ATHLETICS Preview: Coleman vs. Lyles and Samba vs. Benjamin and a lot more in fabulous Shanghai Diamond League on Saturday

Is Christian Coleman (USA) still the world's fastest man?

The 2018 World Championships in Doha (QAT) are a long way off, but this week’s second Diamond League meet has a heavyweight feel to it. The track inside the Shanghai Stadium has been resurfaced and there are more than a dozen thrilling match-ups on paper. The most anticipated:

Men

100 m: When he’s been healthy, Christian Coleman has been the fastest man in the world in each of the last two years, running 9.82 in 2017 and 9.79 last year. But he hasn’t always been healthy and Noah Lyles won the U.S. title with his patented late rush in 9.88 and showed he’s ready to go with a fast anchor on the 4×100 m team at the World Relays. Then there is China’s Bingtian Su performing at home; he ran 9.91 last year and seems like he’s ready to break through against the Americans. He will also have to deal with fast-starting Mike Rodgers of the U.S. (9.85 in 2018), Akani Simbine of South Africa, Reece Prescod (GBR) and Tyquendo Tracey (JAM), all of whom ran from 9.93-9.96 last season. Suddenly, the world leader of 9.94 from Divine Oduduru (NGR) seems soft …

400 m: A great field with Steven Gardiner (BAH) working his way back from injury and already running 20.04 for 200 m in April; Fred Kerley of the U.S., who logged a 44.4 relay leg at the World Relays last week, Jamaicans Nathon Allen and Akeem Bloomfield, Grenada’s Bralon Taplin (44.92 to win at the Grenada Invitational) and American Nathan Strother. Is one of them ready to run hard this early in the season?

5,000 m: After all the screaming about having just the 3,000 m in Diamond League events, the 5,000 m is being run in Shanghai, but just not in the main television window. The field is excellent, although too large at 21 (!) runners. Last year’s sensation, Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega – last year’s world leader at 12:43.02 – is in and seven more starters who have run under 13 minutes. The 2019 world leader, Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha (13:10.72), U.S. champ Paul Chelimo and Rio Olympic bronze medalist Hagos Gebrhiwet are among the top challengers to Barega.

110 m Hurdles: Jamaica’s Olympic champ Omar McLeod did not look himself at the Drake Relays and now faces off with the best hurdler from 2018, Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov (12.92 last year). Add in Andrew Pozzi (GBR) and Spain’s Olympic silver winner Orlando Ortega and the winner may be the top challenger to the American collegiate stars Grant Holloway and Daniel Roberts, the co-world leaders at 13.07.

400 m Hurdles: For nearly a year, the dream match-up everyone has wanted to see is Qatar’s Abderrahmane Samba and Rai Benjamin of the U.S. Benjamin won the NCAA title last year in a stunning 47.02 – no. 2 ever – only for Samba to run 46.98 in Paris at the end of June. Samba is the world leader at 47.51 already and has an 11-meet win streak in the event. Benjamin is clearly in shape, running a lifetime best of 44.31 at the Mt. SAC Relays, but hasn’t run a hurdle race since the NCAA meet. Who wins … and will the world record of 46.92 survive?

Javelin: This event has gone crazy with throws past 90 m (295-3) almost common during the past three years. In Shanghai, the 90 m club members involved include Rio Olympic champ Thomas Rohler (GER: 93.90 m/308-1 ‘17), 2015 World Champion Julius Yego (KEN: 92.72 m/304-2 ‘15), Andreas Hofmann (GER: 92.06 m/302-0 ‘18) and 2017 World University Games champ Chao-Tsun Cheng (TPE: 91.36 m/299-9). Wow!

Women

100 m: Who’s in shape? This race has big names like Rio Olympic champ Elaine Thompson (JAM), Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, Michelle-Lee Ahye (TTO) and Americans Aleia Hobbs, Ashley Henderson and Jenna Prandini, but only Prandini has run a 100 m this season (11.10).

400 m: Qatar’s Salwa Eid Naser has been the world’s no. 2 in the 400 m, winning 13 of her last 15 meets from 2017-19, losing only to Bahamas superstar Shaunae Miller-Uibo. Now Naser will face American Sydney McLaughlin, who opened with an easy 54.14 (!) win in the 400 m hurdles last weekend, no. 2 in the world for 2019. Throw in reigning U.S. champ Shakima Wimbley (49.52 ‘18), European champ Justyna Swiety-Ersetic (POL: 50.41 ‘18) and Jamaica’s Stephenie Ann McPherson (49.92 ‘13) and this should be one of the best races of the evening.

1,500 m: Another too-large field with 17 runners, but five who have run under 4:00: Rababe Arafi (MAR: 3:59.15), Winny Chebet (KEN: 3:59.16), Ethiopians Dawit Seyaum (3:58.09) and Gudaf Tsegay (3:57.64) and Dutch star Sifan Hassan (3:56.05), who has been busy with road running and a 31:18.12 lifetime best in her 10,000 m debut. If Hassan has done some speed work, she should win. In any case, the current world lead – 4:06.98 by American Ajee Wilson – will be smashed.

Pole Vault: Long-time foes Sandi Morris of the U.S. (4.76 m/15-7 1/4 outdoors this season) and 2016 Olympic champ Katerina Stefanidi (GRE) are back at it. They’ve met 35 times over the years – starting in 2011 – with Stefanidi holding a 21-14 lead.

Shot: The top three on the 2019 world list are in: American Chase Ealey (19.67 m/64-6 1/2), Jamaican national-record holder Danniel Thomas-Dodd (19.48 m/63-11) and Chinese star Lijiao Gong, the 2017 World Champion (19.18 m/62-11 1/4), plus U.S. champ Maggie Ewen (18.58 m/60-11 1/2) this season.

There are lots of other good match-ups, but not quite as compelling as these; you can check out the full list of entries here. NBC’s Olympic Channel will have delayed coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Look for live results here.

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