Wednesday, 07 June 2017 16:01

Gladiators to be challenged at Rome IAAF Diamond League

There is a gladiatorial feel to the fourth International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Diamond League meeting of the season in Rome tomorrow, as a number of the sport's Olympic champions face the fierce challenge of those seeking to overcome them.

Germany's Thomas Rohler, who added to his Rio 2016 success by producing a javelin throw of 93.90 metres - the best in 20 years - at last month's opening Diamond League meeting in Doha, faces a field that includes Kenya's world champion Julius Yego and former world champion Viteslav Vesely.

The Diamond Trophy winners from the last two years, Tero Pitmakaki and Jakub Vadlejch, will also challenge Rohler as well as two strong domestic rivals in Andreas Hofmann and Johannes Vetter, who have thrown 88.79m and 89.68m respectively this season.

But perhaps the greatest challenge to the 25-year-old Rohler will be to follow his prodigious effort in Qatar.

Conditions in the Olympic Stadium for the 37th edition of the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea are expected to be nigh on perfect - which will mean the javelin competition becomes the centre of attention once again.

But there are other keen rivalries to be played out, including in the women's pole vault where Greece's Rio 2016 gold medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi faces Sandi Morris, the American athlete and Rio silver medallist who ended her season on a high last year by becoming only the second woman after Yelena Isinbayeva to clear 5.00m.

The gauntlet went down in today's pre-event press conference as the Greek vaulter declared: "I dare to say I'm in the best shape ever, even better than in Rio."

The competitive level will be maintained broadly across a field that also includes New Zealand's Eliza McCartney, Cuba's world champion Yarisley Silva and Britain's Holly Bradshaw.

In the women's triple jump, Colombia's Olympic and world champion Caterine Ibarguen begins her Diamond League campaign and is seeking a fifth Diamond Trophy.

Standing in the 33-year-old's runway, however, is Venezuela's 21-year-old world indoor champion Yulimar Rojas, who leads this year's world standings by more than half a metre with 14.96m.

The Colombian has not been beaten in more than a year, but she will need all her combative experience to extend that run against a field that also includes the Kazakhstan athlete who beat her to the London 2012 title, Olga Rypakova.

Another Olympic champion is under pressure in the men's 3,000m steeplechase as Kenya's Conseslus Kipruto, who won six times on the IAAF Diamond League circuit last year, makes his 2017 debut.

The field includes compatriots Jairus Birech, the 2014 Diamond Trophy winner, and the 35-year-old double Olympic and quadruple world champion Ezekiel Kemboi.

In the men's 800m the position is effectively reversed, as Kenya's Olympic champion David Rudisha seeks to re-establish himself after finishing only fourth in last month's Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, where compatriot Kipyegon Bett claimed his first ever Diamond League win.

Bett, and Kenya's defending Diamond Trophy champion Ferguson Cheruyiot Rotich, are both in the field, as is the London 2012 silver medallist, Nijel Amos of Botswana.

By contrast, Russian world high jump champion Maria Lasitskene - formerly Kuchina - looks head and shoulders above her likely rivals following her personal best of 2.03m at the Eugene Diamond League meeting last month.

Like Lasitskene, Russia's world 110m hurdles champion Sergey Shubenkov will be competing under a neutral banner having been cleared to return while the blanket ban on Russian athletes for widespread doping infractions persists.

In the women’s 5,000m the absence of Olympic champion Almaz Ayana should make it simpler for her fellow Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba to win, although the latter is looking once again, as she did unsuccessfully in Eugene, at breaking the nine-year-old world record of 14min 11.15sec set by her elder sister Tirunesh.

It may be simpler, but it will be far from straightforward given the presence of Kenya's Rio silver medallist Hellen Obiri, who leads this year's world rankings with 14:22.47.

American Ronnie Baker, the surprise 100m winner at Eugene in a wind-aided time of 9.86, is in a field which also includes France's Jimmy Vicaut, who has clocked 9.97 this season.

The women's 100m features a head-to-head between Olympic long jump champion Tiann Bartoletta of the United States and 200m world champion Dafne Schippers of The Netherlands,

"I hope to run faster than my season’s best," said Schippers, who has already clocked 10.95.

In the men's 200m, Canada's 2016 Olympic silver medallist Andre De Grasse faces France's 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Christophe Lemaitre.