The 110 m hurdles will be the only Wanda Diamond League stamped race to offer series and a final on the blue track of the Charléty Stadium. And that is no coincidence given the exceptional density of the line-up concocted by the French Athletics Federation for this event. So much so, that making it into the top 8 in Paris will be a massive challenge for the hurdlers running on home soil. In fact, it would be quite some feat to be clamouring for the top spots with a little over two months until the world championships in Budapest (19 to 27 August).
Of the sixteen entries, five ran a time of 13’’ or under in 2022. Among them are the second and third best hurdlers in the world of all time, Americans Grant Holloway and Devon Allen. The first, who ran 12’’81 in 2021, one hundredth of a second shy of the world record set by compatriot Aries Merritt, is the reigning double world champion. The second, who made thundering progress in 2022 with a time of 12’’84, was only stopped in his tracks during the Worlds in Eugene by disqualification in the final due to a controversial false start. Neither of the pair has ever secured a win in the City of Light. With one year to go till the Olympic Games in Paris, they’ll be eager to correct that. If we add to the mix fellow compatriots, world number two Trey Cunningham, national champion Daniel Roberts and Freddie Crittenden, all three of whom have scored a record time of 13’’00, the final for this 2023 edition could well be reminiscent of an American championship.
That may all change though if France’s high hurdles specialists join the fray and treat the home crowd to a foretaste of the France Elite in Albi, by earning themselves an invitation to the final ‘en masse’. Enjoying a diverse history of champions and medals, France’s 110 m hurdles competition currently boasts a generation brimming with talent. Right now, there are at least five athletes in with a chance of an international podium and they’ll all be in Paris: the experienced Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, with an exceptional track record and a French record of 12’’95, solid contenders Wilhem Belocian (13’’15) and Aurel Manga (13’’24) who are yet to have their final say, and those representing the new generation, rising star Sasha Zhoya (13’’17) and the double European medallist Just Kwaou-Mathey (13’’27). The last French victory in Paris in the 110 m hurdles dates right back to 2005 and Ladji Doucouré. Pascal Martinot-Lagarde has come closest with second places in 2013 and 2014. Maybe 2023 is the year?
Several athletes certainly have the potential to put paid to the American/French domination though. Starting with two of France’s neighbours, Spaniard Asier Martinez and Swiss athlete Jason Joseph. Respectively reigning European outdoor and indoor champions, the new kings of the Old World have made giant leaps forward over the past twelve months, to the extent that it is fairly easy to imagine them posting 13’’ times very soon. On 9 June, it may well be necessary to smash this legendary benchmark to be first across the finish line.