Max Wells-Pestell Previews Herculis 2016

1. High Jump, Men

This really is a battle of the big boys, with three men having cleared the magical height of 2.40m, two of whom were attacking the world record of 2.45m two years ago. it is going to be an event to watch. The main contenders:

Mutaz Essa Barshim - the reigning Olympic bronze medallist, claiming that accolade at just 21. He has a PB of 2.43, putting him at second on the all-time list. He had a bit of an off season last year, though he still managed to clear 2.41 in May. Many (myself included) expected him to jump his way to the world record and his first world championship title in Beijing, but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen. He had a shaky start to the season earlier in the year, but has subsequently cleared 2.40m, showing he is a man learning from past mistakes, and peaking at the right time. Expect big things come Friday. 

  Figure 1: Mutaz Essa Barshim illustrating his wondrous form whilst setting his Personal Best of 2.43m. Look at that clearance! 

Figure 1: Mutaz Essa Barshim illustrating his wondrous form whilst setting his Personal Best of 2.43m. Look at that clearance! 

  • Bohdan Bondarenko – the Ukrainian superstar. Like Mutaz, he was challenging for the world record two years ago. Also like Mutaz, he had a bad year last year, though he still managed to finish second in a hotly contested but low heighted world championship final, losing to our next contender in a track and field rarity: the jump off. With a PB of 2.42 set two years ago, and a season’s best of 2.33m set at the beginning of June, expect to see a man ready to show he’s still a major force to be reckoned with come the Olympics next month.

  • Derek Drouin – a consistently solid jumper over the last few years, having tied for third with Mutaz and Robbie Grabarz at the Olympics in London four years ago, he is the third man in this stacked field to have cleared 2.40m. However, I think it’s fair to say that no-one other than his own mum thought he’d be capable of defeating the two giants above to claim a world championship title last year, and so proving his mettle on the biggest of stages. He has had an unremarkable season so far, having only cleared 2.30, but expect him to bring his best to this battle of the titans.

  • The British Contingent:
    Robbie Grabarz – Olympic bronze medallist in London, with a PB of 2.37m putting him as joint British record holder, Robbie is a man on a mission. Having had surgery to correct a serious knee injury in 2013, he has been consistently improving over the last couple of years, finally looking like his old self this year. He was second at the World Indoor Championships earlier this year in Portland, Oregon, losing out to another contender in this power-house field (the outrageously half-shaved Italian Gianmarco Tamberi. If you’re wondering what I mean by this, google him), having cleared 2.33, and has taken this form outdoors to clear 2.30 and become British Champion, securing his selection for another Olympic Games. A man who is back on the up. 

  Figure 2: Robbie Grabarz on the podium of London 2012, collecting his bronze medal. After years of injury troubles, let’s have more of this later in the year, eh? 

Figure 2: Robbie Grabarz on the podium of London 2012, collecting his bronze medal. After years of injury troubles, let’s have more of this later in the year, eh? 

Chris Baker – another man on the up, having an outstanding sea- son so far. Before the world indoors, he cleared an astonishing 2.36, announcing that Britain has a second world class high jumper in its midst. His good run didn’t last into the championships, however, where he placed 8th in the final. Since starting his outdoor season, he has set a new personal best of 2.29m, and is continuing to im- prove in every meeting in which he appears. Like Robbie, he too secured an Olympic berth by placing in the top two at the British Championships. 

My pick to win: Mutaz. He’s my hero. Most beautiful jumping style I’ve ever seen – the man knows how to Fosbury (and occasionally flop). 

 

 

2. 800m, Men

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Whilst this is not an official Diamond League event, and so doesn’t contribute to the overall Diamond League standings, we still have a relatively strong field. With several of the main men come the Olympics missing, this is an event worth watching but lacking in all of the glory we should expect had Monaco chosen to spend more of its vast budget filling this race. However, we do have a few guys worth looking at in detail:

  • Nijel Amos – Olympic silver medallist at the age of 18, having run the insane time of 1:41.73, incidentally equalling Seb Coe’s British record, and putting him joint third on the all-time list. Again, this was at the age of 18. The Botswanan has had a mixed few seasons since then, having failed to make either of the finals in the previous two world championships, with his questionable tactics meaning he crashed out of the heats in both. However, he has a substantial lead in his head-to-head clashes with the indomitable great David Rudisha, including victory in the Commonwealth Games final two years ago, so can never be written off. With his crazy form come the end of the race, he’ll be an easy man to spot.

