will happen between Olympic and World Champion Christian Taylor and Portugal’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo, the world leader at 17.95 m (58-10 3/4). Taylor has been at his best in the biggest meets, has jumped 17.81 m (58-5 1/4) this season and is looking for his seventh straight Diamond League title!

The other U.S. entries are Omar Craddock (17.40 m/57-1), Chris Benard (17.40 m/57-1) and Donald Scott (17.37 m/57-0), who have the nos. 3-4-5 seasonal bests in the field.

∙ Men’s Discus: This event has gotten more interesting as the season has progressed. Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres looked like the best in the world for most of the year, but Sweden’s Daniel Stahl just jumped him on the world list – 69.72 (228-9) to 69.67 (228-7). In the meantime, Lithuania’s Andrius Gudzius – the World Champion and Diamond League winner in 2017 – is at 69.59 m (228-3) and just won the European title. Who wins this time?

∙ Women’s 200 m: Defending Diamond League champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH) has been the dominant force in the 200 and 400 m this season and is the clear favorite here, even though her 22.06 best for 2018 is second on the world list to Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson (22.05).

Truth is that Jackson will be fighting with American Jenna Prandini (22.16), European Champs runner-up Schippers (22.14 in 2018) and maybe surprising Gabby Thomas of the U.S. (22.19) for second.

∙ Women’s 400 m: There are five Americans among the eight finalists, but everyone will be chasing Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser (49.08), who has been the second-best in the world all season, behind Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH). U.S. champion Shakima Wimbley (49.52), 2017 World Champion Phyllis Francis (50.07 in 2018) and Jessica Beard (50.07) are all capable, but none have been able to challenge Naser during the Diamond League season.

∙ Women’s 1,500 m: Fourteen entrants, including the pacesetter, and six with seasonal bests under 4:00 and four more under 4:02. World leader Ginzebe Dibaba (ETH: 3:56.68) is not in, but the next four are:

3:57.34 Shelby Houlihan (USA) ~ U.S. champion
3:57.41+ Sifan Hassan (NED, en route time) ~ European 5,000 m champion
3:57.64 Gudaf Tsegay (ETH) ~ Stockholm Diamond League winner
3:58.18 Laura Muir (GBR) ~ European Champion

Add in Poland’s European runner-up Sofia Ennaoui and bronze medalist Laura Weightman and it should be a wild race. Look for Hassan to try and run away from Houlihan, and the American making a wild sprint down the final straight. But she ran the 5,000 m in Zurich on Thursday, finishing second in a final-straight sprint to Hellen Obiri (KEN); what does she have left?

We won’t forget to mention the 2011 World Champion and tactical genius, Jenny Simpson of the U.S. (3:59.37 this season). If the pace isn’t too fast, she will find the right space to make a run for a medal.

∙ Women’s 3,000 m Steeplechase: This has been one of the most interesting events of this season and all of the dramatis personae are here: new world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya (8:44.32!), 2015 World Champion Hyvin Kiyeng (KEN), 2017 World Champion Emma Coburn of the U.S., new American Record setter Courtney Frerichs (9:00.85), Kenyans Celliphine Chespol (9:01.82) and Norah Jeruto (9:04.17). And this race will have two pacesetters, so a sub-9:00 finish is being targeted. Another American Record?

∙ Women’s 100 m Hurdles: A great race featuring two women who really want to win this year’s Diamond trophy: Rio Olympic champ Brianna Rollins-McNeal and world-record holder Keni Harrison, both of the U.S.

They are the two fastest women in the field, with Harrison the world leader at 12.36 and Rollins-McNeal at 12.38. Next fastest is Danielle Williams (JAM) at 12.48. There are five Americans in the nine lanes, with Sharika Nelvis (12.51 this season and Christina Manning (12.56) more than able to pull an upset if the top two are not ready.

∙ Women’s Long Jump: World leader Lorraine Ugen (GBR) jumped 7.05 m (23-1 3/4) in early July, but was only ninth at the European Championships. Germany’s Malaika Milhambo is second on the list at 6.99 m (22-11 1/4) and won the Euros, so she’s the favorite. If she falters, watch for Canada’s Christabel Nettey (6.92 m/22-8 1/2) or Shara Proctor (GBR: 6.91 m/22-8), the Euros bronze medalist.

Colombia’s Ibarguen has done 6.87 m (22-6 1/2) this season and is one of three athletes competing back-to-back in Zurich and Brussels.

∙ Women’s Discus: No doubt about the favorite: Croatia’s reigning World Champion Sandra Perkovic. She’s not only the world leader – by more than 10 feet! – at 71.38 m (234-2), but is gunning for her seventh straight Diamond League victory in the ninth year of the series!

The Cuban duo of Yaime Perez (67.82 m/222-6) and Denia Caballero (66.09 m/216-10) have been the best of the rest all season.

The NBC Olympic Channel will show the Brussels meet on Friday at 2 p.m. Eastern time, with a replay at 7 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN. The women’s shot summary from Thursday:

IAAF Diamond League Final/AG Memorial Van Damme
Brussels (BEL) ~ 30 August 2018
(Full results here)


Shot Put: 1. Lijiao Gong (CHN), 19.83 m (65–0 3/4); 2. Raven Saunders (USA), 19.64 m (64-5 1/4); 3. Christina Schwanitz (GER), 19.50 m (63-11 3/4); 4. Aliona Dubitskaya (BLR), 19.01 m (62-4 1/2); 5. Paulina Guba (POL), 18.54 m (60-10).