Beijing 2015: the five events you can’t miss
Bolt, Gatlin and the race for credibility; Men’s 100m
They can pitch it any way they want – good versus evil, drug cheat versus paragon of virtue, track’s hero versus its villain – but none of it will matter a jot to Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin when they settle into their blocks for the men’s 100m final next Sunday night.
Gatlin is a former Olympic champion, the fastest man in the world right now, and yes – a proven doper. He is all of those things but he is also a proven championship performer. His 100m performances this year have been sheer demolition jobs, a case of a 33-year-old man making athletes several years younger look like boys.
What Gatlin has yet to face, though, is Usain Bolt. So far, the Jamaican has looked a ragged, less-than-fit shadow of his former self this season, but signs were ominous in London – where Bolt ran 9.87 twice in inclement weather – that the fastest man of all time is coming good at the right time.
In 2013, Bolt took 0.08 of a second off his season’s best when he showed up in Moscow to win triple gold. In 2012, he improved by 0.13 when winning Olympic gold in London. In 2009, he ran 0.20 faster than he had that season when setting the world record in Berlin. The point is this: Bolt and coach Glen Mills will have once again left plenty of room for improvement between London and Beijing and if he follows his usual pattern, he’ll be running just as fast as Gatlin when the gun fires inside the Bird’s Nest Stadium next week.
And in that scenario, as history has shown us, the Jamaican just doesn’t lose.
Genzebe the great against the best of the rest; Women’s 1500m
Who can possibly stop her? Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba is not just six seconds faster than any woman in the world this year; she’s run faster over 1500m than any woman… ever. Dibaba has always been an enormous talent worthy of the family name, but since joining forces with coach Jama Aden, she has been transformed into a true great.
The 24-year-old stunned the athletics world with her 1500m world record of 3:50.07 in Monaco last month, and looked an entirely different breed to her rivals while doing so. However, for all her vast ability, Dibaba’s outdoor championship record is appalling – she finished eighth in three previous World Championships.
Can she break that duck in Beijing? Based off her run in Monaco – and reports of an absurd 6x800m workout in 2:02, 2:03, 2:04, 2:04, 2:04, 1:58, which Dibaba outlined in an interview with RunBlogRun recently – it will take something special to stop her.
The athlete most likely to mount a challenge is Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who finished second in Monaco in 3:56.05 and backed it up with a 3:56.33 run against male opposition earlier this week. Others of note include the formidable American duo of Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Simpson. Of the two, Simpson – whose finishing kick is feared by all female 1500m runners – poses the most serious threat.
David versus the Goliaths; Men’s 800m
Three years removed from the London Olympics, and that run, that race, that world record, it’s difficult to now comprehend just how invincible David Rudisha used to be. The Kenyan missed the 2013 season through injury, and he’s yet to approach his imperious best since his return to the track last summer.
Indeed Rudisha – and all those who admired his brilliance for so many years – must now be wondering if his best days are indeed behind him. “I have to admit in the final 50 metres I need to improve,” he said last week. “Don’t rule me out yet.”
No one is foolish enough to write off his chances, but the 26-year-old undoubtedly goes to Beijing as an underdog. Amos, 21, has been dominant on the circuit over the last two months, taking wins in Birmingham, Lausanne and London – his only defeat coming in Monaco, where he, and just about everyone else, was stunned to see unheralded Bosnian Amel Tuka blast by in the last 50 metres.
Tuka, 24, improved his personal best by four seconds this year – running 1:42.51 in that race in Monaco – and his come-from-behind tactics could prove highly effective in Beijing in what looks a very open race. Mohammed Aman will try to defend the world title he won in Moscow two years ago, but the Ethiopian, who is a recent convert to the Oregon Track Club, has had a rough ride in his last two races, trailing home eighth in both Lausanne and Monaco.
So, who wins? No idea, whatsoever, but hey, isn’t that what makes it great?
Clash of the triple jump titans, Taylor and Pichardo; Men’s triple jump
The men’s triple jump has been to this year’s track and field season what the men’s high jump was to 2014 – namely, an event that has diverted eyes away from the track to focus, truly riveted, on two athletes who may well break the world record in their fight for supremacy.
The signs of a potential rivalry for the ages first emerged back in May, with both men soaring over the 18-metre barrier in Doha – Pichardo edging victory with 18.06m to Taylor’s 18.04m.
Since then, they have clashed twice more. In Lausanne, Taylor soared over 18 metres twice, his last-round effort of 18.06m taking victory by seven centimetres over the Cuban. A week later, Taylor again edged Pichardo in Monaco, jumping 17.75 to take victory by two centimetres.
No one in the world is close to the duo this year, so expect another head-to-head, six-round struggle for gold in Beijing. Jonathan Edwards’ 20-year-old world record of 18.29m is also within sight, and it won’t come as the biggest shock if one of these two fly past that in the Bird’s Nest Stadium next week.
Kenyan stranglehold under threat; Men’s 3000m steeplechase
In the absence of Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who for so long has been the sole athlete to interrupt the Kenyan steeplechase dominance, the challenger’s mantle now falls to American Evan Jager.
Make no mistake: the 26-year-old is no overhyped, empty threat to the Kenyans, which he proved in Paris last month when outrunning the best of them before falling off the last hurdle, which cost him the win and his first sub-eight-minute clocking. With a 3:32 1500m in the bag, Jager’s shown he has the speed, along with the strength, to defeat the Kenyans. In Paris, he said that he won’t leave it late in the final in Beijing, so expect to see him hit the front a few laps from home, hoping to draw the sting out of his East African rivals.
The obvious starting point with them is Jairus Birech, who has hoovered up wins on the Diamond League circuit over the last two seasons. The 22-year-old is the world leader, courtesy of his fortunate 7:58.83 win in Paris, but is still inexperienced in championship settings. In 2012, he finished fourth at the Kenyan Championships and failed to make their Olympic team and did the same the following year, missing out on the World Championships.
He did make it to Glasgow for last year’s Commonwealth Games, but was decisively beaten in the final by teammate Jonathan Ndiku. Birech is formidable off a fast pace, but history shows that championships steeplechases are more often won by speed, not strength.
No one has shown that more than Ezekiel Kemboi, whose devastating kick has earned him two Olympic and three World Championship titles. Kemboi began the year in sparkling form, winning at the Prefontaine Classic in May, but since then it’s been lights out for the 33-year-old – he finished 10th in Oslo, 11th in Paris and fourth at the Kenyan trials.
Finishing a close second to Birech there was Conseslus Kipruto, who’s been progressing nicely throughout the year and also possesses a considerable range of gears. Brimin Kipruto is the fourth Kenyan entrant and though the former Olympic champion has had a below-par year to date, his finishing speed should put him in the reckoning in what is a race with five possible winners.