Over the last few years Trackcastic’s Distance, Dibaba and Divination expert David has laid out his brave and bold predictions for the summer season.
Here are David’s predictions for the World Championships in Doha this year. Which are the bankers, and which are the bold?
100m: Ronnie Baker, Marie Josee TaLou 200m: Noah Lyles, Jenna Prandini 400m: Michael Norman, Shaunae Miller Uibo 800m: Emannuel Korir, Ajee Wilson 1500m: Elijah Manangoi, Laura Muir 5000m: Yomif Kejelcha, Hellen Obiri 10000m: Joshua Cheptegai, Sifan Hassan Marathon: Leul Gebrselassie, Brigid Kosgei 110mH/100mH: Sergey Shubenkov, Brianna McNeal 400mH: Abderrahman Samba. Sydney McLaughlin 3000mSC: Conseslus Kipruto, Beatrice Chepkoech
High Jump: Mutaz Essa Barshim, Maria Lasitskene Long Jump: Juan Miguel Echevarria, Ivana Spanovic Triple Jump: Pedro Pablo Pichardo, Caterine Ibarguen Pole Vault: Timor Morgunov, Eliza McCartney Shot: Darrel Hill, Gong Lijao Javelin: Johannes Vetter, Kathryn Mitchell Hammer: Wojciech Nowicki, DeAnna Price Discus: Fedrik Dacres, Sandra Perkovic Decathlon/Heptathlon: Kevin Mayer, Nafi Thiam
4x100m: USA, USA 4x400m: USA, USA
Disclaimer: David has declared that he doesn’t quite have enough knowledge to make sensible predictions for the race walks, but will use 2019 as a learning opportunity. He forgot there would be a mixed relay.
By Gabby Pieraccini @smokymozzarella #decathletesofeurope
Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been X days since my last decathlon.
X, in this case, equals 211 and Good God those 211 days without any decathletes of Europe have been purgatory. A jaunt to the European Cross Country Championship in Tilburg in December kept me going on the live athletics front, but even the Holy Trinity of Ingebrigtsens couldn’t fill the multi-event gap in my soul.
So last weekend I made my way to the delightful town of Clermont-Ferrand, a few hours west of Lyon, for the wonderfully-marketed X-Athletics combined events meeting. The meeting was organised by the Clermont Athletics Auvergne club, including Aurelien Preteseille, himself a former decathlete, and also coach to Ruben Gado. Who better to help organise a multi-event than a former multi-eventer?
I knew I was onto a winner when I encountered pâtisserie after pâtisserie in Clermont-Ferrand with Galette des Rois on display, clearly celebrating the gold medal-winning performance of Arthur Abele in Berlin during the summer of 2018.
A Galette des Rois
The Stadium Jean-Pellez is perfect. It’s tiny but deceptively spacious with plenty of opportunities to view events from various angles. Within an hour of the event beginning, I overheard a conversation behind me, dissecting Gael Querin’s curious long jump technique. While the conversation was in French, some subjects transcend language barriers. We were soon chatting away. And 24 hours later, I was being interviewed by the in-stadium host who posed 3 important questions to me.
Question 1: Why did I buy a plane ticket from Scotland to come to Clermont-Ferrand?
Well, I went to Decastar in Talence in September where I witnessed old Kéké la braise burn up the world record. The guys who finished 5th, 6th and 9th in Talence were here in Clermont-Ferrand today, and quite frankly, the depth in French decathlon is amazing right now.
Question 2: Did I know any of the athletes competing?
Why, of course! Gael Querin (and of course Antoinette Nana Djimou competing in the pentathlon) are très célèbre in the multi-eventing world.
