Athletics
Carlo Jonkerman, KweséESPN 131d

Kipruto returns as Semenya risks being beaten in Rabat

It's not often that African athletes get to feature in major athletics events on the continent, least of all when they're nearing the peak time of the season, which makes Sundays' IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat, Morocco extra special.

The Meeting International Mohammed VI d'Athletisme is the 10th of 14 stops of the 2017 top tier season, and the second-last before the IAAF World Championships in London so there's no wonder eight reigning Olympic champions are taking part with Conseslus Kipruto and Caster Semenya the most intriguing Africans.

The Diamond League events get going at 19:00 (CAT) with the men's shot put which sees usual competitor Franck Elemba (Congo) joined by Egypt's Mostafa Amr Hassan - who has a the better season's best - among the 10 competitors. World 2017 leader Ryan Crouser (USA) is one of those and should be the favourite unless he has an off-night and Tomas Stanek (Czech Republic) betters the personal best he's already set this season.

The next Africans will only be in action at 19:52 (CAT) and 20:03 (CAT) respectively when Hayat Lambarki (Morocoo) and Wenda Nel (South Africa) run in their respective 400m hurdles heats.

Though it's not a Diamond League event in Rabat, the men's 100m at 20:13 (CAT) should also be a interesting affair. It will feature an in-form Ben Youssef Meite (Ivory Coast) and upcoming South African sprinter Thando Roto up against the likes of Chijindu Ujah (a Briton of Nigerian heritage) and the always entertaining Churandy Martina of the Netherlands.

Thereafter six Africans will be in action in the men's 800m (20:22, CAT). Nijel Amos, who set 2017's best time last weekend in London, will arguably be the favourite to take the win. However the Botswana runner will have four Kenyans to contend with, including Diamond League leader Kipyegon Bett and the always capable Ferguson Rotich. Mostafa Smaili will bank on home support but the most likely challenger to Amos is arguably Donavan Brazier, the American who pushed him hard last weekend.

At 20:30 (CAT) the men's long jumpers will start their competition. Local Yahya Berrabah is in the field but South Africans Khotso Mokoena and particularly Rushwal Samaai will compete for the win. Samaai has seemingly taken motivation from Luvo Manyonga's 2016 exploits by setting his 8.49m personal best this year and will want to show that he is emerging as a viable World Championships contender.

On track two minutes later, the women's 3000m steeplechase will take place. In the absence of the previously billed Ruth Jebet, it should be an open race though Kenya's Norah Jeruto and Germany's Gesa Felicitas Krause have the standout 2017 bests. Should they be off their game Purity Kirui (Kenya) and 17-year-old Winfred Mutile Yavi (Kenyan-born but competes for Bahrain) will look to benefit.

The pace will crank up at 20:50 (CAT) when the men's 200m takes place. The outstanding name in the field is that of Andre De Grasse, the Canadian who finished second to Usain Bolt at Rio 2016 (and bronze in the 100m). He hasn't dipped under 20 seconds yet this year, but neither have any of his rivals in Rabat including South Africa's Clarence Munyai and USA's Ameer Webb, the Diamond League leader.

As it happens, the spectators will then be eased into the closing events with the women's 1500m at 20:58 (CAT). Fourteen competitors are entered, with an unusually even split of Africa vs. The Rest. Poland's Angelika Cichocka has accumulated the most Diamond League points of the field, but Moroccan's Rababe Arafi and Malika Akkaoui will look to used home advantage. In truth though, any number of the runners could take this race.

On paper, the women's 100m after that at 21:12 (CAT) should be a case of 'who follows Elaine Thompson over the line'. The Jamaican sprinter is one the evening's star attractions and will will be gunning for her 14th straight 100m win. That said, she'll expect to be pushed by Trinidad & Tobago's Michelle-Lee Ayhe and Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, who has been in fine form. Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor is also in the field and has consistently been getting faster in 2017.

Meanwhile, the second-last event of the evening will mark Kenyan Conseslus Kipruto's return to action in a month since a slight injury. As it happens, the 22-year-old Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion will play second fiddle for crowd's affection to the 21-year-old Moroccan rising star Soufiane El Bakkali, who was fourth in Rio last year. The 17-strong field actually contains 14 Africans but apart from either Amos Kirui (Kenya) or Yemane Haileselassie (Eritrea) it should be a two-man race at 21:20 (CAT).

The undoubted highlight of the Meeting International Mohammed VI d'Athletisme will be the women's 400m and 800m Rio 2016 champions facing each other in the same event at 21:37 (CAT).

Essentially, the pressure is on Shaunae Miller-Uibo while South Africa's Caster Semenya can only gain from taking on the Bahamian in her event.

Miller-Uibo has shown solid form from the outset of the season, with numerous sub-50s runs at this distance while Semenya has yet to do so.

In fact, Semenya's fastest one-lap time is her 50.40 set in Brussels last year and only has a 51.60 season's best from early April which just squeezes into the top 40 times of 2017.

Considering the field also includes Quanera Hayes (who clocked 49.72 to capture the US title less than three weeks ago) and four other sub-50s runners, a solid performance from Semenya may well suggest that she's got the speed in her legs to start the 'can she break the 800m world record talk?' again...

Though there's a non-Diamond League men's 3000m (Spain's Adel Mechaal is the fastest while nine African will try beat him) to complete the evening's programme, that 400m race is definitely the must-see from Rabat.

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