Track & Field

Who will be champions in China? Men’s track previews

100m: clash of the sprint titans

In a race where only two athletes have a conceivable shot at gold, Justin Gatlin will start favourite after a year in which he has eviscerated all challengers who have stood in his way. Beijing, though, with a back-in-form Usain Bolt on the start line, will present an altogether different challenge for the 33-year-old American.

Gatlin has run below 9.80 four times already this summer and in the Bird’s Nest Stadium, he will look to fly under 9.70 for the first time in his career and take Tyson Gay’s American record of 9.69. Indications coming from Bolt’s camp, though, suggest he is back near his best, in which case Gatlin will have to produce something in the 9.6’s to defeat the Jamaican world record holder.

After the leading duo, the others are likely to be left fighting for the bronze medal, with returning drug cheat Tyson Gay still yet to approach his best and Asafa Powell – who has run 9.81 this summer – just about as unreliable as it gets when the pressure comes on in major championship finals.

Verdict: Usain Bolt

200m: Bolt and Gatlin, round two

American hustle: Justin Gatlin looks set for a big championshpips

American hustle: Justin Gatlin looks set for a big championshpips

Four days after the 100m, Bolt and Gatlin will be back on track for the 200m final, and we’ll know much more about the likely champion after Sunday’s clash. What we know now is this: Bolt is historically the vastly superior 200m runner – with a personal best almost four tenths of a second faster than Gatlin – but this year he has been relatively awful at the distance, while Gatlin has been superlative.

The American has lost weight this season and altered his technique under coach Dennis Mitchell, something that no-doubt contributed to his breakthrough at the longer sprint discipline, in which he routed the field at the US trials to set his personal best of 19.57 seconds. Whatever about the 100m, though, Bolt will be relishing the chance to take on his nemesis over the longer sprint, where he has traditionally used his 6ft 5-frame to dazzling effect. Gatlin’s training partner Isiah Young looks most likely to take bronze.

Verdict: Usain Bolt

400m: Kirani’s class to rise above

Reigning Olympic champion Kirani James will start as favourite despite having had a patchy season to date. The 22-year-old – yes, he’s still only 22 – from Grenada smashed the field at the Prefontaine Classic in May, running 43.95, but was beaten on his most recent outing at the Paris Diamond League.

The man who defeated him there, Wayde Van Niekerk, will rank as his biggest threat in Beijing. The 23-year-old has made giant strides this year and James had no answer to his finishing burst in the Stade de France last month, the South African taking victory in 43.96.

The world rankings are topped by Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, who ran an African record of 43.72 last month, a time outrageously divergent from his other performances this season – having failed to break 45 seconds in seven other 400m races.

Reigning world champion Lashawn Merritt, despite a below-par year, will also rank as a major threat. The American was beaten at the US trials in June, but showed he is coming to the boil at the right time when running 44.36 in Edmonton last month. Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas also ranks as a dark horse. The long-striding 19-year-old made a major breakthrough this year with a national record of 44.27.

Verdict: Kirani James

800m: Amos to edge all-comers

Bosnia’s Amel Tuka tops the world rankings after making an unbelievable improvement this season, carving four seconds off his personal best, which now stands at 1:42.51. Tuka employs similar tactics to those used effectively for so many years by Russia’s Yuriy Borzakovskiy – evenly pacing the first lap and then blasting through the field over the final 200m.

The King of the 800m, David Rudisha, has surrendered his throne over the last two years but signs are that he’s beginning to get back to his brilliant best, though whether it will happen in time to reclaim his world title in Beijing is a different matter. Rudisha ran 1:43.58 to win in New York in June, but was worryingly beaten by Ferguson Cheruiyot at the Kenyan trials a fortnight ago.

Float like a butterfly: Asbel Kiprop ranks as the overwhelming favourite for the men's 1500m. Image: PhotoRun

Float like a butterfly: Asbel Kiprop ranks as the overwhelming favourite for the men’s 1500m. Image: PhotoRun

The most likely winner is the man who defeated Rudisha at the Commonwealth Games last year, Nijel Amos. The Botswanan 21-year-old ran 1:42.66 when finishing a close second to Tuka in Monaco last month and has taken wins in London, Lausanne, and Birmingham this summer.

Verdict: Nijel Amos

1500m: Kiprop too classy

On paper, Asbel Kiprop looks one of the most unstoppable favourites in Beijing, though the Kenyan has a patchy history when it comes to major championship finals. The 26-year-old already has two world titles and one Olympic title on his resumé, and looked invincible when storming to victory in Monaco last month in 3:26.69.

However, he has flopped before in world championship finals when looking a likely winner, most notably in 2009, when he finished fourth. At the London Diamond League, Kiprop showed an impressive range of gears when coming from behind and toying with the field to win the mile in 3:54.87, demonstrating he’s developed the tactical nous to cope with whatever is thrown at him in Beijing.

Of the others, Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi, Ayanleh Souleiman, Matt Centrowitz, Silas Kiplagat and Nick Willis appear to pose the biggest threat. Little should separate that quintet in the battle for the minor medals, but if all goes to plan for Kiprop,  that may be as much as they can hope for.

