African stars to add gloss as London 2017 ends

Hellen Onsando Obiri of Kenya (c) and Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia (r) during the womens 5000 metres heats during day seven of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at The London Stadium on August 10, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. David Ramos/Getty Images

The record-breaking race walking earlier in the day opens up the possibility that there's there's more to come in an intriguing final evening session of London 2017 -- during which African stars will figure prominently.

These IAAF World Championships have played out with many themes; from the dominance of the USA, to the emergence of some new rivalries and the unexpected endings of the careers of two legends of athletics.

Be that as it may, there is sure to be even more drama on Sunday evening when two field finals, the men's high jump at 20:00 (CAT) and the women's discus starting 10 minutes later, kickstart the proceedings at the Olympic Stadium.


Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim leads the world in men's high jump this year at 2.38m and the absence of Canada's Derek Drouin makes him favourite to upgrade his two global silvers and one bronze.

That said, Ukraine's Bohdan Bondarenko has experience of beating them both and has a lifetime best in the 2.40s. He's not quite at that level, but pedigree often trumps form in major events.

The high jump is often a see-saw battle at the tail-end when one inspired jump could decide it. With that in mind, local hope Robbie Grabarz could come into the medal reckoning as he did in winning bronze at London 2012. Danil Lysenko (Russia), Mateusz Pryzbylko (Germany) and Majd Eddin Ghazal of Syria are also in the running for the minor medal.


As it happens, only two of the women's discus finalists have ever thrown beyond 70m, but the contrast between 27-year-old's Sandra Perkovic and Denia Caballero is marked.

Croatia's Perkovic, who defended her Olympic title at Rio 2016, has thrown a lifetime best of 71.41m this year and nailed monster 69.67m in qualifying for the final.

Caballero did get the better of Perkovic at Beijing 2015, to give Cuba gold after years of global near-misses from Yarelis Barrios, but she has only mustered a best of 67.04m in 2017.

Were Caballero not to summon the form of years gone by, then Perkovic is more likely to come under pressure from another Cuban in Yaime Perez, who's thrown her lifetime best of 69.19 this season.

Either way, Australia's Dani Stevens, Melina Robert-Michon (France) and Nadine Muller of Germany performed strongly enough in qualifying to suggest they will battle for a podium place too.


Meanwhile, there were pre-championships question marks hanging over defending champion Almaz Ayana, but then the Ethiopian won the 10 000m without having previously raced on the track this year and kept pace with Hellen Obiri in the 5000m final qualification.

The Kenyan, for her part, has been the form 5000m runner of 2017 and beat Ayana at Rio 2016 last year as she took the silver medal behind Vivian Cheruiyot -- absent from these championships.

Obiri is the only Kenyan really in contention for the medals, while Beijing 2015 silver medallist Senbere Teferi and teenager Letesenbet Gidey have their claims on the podium (if not gold). As such the Ethiopians may not necessarily be minded to help Ayana in her quest for the double which Tirunesh Dibaba managed at Helsinki 2015 and Cheruiyot at Daegu 2011.

Those without outside chances of the top three include the USA's Molly Huddle, Ethiopia-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan and home favourite Laura Muir.


There have been some favourites at these championships that haven't lived up their billing, but if anything Caster Semenya has rubber-stamped the expectations on her through her 1500m bronze medal.

Since the last time the 26-year-old South African was beaten, two years ago, she has secured her second Olympic title and produced 15 sub-two-minute runs, including four under 1:56. That said, her only world title came eight years ago...

Her closest challenge based on recent form, should be Francine Niyonsaba. The Burundian has broken two minutes in every race over the past two seasons and took the silver medal in Rio in 2016 - and judging by her smile, she is running with confidence.

Usually, the other 'Big 3' member Margaret Wambui would be a shoe-in to join them on the podium but the Kenyan has looked most at threat from the rest of the pack. As such, it should not be a surprise if one of Ajee Wilson (the new USA record holder), Angelika Cichocka (Poland) or Beijing 2015 silver medallist Melissa Bishop of Canada get the better of her.


Hicham El Guerrouj won four 1500m world titles between 1997 and 2003 and at 21:30 (CAT) Asbel Kiprop will have the chance of matching the great Moroccan.

Kiprop (28) had been in indifferent form heading into London 2017, with his Kenyan teammate Elijah Manangoi (the Beijing 2015 silver medallist) emerging as the pre-championships favourite to become world champion. Ironically, the pair have found themselves in the same heat and semifinal and both times the 24-year-old pretender to the throne has won, with Kiprop sticking to his come-from-far-behind tactic.

The pair, though, aren't the only gold medal contenders with their 21-year-old compatriot Timothy Cheruiyot progressing at a rapid rate.

Of course the last two Olympic Games have shown that the Kenyans can be outthought and outrun, so the likes of Abdalaati Iguider (Morocco), Bahrain's Sadik Mikhou, Jakub Holusa (Czech Republic) and Great Britain's Chris O'Hare will be keen to see a tactical race.

European champion Filip Ingebrigtsen from Norway would also be the dark horse in a slow race.


Considering the drama of the 4x100m relays on Saturday night, the 4x400m relays should close London 2017 with an equal amount theatre.

The women's race at 21:55 (CAT) will see the USA start as favourites, considering their win at the IAAF World Relays earlier this year in Bahamas and slick performance in the semifinals. Jamaica set the second-fastest time in that knockout round while Great Britain's challenge will be kickstarted by the crowd.

African athletics fans will be shouting for Botswana, who upstaged their men to reach the final with a national record, and Nigeria who look most likely to benefit if these relays throw up the surprise they tend to do.

Based on the semifinals, the men's race at 22:15 (CAT) could be decided on the line or because of one misjudgment.

Yes the USA won at the IAAF World Relays, but in Trinidad and Tobago and Belgium they have rivals at London 2017 who also broke three minutes in the second semi.

As it happened, Great Britain and France -- who finished fourth and fifth in that semi -- both ran faster than Spain, Poland and Cuba who qualified from the other... but these are relays, and the final event of a topsy-turvy worlds so it can't be missed.