Jeremy Lelievre pacing Kevin Mayer in the 1500m in Talence will forever be one of my iconic decathlon moments. I get the shivers just thinking about it. You can’t miss the gigantic 6-foot 5 frame of Romain Martin, and his footage from the after-party in Talence deserves an Oscar. If you’re within 16m of Bastien Auzeil when he throws the shot you’re in trouble, and he is so good that American decathlete Stephen Bastien is clearly named after him (confusing many a commentator). And, of course, Ruben Gado has a wonderful pole vault, no more than we would expect from the land of the zippered-one, Renaud Lavillenie. So I didn’t just recognise the athletes competing, I’d enjoyed their performances for years.
Question 3: Who was my favourite to win?
One of the benefits of being half Scottish and half Italian is that when there is no Scot in a competition – such as the final stages of any football World Cup tournament – I can support the other half of my heritage. So naturally I was cheering on Simone Cairoli. But having no wish to be chased out of town by an angry crowd, of course I agreed that it would be wonderful if local hero Ruben Gado won the event.
I attempted to predict the result of the competition. I guessed Ruben-Simone-Gael. And I turned out be correct! But not before there was an almighty tussle between these 3 guys, and more.
This was a very different type of event from Talence. This was the type of multi-event where there is no clear favourite, a range of athletes all capable of winning, and an unusual combination of strengths and weaknesses. If Talence was The Kevin Show, then Clermont-Ferrand was a display of France’s strength in depth.
The 60m was won by speedy youngster Marc Perrin, and in fact 3 of the first 4 60m marks were made by athletes transitioning into the senior rankings, with Karly Maisonneuve and Makenson Gletty sharing the third fastest mark. But it was a strong start for Ruben, with 6.93s and second place in the first event.
The pendulum then swung back the other way, with Simone Cairoli going furthest in the long jump, and man was he pleased about it! It was enormously close behind Simone in the long jump with Ruben, Jeremy, Gael, Makenson and Spaniard Javier Perez all leaping within 12cm of each other.
Simone was second overall, and so it was clearly going to be a France v Italy match. Or was it? Onto the shot, and while Romain Martin and Bastien Auzeil came storming back with their giant puts, it was Jonay Jordan Schäfer who had the longest mark by a mile (or at least by 50cm).
As an aside, Spanish decathlon is also looking really perky right now. Jonay Jordan is definitely one to watch, and Jorge Ureña has the best heptathlon score of the year thus far. Together with Pau Tonneson’s return from a year out to focus on pole vault (Pau was the hero of the famous London 2017 decathlon lock-in), the squad is looking good.
We finished Day 1 with the high jump, won easily by Simone, and so the overnight scores were
1. Simone 3256
2. Makenson 3205
3. Jonay 3167.
One must admire the bravery of an Italian and a Spaniard occupying two of the podium spots overnight. But behind Makenson, the quintet of Ruben, Romain, Jeremy, Gael and Bastien were lurking, menacingly, in 4th-8th place. That’s not actually true, they weren’t menacing at all, they were all really lovely and charming. But stick with me.
Next morning, we were up bright and early (noon) for the 60m hurdles, won easily by Jonay. But when in France, expect sparks in the pole vault. Jonay and Simone’s indoor PBs are 4.50 and 4.60 respectively, so the balance was about to tip. The pole vault was won by another youngster, Julian Olivas in a 5.20PB with Ruben just behind him. But after 6 events only 12 points separated the top 3. Romain Martin was in first place, Simone second and Ruben third. Douze points!
Going into the final event, the 1000m, Ruben and Simone have pretty similar times, but they were going to have to watch out for the experienced Gael. When it comes to the middle-distance element of a multi-event, Gael is usually way out in front. What a showdown.
As expected, Gael took it out, closely followed by Jeremy Lelievre. Throughout the duration of the event, Jeremy seemed to be a one-man occasional series of gauze bandages.
Simone’s hamstring seemed to be cramping, but Ruben ran like a man possessed to run 2:39 to Simone’s 2:43. First and second place were secured and Gael came back to take third.
Is there anything better than a closely-fought battle with half a dozen guys in the mix to win? And when those guys have unusual combinations of strengths, that makes for an even more fascinating contest.
