Ayana/Dibaba, hand in hand in pursuit of the record
Almaz Ayana, the youngest of the two, set a date for 4 July several weeks ago so as to get herself organised for her attempt. She has known she’s capable of it since her victory in the IAAF Diamond League in Shanghai, on 17 May, in 14’14’’32, the top performance in the world this year. Genzebe Dibaba, some nine months older and leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking, was victorious in Eugene in a time of 14’19’’76 and has now decided to join her compatriot. She is eager to take up a slot in the race, at the Stade de France, and share the pace of the event with Almaz Ayana.
The two young women have a common goal, the world record. However, in an extremely rare turn of events, they have chosen to join forces to achieve what they set out to do. Two pacesetters will succeed each other so as to get the race launched in the best possible way; Ukrainian Tamara Tverdostup, followed by the Kenyan Irène Jelagat. It will then be down to the two Ethiopian rivals to agree on the pace with which to erase the time set by Tirunesh Dibaba and treat the MEETING AREVA to the first world record in its history.
Sadly Bohdan Bondarenko won’t have this opportunity. Indeed the Ukrainian high jumper has had to withdraw from the Parisian meet. He’s suffering from an old foot injury, which flared up again last week during the competition organised in the streets of Bakou, on the fringes of the European Games. It’s a competition in which he wasn’t able to exceed 2.15m, only managing last place in the event. However, his absence shouldn’t prevent the Qatari athlete Mutaz Essa Barshim from launching a fresh challenge for the world high jump record (2.45m), held since 1993 by Cuban Javier Sotomayor.
MEN’S LONG JUMP
This competition must surely be one of the closest competitions of the evening, with no real leader in the discipline, making it completely wide open. Russian Aleksandr Menkov, reigning world champion, boasts the best service record. He shone on 17 May in Shanghai in the IAAF Diamond League with a jump of 8.27m, his season’s best. However, American Michael Hartfield, little known on the circuit, pulled off an identical performance three days later in Beijing. Frenchman Kafétien Gomis, European medallist in 2010 (silver) and 2014 (bronze), is in great shape. He recently scored his personal best, on 20 June, clearing 8.26m in the European Athletics Team Championships in Cheboksary.
Pole Piotr Malachowski, reigning world number two (and silver medallist in the Beijing Games in 2008), is leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking. He has already thrown in excess of 65m on two occasions this season: 65.87m in Hengelo, then 65.59m in Eugene. However, Jamaican Jason Morgan, with few wins to his credit despite being 32 years of age, is currently leading the world ranking with a throw of 68.19m, his personal best, a performance he pulled off on 6 June in Pearl in the United States. In a competition boasting a number of strong contenders, it is also worth keeping a close eye on the German athlete, Christoph Harting, 24, who has shattered his own record by nearly 3m this season, taking it to 67.93m.
WOMEN’S SHOT PUT
A star event at the Stade de France: the return to the competition of Valerie Adams. The New Zealand athlete hasn’t officially thrown in competition mode since early last September. A few months later, her right elbow and her left shoulder were operated on. Since that time, she has been undergoing a lengthy convalescence, before getting back into training in Macolin in Switzerland. In May, she explained during a press conference via telephone, that she wouldn’t return to competition until she had regained full fitness. She’s chosen the MEETING AREVA to perform for the first time this season. She’ll be up against two throwers who are currently leading the world ranking, German Christina Schwanitz (20.77m this season), leader of the Diamond League ranking, and Chinese athlete Lijiao Gong (20.23m).
WOMEN’S POLE VAULT
In the absence of the Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, women’s pole vaulting is looking for a leader. Three athletes are dominating the season’s world ranking: American Jennifer Suhr (4.82m this year), Olympic champion in 2012, Brazilian Fabiana Murer (4.80m), world champion in 2011 and leader of the Diamond League ranking, and Greek athlete Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou (4.80m). All three will be competing at the MEETING AREVA. This three-way match could end up being refereed by the German athlete Silke Spiegelburg, victorious with 4.75m in the European Athletics Team Championship competition on 20 June in Cheboksary. Among the French contingent, Marion Lotout will be looking to make the most of the competition to improve on her personal best (4.60m), set on 13 June in Grenoble.
