Athletics
Carlo Jonkerman, KweséESPN 134d

Van Niekerk to light up Lausanne

A week after breaking the 300m world record, Wayde van Niekerk will be eagerly watched to see what he has in store at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne on Thursday.

The 24-year-old South African is the star attraction of the Athletissima, particularly because he'll be running in his favoured 400m for the first time since April. As it happens, because of the low-key nature of his previous one-lap races in 2017, the world record holder actually has the slowest time this year in the eight-man field!

However, Botswana duo Isaac Makwala and Baboloki Thebe (who leads the Diamond League standings for the event) and the likes Tony McQuay (USA) only need to look at the highlights of last week to know that they will have to run the race of their lives to win at Stade Olympique de la Pontaise.

In total, there will be 14 events that go towards Diamond League rankings with eight of those featuring African athletes.

Congo's Franck Elemba is among the 10-man strong shot put field, who start their evening's work at 19:20 (CAT). Though the 26-year-old former judoka has garnered some Diamond League points this season, to place him sixth overall, he has actually got the worst season's best of Thursday's competitors which shows how tough it will be for him to stand out. In that regard world leader Ryan Crouser (USA), Tomas Stanek (Czech Republic) and Tom Walsh (New Zealand) and Germany's two-time world champion David Storl will be the men to look out for.

That said, Sunette Viljoen can be considered among the favourites in the women's javelin throw which follows at 19:25 (CAT). The 33-year-old South African has not come close to throwing her best this year yet, but often times the big occasion brings out the best in her... as the 2016 Olympic Games proved when she won silver. To spur her on, she'll have seven of the Diamond League-leading throwers including Croatia's surprise Olympic javelin champion, Tatsiana Khaladovich of Belarus as well as Czech world record-holder Barbora Spotakova and world champion Katharina Molitor (Germany).

Athletics fans with an African interest will then be able to catch their breath while the women's long jump and 400m hurdles as well as the men's pole vault takes place. However they'll have much to pique their interest at 20:13 when the men's 1500m takes place. 

Ten of the 14 competitors are from the continent and they will all have the Rio 2016 champion, USA's Matthew Centrowitz in their sights. Of the field, Ayanleh Souleiman (Djibouti) was the only other Olympic finalists and he finished fourth so he'll be motivated. As usual, there is also a pack of Kenyans - seven of them, including two pacemakers - who will likely be led by Vincent Kibet, Silas KIplagat and Bethwell Birgen. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian pair of Aman Wote and Teresa Tolosa will have their work cut out if they are to upset the odds.

Though it isn't a Diamond League event, the women's 1 Mile at 20:33 (CAT) will undoubtedly be must-watch.

Twenty five years after the discipline was last held at the Pontaise, world 1500m champion Genzebe Dibaba will be clear favourite... with a milestone in mind. The Ethiopian ran 4:14.30 in the Italian town of Rovereto last September to move up to second on the world all-time list and she will have another tilt at the world record of 4:12.56, held by Svetlana Masterkova since the Russian's halcyon year of 1996.

Once the dust has settled on that race, the next African in action will be Marie-Josee Ta Lou in the 200m at 20:44 (CAT). The 28-year-old Ivorian has been in sparkling form this season and may well even have been the favourite in Lausanne were it not for the presence of Dafne Schippers, the Diamond League points leader. That said, USA's Kyra Jefferson will be a major threat... she has set her personal best this year, which is also the quickest time among the field.

Another, almost completely African field will take on the men's 5000m at 21:04 (CAT). Seven Ethiopians, five Kenyans and two Ugandans will tussle for superiority with four others arguably making up the numbers - though that is usually not the case. While Muktar Edris (Ethiopia), Joshua Cheptegei (Uganda) and Cyrus Rutto (Kenya) are good bets for the win, Kenyan-born Bahraini Albert Rop could just as easily take the line honours. That quartet have far and away the best times in the field which could negate the fact that they have so many compatriots in support.

If the men's 400m which closes the Diamond League events of Athletissima is the highlight of the meeting, then the men's 100m at 21:20 (CAT) runs it a close second.

Justin Gatlin (USA) is winding up for one final crack at beating Usain Bolt at the IAAF World Championships in August but on Thursday he'll have to keep a close eye on South Africa's Akani Simbine, one of the leading candidates to take the place of the veteran sprinters. Simbine also has his compatriot Henricho Bruintjies and Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite for company in what will surely be a fast race with them all present. A win for anybody but Gatlin will surely get the punters talking...

Finally, though before Van Niekerk brings the house down, Francine Niyonsaba (Burundi), Eunice Sum (Kenya) and Habitam Alemu (Ethiopia) will all run in the women's 800m at 21:30 (CAT).

Ordinarily one of them - particularly Rio 2016 silver medallist Niyonsaba - would be a shoe-in for the win but the presence of USA's Charlene Lipsey who has the fastest time this year of all in the field should make for an intriguing race to suitably whet the appetites for the main event.

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