But how wonderful to see Gael Querin get third. After what feels like a few years being lost in the crowd of French talent, the beanie-wearing Querin (it was pretty cold in the stadium) banked a really solid set of marks in Clermont-Ferrand. I’ve not mentioned him yet, but Max Maugein had his first competition back for a few years, and will join the others seeking to complete the field in Glasgow.
There are 6 places up for grabs in Glasgow. Arthur Abele, Pieter Braun, Tim Duckworth, Kai Kazmirek, Vitali Zhuk and Martin Roe (and we assume Ilya too) have already been invited on the basis of their results in 2018. Away from Clermont-Ferrand, Fredrik Samuelsson logged some good marks in Stockholm last weekend. So who will be in Glasgow? And will they enjoy the Irn Bru?
The beauty of a smaller event is the chance for a range of people to shine, and here are some names with which you might not be too familiar. Makenson Gletty is cut from the same sturdy cloth as King Arthur, and was rarely far from the top of the scoreboard over the two days. He is surely poised for a breakthrough in the senior event. And for those who remember the great days of JJK, decathlon now has a JJS, in the shape of Jonay Jordan Schafer. Julian Olivas excelled at the pole vault, and likely has scope to improve in the other events. And I like the look of Karly Maisonneuve.
French decathlon is just so flipping good at the moment. Think about this: all 3 French athletes scored 3 no-jumps in the long jump in Berlin – a fact clearly destined to be the subject of a TV quiz question in future – yet both Ruben and Romain went on to perform really well in the rest of the competition. Performance, determination and depth.
Ruben, Gael, Karly, Julien and Jonay will be joining Jorge Ureña, John Lane, Ben Gregory, Scot Howard Bell and others in the combined events match in Cardiff (CZE-ESP-FRA-POL) next weekend.
Mesdames et Messieurs, I absolutely loved this 3-way battle between France, Italy and Spain as much I enjoyed the competition in Gotzis or Berlin. Well done to X-athletics for promoting the event so wonderfully, and thank you so much to the organisers who were kind enough to present me with some gifts to express their appreciation, 100%, for my support.
There’s an episode of Sex and The City – bear with me – where Carrie learns that Big is moving to Paris for a year. After an initial hissy fit, Carrie stocks up on French miscellany (mostly a beret and French fries) and decides to accompany Big to Paris, only to find that he is entirely ambivalent as to whether she comes to France or not. She realises that their future will never be, and she describes the pain she feels as “Le Douleur Exquise”.
For those who don’t obtain their cultural references from 90s TV boxsets, “le douleur exquise” is the French expression that describes the heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have. And those who have watched Kevin Mayer’s tears in 2018 as he sought to express himself 100% might have thought his pursuit of greatness would lead him to le douleur exquise.
Our reactions to Kevin’s experience at the European Championships in Berlin spanned confusion, frustration and heartbreak. But as I write this, exactly one week after I sat in sunny Talence watching Kevin’s sensational world record unfold in front of me, joy replaces all of those emotions.
To live through a Kevin Mayer decathlon is to live a thousand decathlons.
I learned this week of Kevin’s nickname “Kéké La Braise” and I asked my French-speaking athletico chums what it meant. Twitter pal @Monkeycat57 explained that he is “like an ember” – la braise – bursting into flame and bringing his best in big competitions. And we know that a Mayer decathlon, or indeed heptathlon, is full of fire and emotion and pain and so much drama.
But, the curious thing about Kevin’s performance in Talence is that – relatively speaking – there was very little drama.
100m, a wee 10.55 PB, no biggie.
Long Jump, another PB, but this one at 7.80 was a long time coming.
Shot put, the usual bam out to 16m.
High jump, a solid 2.05.
400m, steady 48.42.
110mH, just outside his 2018 PB with 13.75.
