ATHLETICS Preview: Benjamin vs. Warholm, Muhammad vs. McLaughlin, Kendricks vs. Duplantis among 16 Diamond League titles up in Zurich

Dalilah Muhammad's last race was a world record of 52.20 in the 400 m hurdles. What will be her encore in Zurich?

The first of two finals meets in the IAAF Diamond League comes Thursday at the famed Weltklasse Zurich meeting in Switzerland in front of a full house at the famed Letzigrund Stadium with a lot at stake.

First is the prize money, which is the most for any of the Diamond League meets: $50,000-20,000-10,000-6,000-5,000-4,000-3,000-2,000 for the top eight places (same for the second final in Brussels on 6 September).

Second is a wild-card entry into the IAAF World Championships at the end of September in Doha (QAT), which may not mean much to an individual winner who is also ready qualified, but could mean a lot to someone else from their country (with the relevant qualifying standard). For example, in the men’s 110 m hurdles, American stars Daniel Roberts, Grant Holloway and Devon Allen all qualified for Doha from the USATF Nationals. But if Roberts should win the Diamond League final in Brussels – and he’s among the favorites – he would get the wild-card entry and Freddie Crittenden, fourth at the U.S. nationals, but with a lifetime best 13.17 in Paris last weekend, would get to run in Doha!

There are 16 events on the Zurich program; some of the anticipated highlights:

Men/100 m: No Christian Coleman, awaiting his doping hearing on 4 September. Now to the race, which should be great. Justin Gatlin (9.87) is in, along with fellow Americans Noah Lyles (9.86) and Pan Am champ Michael Rodgers (9.97). The top challengers are also here: Akani Simbine (RSA: 9.92), Zharnel Hughes (GBR: 9.95) and Jamaica’s 2011 titlist, Yohan Blake (9.96). This would be an amazing win for Lyles, but it should not get him into the Doha Worlds since Gatlin already has the wild-card as 2017 champion … unless the USATF changes its mind …

Men/800 m: The top five on the 2019 world list are here, and this is a likely preview of the Worlds final in Doha. Nigel Amos (BOT) ran a stunning 1:41.89 at the Monaco Diamond League, trained by Kenyan Ferguson Rotich (1:42.54) and Amel Tuka (BIH: 1:43.62). Amos will be tracked by American Donovan Brazier (1:43.63 in Rome), who hasn’t run since the U.S. Nationals, Kenyan Wycliffe Kinyamel (1:43.48) and Canada’s Brandon McBride, who looked great in Paris, winning in 1:43.78.

Men/5,000 m: Another distance race with too many people in it (17). The seasonal list is dominated by the fabulous race in Rome, won by Telahun Haile Bekele (ETH) in 12:52.98 from teammates Selemon Barega (12:53.04) and Hagos Gebrhiwet (12:54.92). But fellow Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha (13:00.56) is undefeated in his three races at 5,000 m and famously ran the indoor mile in a world record of 3:47.01. Lots of room for surprises here, from Birhanu Balew (BRN: 12:56.26 this season), Joshua Cheptegei (UGA: 13:03.59) and maybe American Paul Chelimo (13:05.70).

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Men/400 m hurdles: American Rai Benjamin has run this race in four meets this season, winning three and running 47.16 to win at Pre. Norway’s reigning World Champion Karsten Warholm (shown above) has run five times and won them all (47.12 best), but they haven’t met yet. No one else is within a second of these guys, and anything – even a world record – is possible. Weather check: when this race is scheduled to be run around 9:45 p.m., the forecast is for about 68 F, humid with rain possible earlier in the day. Look for Warholm to get out fast and Benjamin to chase on the way home.

Men/High Jump: A lackluster year for this event, but one of the three world leaders, Ilya Ivanyuk (RUS: 2.33 m/7-7 3/4) is in, but watch for the fitness of Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim. Returning from injuries, he’s done only 2.27 m (7-5 1/4) this season, but feels certain he will be in sensational form by the World Championships. Let’s see what he does in Zurich.

Men/Pole Vault: A big field with 13 entries, but with all of the contenders. Reigning World Champion Sam Kendricks of the U.S. (6.06 m this year/19-10 1/2) will renew his rivalry with Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis (6.00 m/19-8 14 last week). Both could lose to Poland’s Piotr Lisek (6.02 m/19-9) with 2012 Olympic champ Renaud Lavillenie (FRA) and 2016 gold winner Thiago Braz (BRA) trying to get in on the fun. This will be another good test for upcoming American Chris Nilsen (5.95 m outdoors/19-6 1/4), who won the NCAA title over Duplantis back in June.

Men/Long Jump: Whenever Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria steps on the runway, all eyes turn. No one – including him – knows what’s coming, but he has the talent to jump further than anyone has ever jumped before. That said, he’s fifth on the 2019 world list at 8.34 m (27-4 1/2) and South Africa’s World Champion Luvo Manyonga (8.37 m/27-5 1/2) is the likely winner. World leader Zarck Visser (RSA: 8.41 m/27-7 1/4) is in, but he hasn’t reached 8 m (26-3) outside of his home country in 2019.

Men/Javelin: Germany has dominated this event in recent years, but Estonia’s Magnus Kirt (90.61 m/297-3) is the only one past 90 m this season. Three German chasers are over 90 m: Andreas Hofmann (89 65 m/294-1), Johannes Vetter (89.28 m/292-11) and Bernhard Seifert (89.06 m/292-2), but watch out for Taipei’s Chao-Tsun Cheng (87.75 m/287-10), the last-throw winner in Birmingham.

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Women/200 m: Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH; shown above) stands third on the world list at 22.09, but she has won 24 straight 200 m finals, dating back to the 2017 World Championships. She has world leader (and Rio Olympic champ) Elaine Thompson (JAM: 22.00), Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith (22.18), Blessing Okagbare (NGR: 22.05) and reigning World Champion Dafne Schippers (NED: 22.45) all gunning for her.

Women/400 m: World leader Miller-Uibo is not in the field, but Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, second on the 2019 list at 49.17 is. She’s the overwhelming favorite here, well ahead of Americans Shakima Wimbley (50.20) and Kendall Ellis (50.38) and Jamaica’s Stephenie-Ann McPherson (50.74).

Women/1,500 m: The field is too big, with 15 runners (including pacers), but seems likely to come down to a final-lap dash, with eight runners having broken 4:00 in the race. The 2015 World Champion, Genzebe Dibaba (ETH) is the favorite, having already beaten mile world-record setter Sifan Hassan (NED) at the Diamond League meet in Rabat, with Gudaf Tsegay (ETH) third, 3:55.47-3:55.93-3:57.40. An alternate scenario has German Konstanze Klosterhalfen pushing the pace on the third lap and trying a breakaway, which could turn the race sideways into who can kick the longest from the furthest out?

Women/3,000 m Steeple: This will be an interesting race for reigning World Champion Emma Coburn of the U.S., since she will face seven Kenyans in this event instead of three as at Doha. World-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech leads this field and is the world leader at 8:55.58. No one else has broken 9:03 and Norah Jeruto (KEN: 9:03.71), Hyvin Kiyeng (9:05.81), Celliphine Chespol (9:06.76) and Coburn (9:04.90) are all in the mix. Will Coburn chase after Chepkoech here, or wait to show a new tactical plan at the Worlds?

Women/400 m hurdles: We haven’t seen Dalilah Muhammad since her world record of 52.20 at the USATF Nationals, or runner-up (52.88) Sydney McLaughlin either. The top four on the world list are all from the U.S. and all are here, with Ashley Spencer (53.11) and Shamier Little (53.73) the only others to break 54 seconds this season.

Women/Triple Jump: Venezuela’s world leader Yulimar Rojas (15.11 m/49-7) is the big favorite, but watch for a possible American Record from Keturah Orji. She reached a lifetime best of 14.72 m (48-3 1/2) in Paris and could challenge Tori Franklin’s 2018 mark of 14.84 m (48-8 1/4).

Women/Shot Put: The top eight on the 2019 world list are here, but the big favorite is China’s Lijian Gong, the reigning World Champion. She’s won 11 of 12 meets this season, losing only to American Chase Ealey in Nanjing way back in May. Gong has thrown 19.84 m (65-1 14) this season to 19.67 m (64-6 1/2) for Ealey and 19.55 m (64-1 3/4) for Jamaica’s Danniel Thomas-Dodd. Those should be the top three in Zurich.

Women/Javelin: World leader Huihui Lu of China (67.98 m/223-0) has won 11 meets in a row after an opening loss this season, but is going to get an argument from Kelsey-Lee Barber of Australia, who threw 67.60 m (222-1) last month. All four women who have thrown past 67 m this season are in the field.

There is also a women’s non-Diamond League pole vault at the Zurich train station on Wednesday night, with many of the usual suspects: Olympic and World champ Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, Sandi Morris and Katie Nageotte of the U.S., New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney, Anzhelika Sidorova (RUS) and the newest star, Canada’s Alysha Newman, who jumped 4.82 m (15-9 3/4) for another national record to win at the Meeting de Paris.

NBCSN has coverage of the meet from Zurich on Thursday (29th), beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Look for results here.