Athletics
Carlo Jonkerman, KweséESPN 160d

Oslo Bislett Games Preview

Thursday evening's Oslo Bislett Games is set to add to the meeting's illustrious 52-year history, not least because African athletes feature prominently in the main events.

While the women's programme features seven IAAF Diamond League competition events, only four of them will feature African athletes - but they will undoubtedly be key protagonists in the evening's narrative.

WILL SEMENYA'S UNBEATEN RUN END?

Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor (long jump, 20:20 CAT) will be first to get Africa's onslaught underway. The 28-year-old is among four women in the field who have jumped 7m - her personal best - or further, but competing for the win will not necessarily be her focus.

The entry standard for this year's IAAF World Championships in London in August is set at 6.75m, which she last jumped in 2014, and her season's best to date is 6.52m. Thus Okagbare-Ighoteguonor will hope for perfect conditions and form to come together.

A push from already-qualified Claudia Rath (Germany), Tianna Bartoletta (USA), and Lorraine Ugen (Great Britain) could prevent her from gaining the three strings to her bow (she has already set 100m and 200m qualifying times) come August.

Following her on the track will be four Kenyans, a Ugandan, and an Ethiopian in Sofia Assefa who will comfortably be the favourite for the 3000m steeplechase (20:45 CAT).

Assefa's storming start to the season culminated in the 29-year-old setting a new personal best of 9:07.06 in the Netherlands last weekend. That said, her wits will undoubtedly be tested by Norah Jeruto, Purity Kirui, Daisy Jepkemei, and Joan Jepkemoi ganging up against her... so, maybe even Peruth Chemutai, the Ugandan, can be the surprise package.

While that race will whet the pundits' appetite, the main course will be served at 21:10 (CAT) by an 800m humdinger featuring the Olympic Games medalists in Caster Semenya (South Africa), Francine Niyonsaba (Burundi), and Margaret Wambui (Kenya).

Add into the mix Wambui's compatriot Eunice Sum and you have an almost definite African 1-2-3-4, but, as always, the question will be whether the irrepressible Semenya's 16-meet unbeaten run can be halted. Wambui has made her sweat recently, but that pressure could just as easily edge the 25-year-old South African into the 1:54s that she always looks comfortably able to reach - even if Jarmila Kratchvilova's 1983 world record of 1:53.28 remains elusive.

The women's events will conclude at 21:40 (CAT) with Dafne Schippers the star attraction in the 200m, but the race will also feature Murielle Ahouré (Côte d'Ivoire) making her season's debut in the half-lapper. The 29-year-old is well capable of running the 23.10 London 2017 entry standard so will no doubt be looking to do that while also exerting the Flying Dutchwoman.

MEÏTÉ AND VAN ZYL TO BENEFIT IN INTRIGUING MEN'S RACES

Meanwhile, there are only six men's IAAF Diamond League competition events and African interest is limited to four of those, but there are definitely wins in the offing.

That may well be the case in the 400m (20:03 CAT), as Baboloki Thebe (Botswana) and Pieter Conradie (South Africa) have the two fastest season's bests. Those times are also IAAF World Championships entry standards so Thebe and Conradie will be free to show that a certain Wayde van Niekerk isn't the only talented southern African 400m runner.

Exactly an hour later (21:03 CAT), Ivorian Ben Youssef Meïté will find himself part of the most intriguing early-season 100m race. Of the eight men participating, Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut has the only sub-10 second time for 2017 and Andre De Grasse (Canada) is the Rio 2016 bronze medalist.

At the same time, Britons Adam Gemili, Chijindu Ujah, and Reece Prescod will arguably have their own race between them, while Dutchman Churandy Martina will look to prove that there is plenty pace left in his 32-year-old legs.

As it happens, South Africa's LJ van Zyl (400m hurdles, 21:25 CAT) will line-up in an equally watchable race. Four Rio 2016 finalists will take part, including winner Kerron Clement (USA) and bronze medalist Yasmani Copello of Turkey. The two of them will be expected to set a blistering pace as neither they nor Ireland's Thomas Barr have yet set a London 2017 entry standard this year - will Thursday night change that?

Finally, the action at Bislett Stadium will conclude with eight Africans on track, in the 1500m (21:50 CAT). Ayanleh Souleiman (Djibouti) finished best of them at last year's Olympic Games, just outside the medals, as did Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider.

Souleiman has been well off his 2016 form (and has yet to qualify for the World Championships) while Iguider will have support on Thursday night in the form of compatriot Fouad El Kaam. However, with a five-man Kenyan squad they'll have to run smart. Elijah Manangoi and Silas Kiplagat will likely be the 'protected' runners for the Kenyans so will have the pressure of going for the win.

STAR IN THE MAKING

Interestingly, the 1500m finale is taking place instead of the trademark Oslo Dream Mile, which has over the years produced world records and illustrious winners such as Steve Ovett, John Walker, Steve Cram, Seb Coe, and Moroccans Saïd Aouita and Hicham El Guerrouj.

This year it has been transformed into the Dream U-20 mile - in the middle of the Diamond League events at 20:30 (CAT).

Seemingly, the intention is to throw the spotlight on Norway's prodigious rising talent Jakob Ingebrigtsen (who's older brother Filip will run in the 1500m run). Jakob, just 16, became the youngest runner to break four minutes for the mile as he clocked 3:58.07 - in his first race at the distance - at last month's IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene.

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