Track & Field

Battle of Brussels: the five best clashes to watch

Gatlin versus Van Niekerk, Men’s 200m, 8:16pm

Newly crowned world 400m champion Wayde Van Niekerk takes on double sprint silver medallist Justin Gatlin and after the South African’s 200m personal best of 19.94 earlier this summer – and indeed his 43.48-second run to win in Beijing – there is every chance youth may come up trumps over experience. Van Niekerk, 23, has enjoyed a breakthrough year and as a speed-based 400m runner, there is every chance his personal best underestimates his ability in the half-lap distance.

Gatlin, meanwhile, managed a lifetime best of 19.57 for 200m earlier this summer, the 33-year-old running better than ever all season – except, of course, when it mattered most in his clashes against Bolt in the Bird’s Nest. In the 200m final in Beijing, Gatlin looks a beaten docket, coming home heavily fatigued in 19.74. In Brussels, the 33-year-old will also run over 100m, with just an hour separating the two races. Even still, with Bolt not in attendance, he has the class to reign supreme.

Float like a butterfly: Asbel Kiprop steps down to 800m in Brussels. Image: PhotoRun

Float like a butterfly: Asbel Kiprop steps down to 800m in Brussels. Image: PhotoRun

Kiprop versus Amos, Men’s 800m, 7:56pm

For 21-year-old Nijel Amos, this year’s IAAF World Championships was one to forget, the Botswanan eliminated at the semi-final stage after finishing third. Since then, though, he has climbed back on the horse and galloped his way towards redemption, taking victory at the ISTAF meeting in Berlin last Sunday in 1:43.28. Amos looked back to his brilliant best, and he will need to reproduce that once more if he is to succeed in Brussels on Friday night, though he appears to have the Diamond Trophy in the bag. In Brussels he will face three-time world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop, who will step down in distance, perhaps in an attempt to find some athletes who can actually give him a proper race. Kiprop is unsurprisingly a world class 800m runner in his own right, holding a personal best of 1:43.15, but to date he has lacked the raw speed to challenge the likes of Amos and Rudisha. In his current form, though, he looks capable of a 1:42 performance given the right conditions. If he can find that within him on Friday, he has the ability to trouble Amos.

Yego vs. the championship hangover, Men’s javelin, 7:26pm

The struggle is real. Though these end-of-season meetings may seem like a pressure-free environment where athletes can produce great performances unhindered by the weight of expectation, more often they are a graveyard for favourites and gold medallists who have done one-too-many interviews, sunk one-too-many beers and slept one-too-few hours in the preceding weeks. One of those who could fall on either side of the tree is Kenya’s Julius Yego, who took gold in Beijing courtesy of a whopping 92.72m throw.

Yego, 26, has finally made good on his vast potential this year, throwing 91.39m in Birmingham back in June before surpassing it in Beijing. Though Jan Zelezny’s world record of 98.48m is out of reach – and will stay that way for many, many years to come – Yego looks the man capable of breaching new ground in the men’s javelin. In Brussels he will take on the three men who finished behind him in Beijing: Ihab Abdelrahman of Egypt, Tero Pitkamaki of Finland and Thomas Rohler of Germany. Yego beat them all by four to five metres in Beijing, though, and if he can just avoid that championship hangover, he should do so again here. The Diamond Trophy looks certain to go to Czech Republic’s Vitezslav Vesely, who leads by six points at this final stage.

Dutch bullet: Dafne Schippers has impressed since turning her attention to the sprints. Image: PhotoRun

Dutch bullet: Dafne Schippers has impressed since turning her attention to the sprints. Image: PhotoRun

Felix vs. Schippers vs. Thompson, Women’s 200m, 7:32pm

Allyson Felix returns to the 200m looking to stamp her authority on the event she made her own in recent years, but one which was taken over by a pair of young upstarts at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. When Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands powered past Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson in the shadow of the finish line in the 200m final – the pair running 21.63 and 21.66 respectively – it signalled for many a changing of the guard at the top tier.

Both athletes are just 23 years of age, and both ran faster than Felix’s lifetime best of 21.69. For good measure, Candyce McGrone, who finished fourth in Beijing in 22.01, is also in the line-up in Brussels. Of course during that race in Beijing, Felix was busy resting in her hotel room for the 400m final, which she won impressively in 49.26, but the question now is if her speed will have been blunted by stepping up in distance this summer. In Brussels, we’ll get our answer. There is an added meaning to the race for Felix because she can win back the Diamond Trophy for the first time since 2010; she currently leads by a single point from Jeneba Tarmoh, with Schippers also still in the hunt.

Pichardo vs. Taylor, Men’s triple jump, 7:29pm

It’s been the duel that has kept us riveted all season, Pedro Pablo Pichardo and Christian Taylor taking the triple jump to heights – or lengths – not seen since Jonathan Edwards set the world record of 18.29m all of 20 years ago. Pichardo, 22, looked set to become the future of the event when emerging earlier this summer with a string of jumps around the 18-metre mark, but as the year progressed Christian Taylor proved he’s still very much the present, the American leaping out to a whopping 18.21m to take gold in Beijing.

Though Taylor has been at the top of the event for four years now, he is still only 25, so there is every chance he has scope for improvement over the coming years. Pichardo, too, looks to have only scratched the surface of his potential. It doesn’t appear so much a matter of if, but when, one of these two will finally surpass Edwards’ mark. Pichardo currently leads Taylor by two points in the race for the Diamond Trophy, so the Cuban will be looking to turn the tables on Taylor in Brussels to gain some compensation for defeat in Beijing.

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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 previously worked for the Sunday Tribune, Irish Runner magazine and has written for the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and the Guardian. He is also a regular contributor to Runner's World.
His banter levels are often poor, occasionally exceptional.

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