Athletics
Carlo Jonkerman, KweséESPN 83d

Obiri, Kipruto and Kipyegon lead Africa's charge in Brussels

There may not be many Africans on show at the Van Damme Memorial on Friday evening, but those that are present at the second of the two 2017 IAAF Diamond League finals should bring a fitting end to their seasons.

Last week 16 IAAF Diamond League champions were crowned in Zurich, Switzerland and by the end of Friday evening another 16 will join them in the capital of Belgium, Brussels. On top of that, the winners will take home a Diamond Trophy and a US$ 50 000 winner's cheque -- something which produced several unexpected results at the first of the two finales in Zurich a week ago.

This was further emphasised on Thursday evening, when Darrell Hill of the United States hit the jackpot with a last round effort of 22.44m in the men's shot put, to upset his compatriot Ryan Crouser -- who has comfortably been the world leader in 2017 but has neither a World Championships win (or medal for that matter) nor a Diamond League win to show for his superiority.

Hill, meanwhile threw more than half a metre over his personal best ar Place de la Monnaie in the centre of Brussels, to set a new meeting record (as Crouser had done to win the Eugene, Lausanne and Rabat legs). London 2017 silver medallist Joe Kovacs, also American, claimed third last night.

OBIRI ODDS-ON AS WOMEN COME TO THE FORE EARLY ON

When the Diamond League gets underway this evening inside the King Baudouin Stadium, women's events will come to the fore.

The shot put women will take to the field at 18:30 (CAT) with the three medallists from London 2017 in the lineup. World champion Sandra Perkovic has dominated the Diamond League season in pursuit of her sixth consecutive title and arrives in Brussels as the clear favourite. That said, Australia's Dani Stevens set an Area record of 69.64m to claim silver at the world champs so has it in her to throw further than the Croatian. As does Cuba's Yaime Perez who would not have taken kindly to finishing off the podium in London, behind France's Melina Robert-Michon.

They will still be in action when a compelling long jump competition gets going at 18:45 (CAT). Again all three London 2017 medallists will compete, namely world champion Brittney Reese of the United States, Russia's Darya Klishina and Reese's compatriot Tianna Bartoletta, the Olympic champion. Then there is also Serbian Olympic bronze medallist Ivana Spanovic, who is convinced she would have had world gold had the number on her back not marked the sand as she produced a huge final effort in London. This is a must-watch.

The pole vault, at 19:14 (CAT), may well be more clear-cut because when Katerina Stefanidi competes, she tends to win and the Greek has done so five times in 2017 at Diamond League events and claimed a world title a few weeks back. The USA's Sandi Morris, though, is the only jumper in the competition to have reached the magical 5.00m before and should again be Stefanidi's closest competition; while Cuba's Yarisley Silva and Holly Bradshaw from Great Britain will battle for third.

If there is one certainty on Friday evening, it is that Mariya Lasitskene will win the high jump which starts at 19:47 (CAT). The Russian has won all six qualifying Diamond League meetings and retained her world title, operating consistently in 2.00m territory and raised her personal best to 2.06m -- just three centimetres shy of the world record. Likely rivals don't even merit being mentioned.

The evening's first track event, the 400m hurdles, will follow at 20:03 (CAT) with only one London 2017 medallist running. World leader Dalilah Muhammad had to settle for silver behind her American teammate Kori Carter in London. As it happens, Muhammad has yet to win in the Diamond League in 2017 too, while fellow finalists Zuzana Hejnova (Czech Republic), Ashley Spencer (USA) and Janieve Russell (Jamaica) have to suggest the honours in this race could go to any of them. South Africa's Wenda Nel, meanwhile, will be looking for a strong showing as she has the slowest seasn's best of the field of eight.

Meanwhile, had Almaz Ayana run more often in 2017 to be able to qualify for the Diamond League finals then the 5000m final at 20:18 (CAT) may well have been a classic. As it happens Kenya's world champion Hellen Obiri is the clear favourite in the field, although Ethiopians Senbere Teferi, Sofia Assefa and Letesenbet Gidey may well try to force a tactical race to undermine her. Obiri's compatriot, Agnes Tirop may well try to benefit from such a scenario too.