  • Adam Kszczot – having retained his European Championships title over the weekend, he is most certainly a man in form. He always turns up to major champs, having an outdoor and an indoor world champs silver medal to his name, and is the wiliest of tacticians. He isn’t afraid to run quick times, with a PB of 1:43.30 to his name, but he is known for his blistering finishes, unleashing an often deadly kick coming off the final bend and into the home straight. 

  Figure 3: Big Nije showing off his ”crazy form” at the end of a race, leading the legend David Rudisha, 2013 World Champion Mohammed Aman, and French king of cool Pierre-Ambroise Bosse. 

Figure 3: Big Nije showing off his ”crazy form” at the end of a race, leading the legend David Rudisha, 2013 World Champion Mohammed Aman, and French king of cool Pierre-Ambroise Bosse. 

The British contingent:

Michael Rimmer. Having had a fast run early in the year, setting a season’s best time of 1:44.93, his season has stagnated somewhat. Running horrendously in the British Championships final, a race that everyone expected him to win even if blindfolded, has meant that he was forced to rely on the good graces of the Olympic selection committee. Fortunately for him, it was announced on Wednesday that he had done enough to book a spot in Rio, though it must be said that he desperately needs to run a fast time here to show that he can compete with some of the best in the world. Whilst I do not expect him to figure too prominently in this race, keep an eye out for him as we may find out whether they committee made the right call.

 

My pick to win: Even with three Kenyans in the field, all having run PBs of 1:43.xx so far this year, I have got to give this one to big Nije. He’s ungainly at the finish, but undeniably rapid. Having stalked his Facebook account over the last few months, it seems his training has been going reasonably well, and he is worth much more than his season’s best of 1:45.11. 

  Figure 4: Michael Rimmer taking a severe beating in the British 800m Championships earlier this year. He was fortunate that selectors decided to give him a shot despite a very poor performance in a race he was expected to win. 

Figure 4: Michael Rimmer taking a severe beating in the British 800m Championships earlier this year. He was fortunate that selectors decided to give him a shot despite a very poor performance in a race he was expected to win. 

 

3. 1500m, Men

The main event. The one to watch. With three Olympic champions, nu- merous world champions, three European champions and god-only-knows how many Kenyan and African champions, we are all in for a real treat here. The star attraction? Asbel Kiprop of course. The main contenders:

Asbel Kiprop – Undoubtedly the favourite. In any race. At any time. In any circumstances. The 2008 Olympic champion (at only age 18), and reigning world champion is simply imperious. You have undoubtedly heard Sam, John, and maybe even myself waxing lyrical about the specimen that is Asbel Kiprop, and for good reason too. Third on the all-time list, but undoubtedly the most gifted man ever to grace a 1500m race, is he going to do the unthinkable and break the world record? 3:25? 3:24? I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s been posting some monster sessions, using some of the other athletes in the field (the likes of Elijah Manangoi etc.) as pace makers, before easing past them to post times, as reps, that most elites would be proud of as PBs. Keep your eyes glued to this man during this race. Ignore everyone else. They’re not worthy of his company, or your attentions whilst he is on the track. 

  Figure 5: The great Asbel Kiprop striding it out. Look at those legs! Look at that stride length! What a specimen. 

Figure 5: The great Asbel Kiprop striding it out. Look at those legs! Look at that stride length! What a specimen. 

There really aren’t any other contenders for this, so I’ll discuss contenders for second place instead:

–  Taoufik Makhloufi – reigning Olympic champion, though in very du- bious circumstances, he is the 7th on the all-time list, with a 3:38.75to his name. Not done much in terms of international competition in the last few years, having bombed in the finals of the last couple of world champs. But he is a fierce competitor, so let’s see how closely he can hang onto the coat-tails of the Great One.

–  Abdelaati Iguider – 2012 World Indoor Champion, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, 2015 World Championships bronze medallist, and a PB of 3:28.79. Iguider is an insanely consistent runner, a national hero back in Morocco, adored for his work ethic and tireless pursuit of excellence on the world stage. I would love this man to smash his PB and medal once more at the Olympics later this year, as it is plain for all to see that he always tries bloody hard.

