Monaco Preview: Bolt tops dazzling fields

Monaco - Usain Bolt may be making his first ever appearance in the Principality of Monaco at Friday’s (22nd) Herculis 2011 meeting, but despite his high global profile, the 10th leg of the Samsung Diamond League also features a glittering array of athletes who are equally high profile in their own specialist events.


Stacked 400 hurdles line up with Olympic, World and European champions

Indeed the men's 400m Hurdles has the potential to be the event of the evening in the Stade Louis II Stadium, the eight man field containing a stacked line-up including the USA's Olympic and World gold medallists Angelo Taylor and Kerron Clement plus current Samsung Diamond League pace setter and European champion David Greene from Great Britain.

Also lining up in what is forecast to be perfect conditions at a what can sometimes be a windy venue adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea will be three more Americans - last year's Samsung Diamond League overall winner Bershawn Jackson, national champion Jeshua Anderson and Johnny Dutch, a former World junior silver medallist.

LJ van Zyl, who made a very impressive start to the season winning the first two series fixtures in Doha and Rome, is this year's fastest at 47.66. His fellow South African Cornell Fredericks is also in a field, one good enough to grace next month's IAAF World Championships in Daegu from 27th August - 4th September.

Meeting Director Jean-Pierre Schoebel believes the strength in depth of the start list might see the 47.60 meet record set by the USA's Kevin Young five days after winning the 1992 Olympic gold. "They're all here,” Schoebel said. “It's not going to be too warm and I hope not windy. If that's the case I'm hoping the meeting record and world lead for the year will both be broken."

Schoebel emphasised not only that event but the quality of the remainder of the slick three hour programme.

"I am very proud and pleased that Usain Bolt is here and that is a massive promotion for the meeting. He is very welcome and we all look forward to his first ever appearance.”

"But I have not just focused on getting him here and I have done my best to invite so many other great athletes and delighted they have accepted to come. Every event is world class and the field events may not be that popular with the public but we have great line ups thanks to the Samsung Diamond League help in getting these as well."


Early meet focus on Discus Throw, Long Jump, Shot Put and Pole Vault

Indeed fans will be able to focus their attention in the first hour of the programme before the track events get underway and concentrate on the women's Discus Throw and Long Jump plus the men's Shot Put and Pole Vault.

Olympic and two-time World discus silver medallist Yarelis Barrios, the 2011 Diamond Race winner could go to the top of the leaderboard for the first time this summer if adding to her victory in Lausanne three weeks ago. The Cuban won't rest on her laurels with Germany's Nadine Müller, who is currently joint second with her and was the winner in Birmingham on 10th July, looking to add another success.

Australia's reigning World champion Dani Samuels, third in Shanghai and on the British leg, will be searching for more much needed points as will the USA's Olympic title holder Stephanie Brown-Trafton, the victor in New York and currently lying fifth.

The Long Jump is also packed with talent and includes the world's top three performers this year: the USA's and last year's Diamond Race champion Brittney Reese (7.19m), Darya Klishina of Russia (7.05m) and a second American Janay DeLoach (6.97m).

Reese already heads this year's standings but only by a point from fellow countrywoman Funmi Jimoh, while DeLoach and 20-year-old Klishina, who beat her in Birmingham, are in third and fourth positions. The latter, since that encounter, has won the European U23 crown and will be eager to send out a strong message of her capabilities.

World leader Dylan Armstrong, who has won three of his four shot put encounters to date, will be under no illusions as the USA's trio of World champion and 2010 Diamond Race winner Christian Cantwell, 2007 gold medallist Reese Hoffa, and Daniel Taylor will again be a hand full.

But the Commonwealth champion and Canadian record holder at 22.21m showed in Birmingham when defeating Cantwell and Poland’s Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski that he remains in great shape since his first Samsung Diamond League victory in Doha on 6th May.