Verdict: Asbel Kiprop

3,000m steeplechase: Jager stands up to Kenyan quartet

For many years Evan Jager has threatened to become the great white hope who would finally take steeplechase gold away from the Kenyans, something which often appeared an impossible dream. Since Jager’s American record run of 8:00.45 at the Paris Diamond League last month, though – where Jager dropped all the best Kenyans before stumbling off the last barrier and gifting the race to Jairus Birech – that concept has now become a reality.

To win, Jager will have to contend with the finishing speed of the Kenyan quartet – Ezekiel Kemboi, Conseslus Kipruto, Brimin Kipruto and Jairus Birech – who will be defending their country’s steeplechase honour with all they have when the gun fires in the Bird’s Nest Stadium next week.

In Beijing, Jager can be expected to do what he did in Paris and hit the front far from home, but being the sole challenger against a quartet of formidable teammates, his task may prove an impossible one. In all likelihood, one of the Kenyans should have too much pace for him on the final lap and usually, in that situation, no one is better than the three-time world champion Kemboi.

Verdict: Ezekiel Kemboi

5,000m: Farah far too fast

Six times in the last four years, Great Britain’s Mo Farah has lined up alongside the best distance runners in the world at a major championship and on just one occasion – the first of those races, at the World Championship 10,000m in 2011 – he was defeated. Ever since that loss to Ibrahim Jeilan, there is a sense that Farah has found the blueprint for success, and given his dominance ever since, there is little reason for him to change.

In the absence of an athlete as dangerous as Jeilan, this looks likely to follow the same, tediously predictable course as all of Farah’s major championship wins – a slow pace, followed by a few timid, half-committed mid-race surges, before Farah hits the front entering the final lap. From there, as we’ve learned so many times, he is unbeatable.

Ethiopia’s new kid on the block Yomif Kejelcha and Kenya’s pretender to the throne Caleb Ndiku rank as the biggest threats, but will either of them do more than keep Farah company until he inevitably blows them away in the final 200m? Of course not.

Verdict: Mo Farah

10,000m: Kamworor faces up to Farah

In 22-year-old Geoffrey Kamroror, Mo Farah has a rival who will undoubtedly make him work for his second world title at the distance, but just how deep the Briton has to dig will depend on how well the Kenyan trio work together when the gun fires for the first track final of the championships on Saturday night.

Farah, as everyone knows, is virtually unbeatable when the pace is allowed to proceed at a crawl – he is, after all, the European 1500m record holder – but the Kenyan trio of Kamworor, Paul Tanui and Bedan Karoki sound like they will gang up on Farah in the 25-lap event. “I think with the support of Karoki and Tanui, we can terribly beat Farah,” said Kamworor in recent weeks. “Working together would mean that we terrorise the pace and ensure it is high to deny Farah the chance to apply his kick.”

Of course, saying it and doing it are two very different things, and though Kamworor has been in sparkling form this summer – having won the Kenyan trials at altitude in a swift 27:11.89 – it is difficult to see him applying enough pressure to drop Farah before the last mile. And if – when – Farah gets there in touch, the game wil once again be up for his rivals.

Verdict: Mo Farah

Champion of the world: David Oliver after winning in Moscow 2013. Image: PhotoRun

Champion of the world: David Oliver after winning in Moscow 2013. Image: PhotoRun

110m hurdles: a game of inches

In a year where no one has stood head and shoulders above the rest, the athlete who takes the world title in Beijing will be the one who can keep their head when all around them are losing theirs. One athlete who knows how to do just that – and, at 33, is dripping in experience – is David Oliver, the reigning world champion who has run 12.98 already this year. Oliver was an impressive winner at the Pan Am Games last month, but ran a ragged race when finishing third in Stockholm in recent weeks.

The world lists are led by Cuba’s Orlando Ortega, who will not be in Beijing due to a change of allegiance in recent months. Jamaican youngster Omar McLeod is another likely to be in the reckoning, the 21-year-old making a major breakthrough when winning his national trials in 12.97, but he faces a race against time to recover his fitness after a hamstring injury last month.

Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov is another who will be in the reckoning; the 24-year-old is a double European champion and has lowered his personal best to 13.06 this year.

Verdict: David Oliver

400m hurdles: Americans to the fore

A decade has passed since Bershawn Jackson won the world title in Helsinki and there appears every chance the American can reclaim the crown in Beijing next week. The 32-year-old has been beaten just once this season, when he was narrowly edged by Johnny Dutch at the Prefontaine Classic in May, but he has since swept all before him and tops the world lists with his 48.09-second win in Doha.

If he is to be defeated, then it will probably be one of his American teammates who does it, with Johnny Dutch, Michael Tinsley and Kerron Clement all potential title contenders. Dutch, in particular, has impressed this season, taking wins in Eugene and Rome and finishing second to Jackson at the US trials in June.

Of the remaining contenders, Javier Culson of Puerto Rico, Kariem Hussein of Switzerland and Nicholas Bett of Kenya are the ones most likely to interrupt the American dominance.

Verdict: Bershawn Jackson





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Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy is a freelance journalist, a once-serious, now-retired athlete who writes for a number of international publications in the running industry. He has won two sports-writing awards, the Peter Ball Memorial Award in Ireland and the Wills Writing Award in the UK. Nationally, he previously worked for the Sunday Tribune, Irish Runner magazine and has written for the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, the Guardian and The Independent in Britain. He is a regular contributor to Running Times, Runner's World, RunBlogRun and the IAAF website.
His banter levels are often poor, occasionally exceptional.

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