MEN’S POLE VAULT
One of the highlights of the evening. Topping the list, Renaud Lavillenie, world record holder and IAAF athlete of the year in 2014. The Frenchman is a familiar face at the MEETING AREVA. He comes back here every year. And he wins here every year. However, he has not yet managed to reach or exceed 6m. He has made it his objective for the 2015 edition. Leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking, Renaud Lavillenie certainly won’t have it all his own way in a competition where the majority of the line-up are in tip-top condition this season: German Raphael Holzdeppe, reigning world champion, who has just improved on his personal best with a jump of 5.92m during the official competition in the streets of Bakou; Brazilian Thiago Braz, author of the same performance in this competition organised on the fringes of the European Games, which also equates to a new South American record; the young American Sam Kendricks (5.82m); the Poles Piotr Lisek and Pawel Wojciechowski (5.80m each) and Greek athlete Konstantinos Filippidis.
WOMEN’S 400M HURDLES
Leading the Diamond League ranking, Jamaican Kaliese Spencer seems set to further extend her lead. Victorious this season in Shanghai, Oslo and Birmingham, she is chasing a time closer to her personal best (52’’79 in 2011). Worth watching is one of the season’s newcomers, Adekoya Oluwakemi, the young athlete from Bahrain (22) credited with a time of 54’’31 this season, her personal best. Another likely contender for the top spot is American Cassandra Tate, number two in the United States on 28 June in Eugene, with a new personal best (54’’01).
MEN’S HIGH JUMP
A meeting summit in every sense of the term. The world’s high jump supremo this season, Qatari Mutaz Essa Barshim (2.43m) is participating in the MEETING AREVA for the first time with the intention of securing a world record (2.45m by the Cuban Javier Sotomayor). He dominated the Diamond League in Shanghai and Eugene and he is heading the world ranking with a jump of 2.41m. He is leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking. The rest of the competition promises to be a dense and closely contested competition, notably thanks to the presence of American Erik Kynard, who has just equalled his personal best (2.37m) on becoming the champion of the United States, and Italian American Marco Fassinotti, author of a jump of 2.33m in Oslo, his personal best.
WOMEN’S TRIPLE JUMP
On paper, the MEETING AREVA competition has taken on the guise of a two-way match between the Russian athlete Yekaterina Koneva and the Colombian Caterine Ibargüen. The former, world indoor champion last year, is the only athlete to have exceeded the 15m-mark this season. She cleared 15.04m in Eugene, on 30 May, her personal best. The second, world champion in 2013 in Moscow, Olympic number two in London, is leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking. Her best performance of the year: 14.88m. The rest of the line-up seem a shade under par in comparison, but 23-year old Bulgarian Gabriela Petrova, beat her personal best by 51cm, on 8 June in Prague, taking it to 14.64m.
World 400m champion in 2011 at just 18 years of age and Olympic gold medallist the following year in London, Kirani James will be the star attraction of this 400m. The prodigy from Granada holds the world’s best time of the season (43’’95), winning the events in Eugene and Shanghai and, logically, leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking. However, it will be important to keep an eye on the surprise of the summer in the lap of the track, South African Wayde Van Niekerk, 22. He was the author of a time of 44’’24, his personal best, on 13 June in New York. Refereeing will be Belgian Jonathan Borlée, Saudi Arabian Yousef Ahmed Masrahi and American David Verburg. The danger could come from the latter, who is currently in great shape, as demonstrated by his American title and his new personal best (44’’41 in the semi-final).
The world record (14’11’’15 by Tirunesh Dibaba in 2008 in Oslo) will be seriously under threat during the 12 and a half laps of the race. There may even be two runners who have it in their line of sight. Two Ethiopians born just months apart, Almaz Ayana and Genzebe Dibaba. The first racked up the season’s best performance in the world in Shanghai on 17 May with a time of 14’14’’32. The second, leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking, took the win in Eugene in 14’19’’76. The two young women make no secret of their intention to attack the world record on the Stade de France track. Their battle for victory may well results in some miracles.
The best throwers of the season have set a date for the Meeting AREVA. South-African Sunette Viljoen (66.62 in 2015), Australian Kimberley Mickle (66.57m), American Kara Winger (66.47m) and Slovenian Martina Ratej (65.75m)… Not to mention the queen of the discipline, Czech thrower Barbora Spotakova, double Olympic champion (64.10m this season). At stake, in addition to victory, is the first place in the Diamond League ranking, which is currently occupied by three throwers, all of whom are present in the Stade de France: Israeli Marharyta Dorozhon, Chinese athlete HuiHui Lu and German Christina Obergföll.