The Pole Vault promises to be a memorable encounter with Aussie Steve Hooker, the reigning Olympic and World title holder, making his first appearance on the European circuit and taking on World leader Brad Walker (5.94m) and Renaud Lavillenie whose has jumped one centimetre less.

"It is jumping in at the deep end against a world class field," said Hooker who has not competed since October last year and whose 2010 season was troubled by a knee injury although he pushed it to the back of his mind when defending his Commonwealth title.

But he knows Frenchman Lavillenie, already on course to defend his SDL overall crown and who annually uses Monaco as a training base, will be eager to increase his lead in this year's series where he enjoys a cushion of four points ahead of Germany's Malte Mohr.

These appetising field events will still be taking the limelight until attention becomes shared with the track events which will get underway with the eagerly awaited 400m Hurdles, the first event on the track. 


Bolt answers call from Prince Albert II to compete at Herculis meet

Towards the end of the programme Usain Bolt will step for the first time ever onto the very fast Monegasque track where fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, who preceded him as World 100m record holder, set the meeting record of 9.82 three years ago. His appearance owes much to the HSH Prince Albert II, who after the world's fastest man claimed the Athlete of the Year Award in 2009 issued him, on live television, an invitation to compete.

Given Bolt will now be nearing overdrive before defending his World 100m and 200m titles in Daegu, it could see him smash Powell's mark, indeed also challenge his fellow countryman's world lead of 9.78 which clinched him a solid success in Lausanne. It almost certainly will see Bolt, who beat Powell on the Rome leg on 26th May, lower the time of 9.91 he posted there.

Fellow Jamaican Nesta Carter and the USA's Michael Rodgers, who both have faster times this summer of 9.88 and 9.85, provide the opposition while Christophe Lemaitre, also competing at the Herculis for the first time, could improve on his French record of 9.95 and even get into the penalty area on Francis Obikwelu's European record of 9.86 which won the Portuguese the 2004 Olympic silver medal.


Rudisha hungry for another world lead - Montsho set to win

The men's 800m should be a corker with Kenya's World record holder David Rudisha aiming to run faster than the 1:43.46 he clocked in Nancy, France, at the beginning of the month and intent on adding to his victory in Lausanne.

Rudisha, the 2010 Diamond Race Trophy winner in the event, who as usual will be paced by Sammy Tangui through the bell in 49.50, said: "The key is good weather and Sammy is here so he'll set a good pace. I'm expecting a new world leading time."

His tactics, well known by his main rivals and in particular fellow countrymen Boaz Lalang and Alfred Yego, will see them planning on how to close him down in what should be a speedy two lap encounter.

The women's 400m suggests Amantle Montsho will continue her rich vein of form and score a fourth successive Samsung Diamond League win after crossing the line first in Oslo, Lausanne and Birmingham. The Botswanan’s only two defeats this season came at the hands of the USA's Allyson Felix who took the honours in Doha and Rome but will run the 200m here on Friday.

With Felix a non-starter it will fall on Jamaica's ever consistent and former World bronze medallist Novlene Williams-Mills to provide the challenge. 


Felix tops 200m field - Pearson vs. USA in the 100m Hurdles

Allyson Felix will be competing in her specialist 200m where she is a three-time World champion. Her only Samsung Diamond League appearance at the distance this summer in New York saw her win and now she will be eager in the remaining two to assert her authority to keep the overall crown in her possession. Fellow American Carmelita Jeter, the World 100m leader, could cause problems along with Jamaica's Kerron Stewart.

The women's 100m hurdles has the billing to be another highlight of the programme with Australian Sally Pearson returning to one of her favourite venues and facing the in-form American trio of Olympic champion Dawn Harper, national champion Kellie Wells, and Danielle Carruthers, who leads her in the current Diamond Race by four points.

"Racing in Monaco is one of my favourite things to do, the meet people are very nice to me and look after me well," said Pearson, the Olympic silver medallist who has set two Oceania records on previous visits and in Birmingham lowered it again with a world leading of 12.48.

