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It All Comes Down to This

Published by
DyeStatPRO.com   Sep 3rd 2014, 1:36am

Diamond League Wraps Up Friday in Brussels

By Scott Bush

What a year it’s been in the IAAF Diamond League. Week after week the very best track and field athletes in the world have squared off, entertaining fans and putting up exciting performances. Despite the lack of Usain Bolt for much of 2014, the sport thrived in many aspects, as certain events rose in profile, terrific rivalries blossomed and some new stars were born.

As the Diamond League rolls into it’s final meeting of the season on Friday, the second final, in Brussels, here are five events you must keep an eye on.

Bondarenko v. Barshim – Winner Takes All

Since the first meeting of the Diamond League season, the men’s high jump has delighted fans. With a half dozen athletes all capable of challenging the world record on a good day, week after week the possibility of something amazing created drama worth following.

On Friday, Bohdan Bondarenko (UKR) and Mutaz Essa Barshim (QAT), the top two high jumpers this season, clash one last time, with the winner taking home $50,000 and the Diamond League title. Bondarenko and Barshim each have seasonal bests of 2.42m. While they are certainly eyeing the world record of 2.45m, the gamesmanship between the two will be fun to watch. Bondarenko has more Diamond League victories to his name this year (3), but Barshim won the last go around in Birmingham.

Behind those two, Ivan Ukhov (RUS), Andriy Protsenko (UKR), Erik Kynard (USA) and Derek Drouin (CAN) can only hope to leap seasonal bests. Ukhov cleared 2.41m early on in the season, while Drouin and Protsenko have gone over 2.40m. While all four are certainly talented, they’ll be hard pressed to upset the two favorites. 

Whether someone captures the world record this week or not, the men’s high jump can easily claim top field event billing in every big-time meet and the odds of it becoming even more exciting over the next two years could very well make it a can’t miss event for sports fans of all kinds.

Loaded Women’s 3,000m Highlights Distances

The American record for 3,000m was set back in 1985 by Mary Slaney. Slaney’s mark of 8:25.83 has sat, unchallenged, for some time now, but on Friday that record could very well go down.

Jenny Simpson (USA) and Shannon Rowbury (USA) are having seasons to remember. While Simpson continues to attract the most attention, and deservedly so with a big-time Diamond League overall victory and three sub-4 1,500m performances on the season, Rowbury is having a ridiculous season, too.

Rowbury, under the guidance of Alberto Salazar this year, not only set the new American two-mile record at the Pre Classic, she also dipped under the four minute barrier twice this season (she had never done it before) and dramatically lowered her 5,000m best to 14:48.68. Last week in Zurich, she nearly overtook Simpson in the final meters of the 1,500m, ending in a dramatic fall.

Needless to say, there are two legit runner capable of taking down Slaney’s mark, and whether they are thinking about it or not, both are truly capable of placing their names in the record books.

While both Simpson and Rowbury could, in addition, pull off the win, they’ll have plenty of competition. Mercy Cherono (KEN) and Genzebe Debaba (ETH) are in the midst of terrific seasons. Cherono won the adidas Grand Prix 3,000m earlier this season and placed second in Doha, with the top seasonal mark in the field with an 8:21.14. Debaba owns the top 5,000m performance on the season with her winning performance in Monaco in 14:28.88.

Viola Kibiwot (KEN) holds 8:24.41 and 14:33.73 seasonal bests this year, always in contention for the win, while Almaz Ayana (ETH) is similar, losing a close battle to Debaba in Monaco with her own 14:29.19 effort. Throw in former Iowa State NCAA champion Betsy Saina (KEN) and 1,500m star Sifan Hassan (NED) and you have the makings of a terrific race. If the pace is fast, look for a new world leader and the American record going down.

Gatlin Seeks Redemption in 100m & 200m

For the past few Diamond League meetings, Justin Gatlin (USA) sat on the sidelines, waiting for his turn for meet organizers to put him in the game. Despite serving a drug suspension over four years ago, Gatlin continues to get shut out of a select few European meets, despite being the top sprinter in the world this season.

Regardless, Gatlin is on a mission. He owns six of the ten fastest times in the world this year, including the world leader of 9.80 and four of the top six best. He sits a mere point behind countryman Michael Rodgers in the Diamond League standings, but if he shows the same consistency he’s shown all season long, Gatlin will have no problem winning.