The race attraction and above all the outright favourite will be Kenyan Eunice Jepkoech Sum. World champion in 2013 in Moscow, she is currently leading the Diamond League ranking. Her victory in Eugene, on 30 May, saw her place at the top of the world ranking for the season, with a time of 1’57’’82, close to her personal best (1’57’’38 in 2013). She appears to be a cut above the rest, but she’ll have to watch out for the Cuban Rose Mary Almana, 22, who beat her personal best in late May with a time of 1’59’’35.
It’s hard to pick out a favourite from a starting list that comprises half a dozen athletes who have run sub-11-second times this season. Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, double world (2009 and 2013) and Olympic champion (2008 and 2012), has racked up the best time of the season (10’’79), a performance equalled by American English Gardner, also competing in Paris. From the Cote D’Ivoire, Murielle Ahoure is leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking. Reigning European champion, Dutch runner Dafne Schippers, one of the race’s star attractions, has set a personal best this season after pulling off a sub-11-second time (10’’94) for the first time in her career on 24 May in Hengelo.
MEN’S 3,000M STEEPLECHASE
Barring a massive reshuffling of the cards, the winner is likely to be Kenyan. The biggest question revolves around which one... At 33, Ezekiel Kemboi has lost nothing of his burst of speed. The Olympic champion and triple world champion dominated the competition in Eugene, racking up the best time in the world along the way (8’01’’71). Nearly 10 years younger, his compatriot Jairus Kipchoge Birech is leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking, notably thanks to his victories in Shanghai and Oslo. Aged just 20, Conseslus Kipruto unquestionably represents the future of the speciality, as is evident from his world titles at 16 (2011) then 17 years of age (2012). Yoann Kowal, flying the flag for France in the race, could benefit from the pace to improve on his season’s best (8’18’’38).
MEN’S 110M HURDLES
The stars will be raining down on the Stade de France. Among the overseas candidates for glory are Americans Aries Merritt, Olympic champion and world record holder, David Oliver, world number one in 2013, Cuban Orlando Ortega (13’’01 last year, 13’’14 this season) and Russian Sergey Shubenkov, reigning European champion. In the French camp is the explosive Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, victorious in the Diamond League in Eugene with 13’’06, Dimitri Bascou, Garfield Darien and the young Wilhem Belocian, world junior champion last year. The meeting record, a supersonic time of 12’’88 run by Cuban Dayron Robles in 2008, is sure to be under threat.
The discipline has been significantly fleshed out this season, but it’s struggling to find a leader. The race at the MEETING AREVA will reflect this: a host of candidates but the result could go either way. Kenyan Silas Kiplagat, leading the IAAF Diamond League ranking, appears to be the sturdiest contender (he has a personal best of 3’27’’64), but hasn’t yet had an opportunity this season to secure a reference time. Robert Kiptoo Biwott, the race’s youngster at just 19, is fearless. World champion in the under 17s in 2013, he treated himself to a prestigious win in the senior competition on 24 May in Hengelo (3’33’’64). The curiosity: the presence of Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi, the reigning Olympic champion, who has opted for the Paris meet to compete for the first time this season.
The star. The attraction. And the unknown. The sheer presence of Usain Bolt, the fastest man in History, is a grand finale and a half for the MEETING AREVA 2015. Under normal circumstances, the only question would revolve around knowing what time the six-time Olympic champion would rack up. This time, his home straight on the Stade de France track will be observed with both fascination and curiosity. Indeed, the Jamaican has performed just once this season over this distance, running a modest time of 10’’12 on 19 April in Rio de Janeiro. Absent from the championship in Jamaica, last weekend, he has reserved the French meeting for his true international comeback. A stroke of luck for the organisers. With the presence on the start line of Americans Michael Rodgers and Ryan Bailey, veteran Kim Collins, Jamaicans Nesta Carter and above all Asafa Powell, national champion on 26 June with a time of 9’’84, as well as Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut, the slightest false move could cost Usain Bolt his invincibility at the MEETING AREVA.