Wells, who warmed up with a victory in Lignano on Tuesday night, said: "I'm expecting a wonderful race. With my coach we've put together a race plan. I'm not chasing times, I'm going for a win."


Summer’s first sub-4 in women’s 1,500m is the target

The women's 1,500m consists of 18 competitors and, if conditions are perfect, a sub-four minute time could be on the cards. Indeed World champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal from Bahrain is being strongly tipped to lower her World lead of 4:00.33 although she won't rest on her laurels.

The stellar field includes World silver and bronze medallists Lisa Dobriskey of Great Britain and Shannon Rowbury. But it is the latter's fellow American and present Diamond Race leader Morgan Ucency who has lit up the event this summer with her victories at the last two meets in Lausanne and Birmingham. If it is slow her rivals should note the US 1500m champion ran an 800m personal best of 1:58.37 in Lignano.


Strong fields battling in the Men's 5,000m and 3,000m Steeplechase

The men's 5,000m and 3,000m Steeplechase fields include contestants whose abilities should ensure electrifying clashes on a track where the respective meet records are 13:06.36 by the legendary Moroccan Said Aouita from 1989 and Saif Saaeed Shaheen, the World record holder, who clocked 7:56.94 seven years ago.

In the 5,000m, which includes a dozen athletes who have ran under 13 minutes, many eyes will be watching Great Britain's Mo Farah who roared to a European 10,000m record at the Prefontaine Classic in early June. His defeat of his African rivals in Eugene has raised hopes their dominance can be challenged.

However his performance in Oregon also brought him very much to their attention for the first time and Farah, last year's European 5,000m and 10,000m gold medallist, knows he will be a marked man throughout the 12 1/2 laps.

Former World champion Bernard Lagat of the USA, Ethiopia's World and current Diamond Race leader Imane Merga (12:54.21 in Rome) plus 17-year-old Isaiah Koech, who has a 12:54.59 mark to his credit, should be in the fight for a victory. 

The 3,000m Steeplechase fetches together reigning World champion Ezekiel Kemboi, Paul Koech and six other Kenyan's who may find it difficult to get near the mark their former fellow countryman Shaheen ran in 2004. However it is the last track event of the night and the crowd could lift them to something special.


Back on the infield - Idowu, Obergföll, Vlašić in action

Back on the infield the men's Triple Jump and women's High Jump and Javelin Throw promise another feast of quality action with in particular an intriguing encounter in the hop, step and jump.

Reigning World champion and Diamond Race leader Phillips Idowu of Great Britain, although missing a headline clash with his big rival France's Teddy Tamgho who injured an ankle warming up at last week's European U23 Championships, will clash with Sheryf El-Sheryf.

El-Sheryf, whose father moved to Ukraine from Sudan more than 30 years ago, cleared an outstanding 17.72m to take the Euro U23 gold medal in Ostrava, the performance gaining him a start at Herculis. Idowu and Sweden's Christian Olsson, who has won every available triple jump title, will respect him but also show no favours to El-Sheryf as he steps up in status.  

Christina Obergföll
will be looking for a fourth consecutive Samsung Diamond League win in the javelin. After placing second in Rome in mid-May the German has come up trumps with her victories in Eugene, New York and Paris. The Czech Republic's Olympic champion Barbora Špotáková, the 2010 Diamond Race winner, will be a main rival along with US record holder Kara Patterson.

World High Jump champion Blanka Vlašić, last year's IAAF Athlete of the Year, has been going through a lean patch lately finishing only sixth in Lausanne on countback and losing at the Eberstadt High Jump meeting last weekend in Germany. But in between she did regain winning form in Birmingham and is a clear leader and favourite to defend her Samsung Diamond League overall crown. European silver medallist Emma Green Tregaro of Sweden and Brigetta Barrett, the U.S. and NCAA champion also compete.

The only non-Diamond League event will be over 1,500m featuring Kenyan Championships winner Silas Kiplagat who tops the World list while there is an interesting entry from 800m star Abubaker Kaki.


David Martin for the Samsung Diamond League


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