That’s not to say the competition isn’t tough. Rodgers, who has shown nearly every time out this season he’s one of the top 3-5 best 100m men on the planet, owns a seasons best of 9.91, while leading the current Diamond League standings with nine points. Similarly, third place (7 points) Nesta Carter (JAM) continues to have a consistent season. He’s yet to really challenge the 9.90 barrier, but with a seasonal best of 9.96, he can’t be overlooked.

Unlike Rodgers and Carter who’ve been consistent all season long, Tyson Gay (USA) and Asafa Powell (JAM) are question marks. Both have put up top marks this season, but there are still question marks hovering over them. Gay finished second to Gatlin in his first race back from his year-long suspension with a 9.93 effort, while Powell ran an eye-opening 9.87 late last month in Austin. Throw in Richard Thompson (TTO), who ranks fourth in the Diamond League and has the world’s second best time of 9.82, and you have the making of quite a field.

And just so you don't think Gatlin is taking it easy, he's also entered in the 200m event. Coming only an hour after the 100m final, Gatlin has his work cut out for him, as he'll be taking on Diamond League champion Alonso Edward (PAN) and a host of other top 200m runner. However, keep in mind, Gatlin's seasonal best is the top time in the world (19.68).

Can Ajee’ Wilson Finish With a Win?

Earlier this season in Monaco, Ajee’ Wilson (USA) ran one of her finest performances of her career, as she won the Diamond League 800m over a legit field in a new personal best of 1:57.67. That time still ranks as the world leader. Despite a rather sub-par performance last time out in Birmingham, the 20-year old looks to close out her 2014 season on a winning note.

Wilson’s chief competition comes from Eunice Sum (KEN). Sum already clinched the Diamond League title, but back-to-back runner-up performances has the co-pre-race favorite on her heels. Sum won four straight Diamond League meetings to start her season and continues to look strong as it comes to an end.

Lynsey Sharp (GBR) won the Birmingham Diamond League meeting last month, besting both Sum and Wilson, while coming away with a new PR of 1:58.80. While Wilson gets plenty of attention for being a young phenom, one needs to remember that Sharp is still only 24 years old and her Birmingham performance is certainly a breakthrough. Can she carry over her success to Brussels?

With plenty of other top talent in the field, including World Championship medalist Brenda Martinez (USA) who is finishing her rocky season with some magnificent performances, the final two lap race of the season promises to be a classic.

Jager Seeks to Break His Own American Record

It’s been a goal of Evan Jager’s to break his American steeplechase record all season long. He took a legit stab at it back in Oslo earlier this season, where he finished just off his 8:06.81 mark with a stellar runner-up performance of 8:06.97. The 25-year old takes one more shot Friday, which means you can bet the pace will be hot.

Jager’s Bowerman Track Club teammate Daniel Huling also continues his quest for a new personal best. Huling has long sat on his PR of 8:13.29, and with some terrific training and racing this season, he’s nearly taken it down. He enters with a season’s best of 8:15.73 and should challenge for top eight and is hopeful he can ride the early pacing to a mark right around 8:10.

While Jager and Huling delight the American track and field fans, it’s Jairus Birech (KEN) who’s owning the circuit this year. Birech holds the top three fastest marks in the world this season, all between 8:02.37-8:03.34. He has big wins in Oslo, Monaco, Lausanne, Rome and Birmingham and there is no sense he’s slowing down. While the field is a who’s who of steeple talent, he’s clearly the favorite.

The man on the start list most distance fans are drawn to though is Ezekiel Kemboi (KEN). The controversial champion has sat out most of the 2014 season, but did pick up a huge win back in May with a time of 8:04.12. If he’s entered, he cannot be overlooked.

The other top talent comes from Conseslus Kipruto (KEN), Paul Koech (KEN), Hillary Yego (KEN) and Brimin Kipruto (KEN). Both Yego and B. Kipruto ran their marks in Doha, so they’ve improve zero on the season. It remains to be seen which Kenyan countrymen will shine through in the final contest of the season.

Only one athlete, Birech, has run faster than Jager since June. An American record chase, a teammate looking for his own best, and the fact that Jager continues to show veteran skill in the event, gives fans every reason to keep an eye on this race.

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