KIPRUTO TO STAKE AFRICA'S CLAIM

Finally the men will enter the arena at 20:20 (CAT) when the leading discus throwers battle it out. Sweden's Daniel Stahl heads this year's world list with a personal best of 71.29m, but he had to settle for silver in London behind an inspired Andrius Gudzius of Lithuania, who himself produced a personal best of 69.21m when it was most needed. The presence of Jamaica's Fedrick Dacres, and Germany's Harting brothers, Robert and Christoph, respective Olympic champions in 2012 and 2016, could turn this into an open final.

Not so in the 110m hurdles at 20:44 (CAT), mostly because the absence of world champion Omar McLeod and bronze medallist Balazs Baji makes the ever-smiling 2015 world champion Sergey Shubenkov the standout candidate to win. Of course Aries Merritt, the world record holder, continues a remarkable recovery from a kidney transplant and Spain's Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega could easily benefit if any of the hurdles get in the Russian's way.

Americans Christian Taylor and Will Claye continued their intriguing battle for triple jump gold at London 2017 and will again be the main protagonists at 20:46 (CAT), but Pedro Pablo Pichardo will be an interesting presence. Not least because the Cuban has a best of 18.08m so will be primed to benefit if they think it's only a two-way battle again.

Meanwhile, the theme of the women's 400m race which breaks a run of five men's events at 20:52 (CAT) will be redemption -- for Shaunae Miller Uibo that is. The Bahamian Olympic champion looked set to add the world title to her collection in London, but a stumble 20 metres from the line saw her drop out of the medals. The Diamond League crown may not be as prestigious but it will remind everybody who the 400m queen is. That said, Natasha Hastings of the United States and Bahrain's prodigious 19-year-old Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain will mount a challenge. Botswana's Lydia Jele will also run.

Then, in the 3000m steeplechase at 21:00, Kenya's Olympic and world champion Conseslus Kipruto will again look to prove his prowess in this discipline -- as he did in London. Perennial Kenyan rival Jairus Birech will not make it easy for him though, and neither will Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali and the US world bronze medallist Evan Jager who has also proven himself a worthy rival in 2017.

On paper the 200m at 21:16 (CAT) looks a comfortable win for world champion Ramil Guliyev. However, Nineteen-year-old US sprinter Noah Lyles ran a 19.90 a few months, then the fastest time of the year and Britain's Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake anchored Britain to gold in the world 4x100m in London so the Turk's share of the Diamond League pot isn't guaranteed.

CAN TA LOU EARN HER REWARD?

Africa should have a strong finish to the Van Damme Memorial meeting, considering the women's 1500m, men's 800m and women's 100m close off the evening's action.

Kenya's Faith Kipyegon, who won gold in a women's world 1500m final in London, is a favourite to finish the season on another high at 21:23 (CAT). That said, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands (though born in Ethiopia) has run fastest time in the world this year at 3:56.14 and is a potent force in one-off races. The wily silver medallist from London 2017, Jenny Simpson can also never be discounted.

In the 800m at 21:35, Nijel Amos will be desperate to make up for his failure at the World Championships. The Motswana was the favourite to win but he was outran in the final. Pierre Ambroise Bosse., the surprise world champion isn't in Brussels, so Poland's double world silver medallist Adam Kszczot is the biggest threat to Amos ending his season on a high.

Finally, Cote d'Ivoire's world 100m and 200m silver medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou would appear to have the best opportunity of the year to claim a big victory considering world 100m champion Torie Bowie is absent. However, Jamaica's Olympic champion Elaine Thompson is the world leader and showed enough last week - in claiming second in the 200m final behind Shaunae Miller-Uibo - to suggest that Ta Lou will have to be at her very best to bring a dream close to her season.

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