–  Elijah Manangoi – 2nd at the World Championships last year, Manangoi is a man on the rise. He has also been putting up some mental sessions as part of Asbel’s training group in Iten, Kenya, and has had some startlingly good performances at the Kenyan national champs and police champs earlier in the year. We can count on the man to produce on the day, and always give 100%. He will definitely give Makhloufi and Iguider a tough run for second in this one. 

 

Best of the rest: 

  Figure 6: Mo Farah and Charlie Grice training hard in Kenya. All work and no play, clearly. 

Figure 6: Mo Farah and Charlie Grice training hard in Kenya. All work and no play, clearly. 

– In the last few editions of this race, Mo Farah has run superbly well to set a European record of 3:28.81. With his five world titles and two Olympic golds (admittedly not at this distance), he can never be totally disregarded. But it’s safe to say here, he is far from favourite. One of Mo’s training partners in Ethiopia and Kenya in recent times, Charlie Grice has looked imperious in setting a PB of 1:46 in the 800m, and winning the British 1500m title earlier in the year. He will be going to his first Olympics next month, and let’s see if he can bring down a comparatively pedestrian PB of 3:35.29 in what is un- doubtedly going to be the fastest race of the year (maybe ever? Who knows). The Ingebrigtsen brothers have now both won European titles at this distance, with the younger of the two, Filip, beating his older brother last weekend to secure his first major outdoor title. However, I’m sure Sam will loathe me mentioning either of these, as the older brother, Henrik, is his least favourite runner, possibly ever. I wonder why? Give google images a cursory glance to find out. o Let’s keep an eye out for Ryan Gregson. The man has had a torrid few years with injury. If you’re not feeling an American-style feel- good story, look away now. At age 20, Ryan set an Australian 1500m record of 3:31.06 at this race in 2010, destroying the previous record set 19 years earlier. However, the very next day on a recovery jog, he felt a pain in his shin, which turned out to be a stress fracture. This was the first of many such problems that he would face over the next four years, which included a further three stress fractures, injuries to his Achilles, patella and hamstring, and (one which I can relate to) a torn calf in the heats of the 2012 Olympics. It seems now that he’s finally managed to put all of these troubles behind him, as he has had a brilliant season thus far, with third place finishes at the Rabat and Rome Diamond Leagues, posting a season’s best of 3:34.27. He also managed to beat a man several of you may have lost to earlier this year in the London City Mile, Luke Matthews, in Nijmegen at the beginning of the season. So for all of you who have had injury problems, let’s root for the underdog from down-under.

My pick to win: The obvious. The Great. The Alien. Asbel. 

 

4. 800m, Women

With the controversy surrounding the event this year, a preview here is an absolute must. We have potentially the greatest female athlete ever to run the distance in the field, with another possible world record on the cards. . .

Caster Semenya – world champion in 2009, Caster has had a tough few years. She is what is known as hyperandrogenous (HA), a condition wherein the body contains excessive levels of androgens. Consequently, the body has a significantly higher level of testosterone, leading to vast performance enhancement. Just after she won her world title, Caster was subjected to humiliating gender identification tests, as there were many in the athletics community who were sceptical of her identification as fe- male. It was later found that she is indeed female, and “suffers”(?) from HA. She was put on hormone tablets to cap the amount of testosterone in her bloodstream, leading to a significant dip in performance for several years. Earlier this year, the IAAF suspended the ruling relating to forced hormonal treatment pending an investing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Until the conclusion of this investigation, HA athletes are free to compete with their natural, elevated levels of testosterone, leading to several individuals, Caster included, attaining world class levels of per- formance. This year, she has seemingly jogged 1:56.xx, trailing the world record by a mere three seconds. Winning the African Championships at 400m, 800m and 1500m, it is possible that we will see the first long sprint- /middle distance triple at the Olympics later this year, with the possibility of the surely drug enhanced world records instead being held by an equally, if more morally opaque, controversial athlete. In short, expect fireworks on Friday evening. 

  Figure 7: Caster Semenya looking absolutely imperious, coasting to victory at the Doha Diamond League in a very impressive time of 1:58.26. 

Figure 7: Caster Semenya looking absolutely imperious, coasting to victory at the Doha Diamond League in a very impressive time of 1:58.26. 