Discus, quality 50.54
Pole Vault, Twitter athletico Robyn Brailey put it best: “Over 5 metres first time #phew #nodrama”
Javelin: nearly 72m and my only individual FFS moment of the weekend (which you can enjoy
1500m: a perfectly acceptable 4:36, when you’ve already scored 8421 from 9 events.
What was so jawdropping about this world record was how it was so…effortless. Not for a minute should we minimise the monumental physical and mental effort that goes into the decathlon, or this performance in particular. But remember Ashton Eaton in Beijing.
Remember Ashton reaching so deep for every one of those 6 points that took him past his previous score, and how utterly shattered he was physically in that 1500m, and emotionally at the end. Remember every rueful grin from Roman Sebrle in 2001 as he heaved himself to his 9026 world record in Gotzis, not quite believing that he was breaking new boundaries. In comparison, Kevin’s performance seemed so easy.
Unremarkable, if it were not so utterly remarkable. And while I’ll leave the stats for another day, he scored exactly 4563 points on each day. EVEN POINTS. Trey Hardee summed it up:
“9126, in what was beyond the most balanced decathlon in history. First time in history there were no flaws”.
No drama, but still so much drama. This moment feels like it has been coming forever. But Kevin is only 26. It’s only been 4 years since he entered this territory, as Hans Van Alphen remembers:
“In 2012 I remember Kevin Mayer shaking like a leaf entering the London Olympic Stadium and not performing well because of this. In 2016 I saw you excel scoring a huge PB, finishing second just after the amazing Ashton Eaton at the Rio Olympics. And look at you now…world record holder with a dazzling 9126 points.”
This record was France’s as much as it was Kevin’s. And while I’m sure it would have come somewhere else if not Talence, what a privilege it was to join the home crowd to watch this extraordinary moment in history. One of the first on the scene to hug Kevin was Nicole Durand, who runs the Decastar event, and his brother made an emotional speech on the infield. Throughout the two days, coach Bertrand Valcin was never far from the track.
The other French decathletes set up the event for Kevin beautifully. Florian Geffrouais, ever the clown, warmed up the crowd with his antics. Jeremy Lelievre, with his brisk 4:21 1500 PB, stayed a pace or two ahead of Kevin all the way around in the last event, giving him someone to hang onto and roaring him on as he kicked on the final lap. Bastien Auzeil proudly carried Kevin aloft on his shoulders when the effort was over. Teenage girls ran after Kevin, screaming, as he was driven around the track, standing tall through the sunroof of a Renault. And yes, I got a Mayer high-five on his victory lap.
We talked about this moment coming on the Trackcastic podcast, like many others, but never could have imagined that Ashton’s 9045 would recede so far into the sunset, and so soon. As recently as May 2016, I commented that Kevin was really wee for a decathlete, compared to the likes of Karpov, Helcelet and those other decathletes whose shoulders can be seen from the moon. I was quickly put right by my friend Michelle who, having interviewed Kevin in an ice bath in 2014 in Ratingen, confirmed that he was no weakling.
The exquisite pain that accompanies Kevin Mayer, and those watching him compete, is over for now. The next challenge, whether that be Olympic Gold in Tokyo or putting that world record out of reach for a decade or more (for, while Kevin expressed himself 100% in Talence, I don’t think that we have yet seen 100% Kevin) will no doubt bring more drama.
I’ll finish with an image taken by James Rhodes, who joined me in Talence after seeing the momentum build on Day 1. This was the exact moment Kevin later described “A ce moment, j’ai su”. At this moment, I knew. An exquisite moment, indeed.
It has been a really exciting year for athletics, with new young talent coming to the fore in multiple events – Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, the entire USC 400m team, Mondo Duplantis and Timur Morgunov, Shelby Houlihan, more than I can remember honestly. The sport is absolutely packed with incredibly talented young people. And a lot of excitement has been focused on the men’s pole vault.
I mean, we’ve spent a LOT of time talking about pole vault, have we not? It seemed like the event to see, with Renauld and Sam’s bromance, