Track & Field

Five clashes to follow in New York; English v Rudisha; Gay v the fans; Willis v 5K

The New York Diamond League takes place on Saturday at Icahn Stadium and will be shown live on British Eurosport 2 from 6-8pm GMT. Irish interest will begin and end with Mark English, who races David Rudisha over 800m. Elsewhere, title billing goes to Usain Bolt, who competes in New York for the first time since breaking the world record for 100m back in 2008. Bolt will race over 200m and is certain to grab the headlines as he saunters to victory. However, beyond the big man from Jamaica, here are five intriguing story-lines to keep your eyes on this weekend.

Pedro Pablo Pichardo vs. the 18m barrier; men’s triple jump, 1:25pm

Floating like a butterfly: Pedro Pablo Pichardo. Image: PhotoRun

Floating like a butterfly: Pedro Pablo Pichardo. Image: PhotoRun

At the New York Diamond League last year, it was a field event which stole the show as Bohdan Bondarenko and Mutaz Essa Barshim served up a high jump shootout for the ages, both men soaring over 2.42m and Bondarenko eventually taking the win on count-back. This year, it’ll once again be a jumper who will have all eyes on him – a featherweight Cuban who floats like a butterfly through each elegant phase of his hop, skip and jump.

Still only 21, Pedro Pablo Pichardo has been the revelation of the track and field season. When he leapt out to 17.94m on home turf in Cuba back in May, many shrugged off the performance as either a fluke or the result of suspect hometown officiating. When he rocked up in Doha a week later, though, and soared out to 18.06m, the naysayers were silenced quickly. For good measure, Pichardo added another couple of centimetres the following week, jumping 18.08m in Havana. If we know one thing about the sport, it’s that consistent brilliance is the platform which eventually, inevitably spawns perfection.

So far this year, that’s what Pichardo has been: brilliant. Jonathan Edwards’ triple jump world record of 18.29m will be 20 years old this summer but with Pichardo around, doing what he’s doing, that record may well not survive to see its 21st birthday.

Nick Willis vs. the 5K; men’s 5,000m, 1:37pm

New Zealand’s Nick Willis, best known for his 1500m exploits, will dip his toe in shark-infested 5K waters this Sunday as he takes on some of the world’s best at a distance some three times his speciality. In his one outing in this realm earlier this year, the 32-year-old showed he may well have a promising future. Willis defeated countryman Zane Robertson easily to win the Auckland Track Challenge in 13:22.11 and in February, he showed his speed is as sharp as ever when running back-to-back 3:51 miles on the US indoor circuit.

On Saturday, Willis will line up alongside the heavy hitters of the 5,000m – Dejen Gebremeskel, Hagos Gebrhiwet and Thomas Longosiwa – who have all run below 12:50 for the distance. If the pace is strong from the gun, and a sub-13-minute time is served up, Willis will soon find himself detached. However, if the pace lags – as often happens in distance races on the windswept track in Icahn Stadium – then Willis will be relishing the thought of a last-lap burn-up against the endurance specialists. Willis said recently that for most of the year, he trains like a 5,000m runner. On Saturday, it’s time to see if he can race like one.

Shady past: Tyson Gay. Image: PhotoRun

Shady past: Tyson Gay. Image: PhotoRun

Tyson Gay vs. the fans; men’s 100m, 2:16pm

Tyson Gay faces two races on Saturday afternoon. The first will see him line up alongside many of the world’s best sprinters – most notably Jamaica’s Nesta Carter – and try to prove that at 32, he still has the ability to reclaim the world sprint titles he won back in 2007. On current form, Gay looks unstoppable in this contest; after all, he won his first individual race of the year convincingly a fortnight ago at the Prefontaine Classic, running 9.88 seconds for 100m.

However fast he runs, though, the shadow of his doping past is likely to follow close behind. Gay was given a reduced, one-year sanction by the US Anti-Doping Agency for admitting his doping deeds after he tested positive for testosterone in 2013, a decision which left many track fans disillusioned at the leniency of his sentence. A smattering of boos greeted him as he walked off the track after competing at the World Relays in the Bahamas last month, evidence that many fans have neither forgotten nor forgiven his misdemeanours. The New York crowd is likely to be much more welcoming to Gay on Saturday, but in his race to genuine redemption, he still has some distance left to run.

Ajee Wilson vs. the clock; women’s 800m, 2:25pm

Star billing: Ajee Wilson. Image: PhotoRun

Star billing: Ajee Wilson. Image: PhotoRun

The one woman capable of stopping Ajee Wilson right now in the 800m, Kenya’s Eunice Sum, will not be in action in New York on Saturday, having chosen to run at last week’s Birmingham Diamond League. Her absence paves the way for Wilson to show that at 21 years of age, she is continuing a relentless ascent to world domination.

Wilson was world junior champion at this distance in 2012 and the following year, at just 19 years of age, she finished a close sixth in the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. At the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago, she was just edged out by Sum in a to-and-fro, home-stretch duel which saw the Kenyan take victory by just five hundredths of a second in 1:57.82. Though Wilson will still have to contend with Brenda Martinez, Chanelle Price and others on Saturday, it will come as a huge surprise if any of them force her out of second gear on the final run to the finish.

David Rudisha vs. the field; men’s 800m, 2:45pm

The great conundrum which defines this race concerns the health, fitness and general well-being of the all-conquering king of the 800m: David Rudisha. The 26-year-old Kenyan had his greatest day all the back in August 2012 when, in one fell swoop, he blazed his way to an Olympic gold medal and world record of 1:40.91 in London. Since then, Rudisha has struggled with injury and has never truly returned to his undeniably brilliant best.

He started this year in promising form – taking wins over 800m in Australia in 1:45.01 and 1:44.94. On his European debut in Ostrava, though, Rudisha pulled up injured after just 150m. The fact Rudisha is able to go to the line in New York less than three weeks later, though, suggests that blip was nothing serious.

In the absence of his chief nemeses – Mohammed Aman and Nijel Amos – Rudisha’s main opposition is likely to come from Ireland’s Mark English, who was second to Rudisha in New York last year, Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, who has run 1:44.95 already this season, and Duane Solomon, who will make his individual 800m debut in New York having already taken team gold for the US in the 4x800m at the World Relays. As is often the case, though, the true contest will come down to Rudisha versus himself. If he shows up under-strength, lacking in fitness and maybe even in confidence, then the others will have a chance. If he’s anywhere near his peak, it’s quite simple: they won’t.




Grant Fisher
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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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