Best of the rest:

–  Eunice Sum – 2013 World Champion, 2014 Commonwealth Cham- pion, 2015 World Championships bronze medallist, and 1:56.99 run- ner. Sum is a sight to behold when she gets into her running. I have no doubt that she’ll be overpowered by Semenya, but we can expect a very good race for second, with her in pole position.

–  Lynsey Sharp – 2012 European Champion, 2014 European silver medallist, 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist. Sharp is the daughter of former Scottish athletes Cameron (1982 European silver medallist at 200m) and Carol Sharp, and when she is fit, she has a rapid kick. Expect her to be in contention, and keep an eye on her later this summer too, as she is arguably Britain’s best hope for a medal at this distance in Rio.

–  Francine Niyonsaba – another HA athlete, Wambui is in the unfortunate position that she is just not good enough to compete with a dominant Caster Semenya. However, it has to be said that she has looked the best of the rest so far this year. With a 1:56.59 PB and season’s best of 1:56.92 to her name, she is further ahead of the rest than she is behind Semenya, so I fear that this will really be a run for third for the others.

–  Margaret Wambui – not too far behind Niyonsaba, with a 1:57.52 PB set this year, she has been in scintillating form. Whatever happens, with the likes of this lot in the mix, we should be in for a cracking race, and I would not put it past Wambui to feature. 

  Figure 8: Lynsey Sharp during competition at London 2012. Will she be able to compete with the pace and power of the red-hot favourite in Rio? 

Figure 8: Lynsey Sharp during competition at London 2012. Will she be able to compete with the pace and power of the red-hot favourite in Rio? 

My pick to win: I’d be daft if I didn’t say Semenya. 

 

5. 100m, Women

The 100m is always a dead cert to be a cracker, and the women’s field this year has seen an explosion of talent and rapid times. This event is almost assured to be one of the highlights of the evening, especially with the global superstars that the meet organisers have managed to pull in.

  • Dafne Schippers – by now I’m sure you’ve all heard of the story behind this wondrous lady. A heptathlete until 2014, Dafne discovered she had a remarkable aptitude for the sprints at the European Championships in 2014 where she took the double of the 100m and 200m. She has since gone on to set a European record in the 200m of 21.63s to take her first global title at the World Championships in Beijing last year, as well as set a PB of 10.81s in the 100m, earning her a silver medal at the same championships. With her start being her weakest element, due to her large frame (think a female version of Bolt), she took a silver in the 60m at the world indoors earlier this year. As this is not her best event (that’s definitely the 200m), this will be a close race between her and the other contenders.

  Figure 9: Dafne Schippers takes gold in the 200m at the 2015 World Champi- onships, in a European Record time of 21.63s. 

Figure 9: Dafne Schippers takes gold in the 200m at the 2015 World Champi- onships, in a European Record time of 21.63s. 

  • Tianna Bartoletta – a lady that has impressed to no end this year, quali- fying for Rio in both the 100m and the long jump at the hotly contested US trials last week. With a season’s best of 10.78s, she is the fastest in the field this year, though this could very well change by the end of the race.

  • Veronica Campbell Brown – 10.83 season’s best and 10.76 PB, on paper she is the fastest in the field. A three-time Olympic champion, and a three-time world champion, she is a supreme competitor. It must be said that there is a question mark over her regarding doping offenses: in 2013 she tested positive for a diuretic, and later claimed that she had never intentionally taken a banned substance. She was provisionally banned, but was cleared by the Jamaican Athletics Administrative Association and allowed to resume competition. The IAAF appealed this decision to CAS, but they subsequently upheld the decision, and cleared her of any and all doping charges. 

The British contingent:

  • Desiree Henry – originally supposed to be the next big thing, she was chosen by Daley Thompson to as one of the “Secret Seven” to light the Olympic torch at London 2012, but has been slightly overshadowed in recent years by Dina Asher-Smith. A phenomenal talent whose PBs lie just behind those of the British records, she has gone from strength-to-strength over the last couple of seasons. Miss Henry secured an Olympic berth by finishing second to Dina at the 200m at the British Championships before making the final of the 100m at the European Championships last week. However, during the race, she pulled up within 40m of the start with what one can only assume to be an injury. It will be interesting to see whether this was something-over-nothing, or whether there truly is cause for concern.

 My pick to win: This is going to be a close one. Any one of the three profiled have a good shout, but I’m going to go with Bartoletta.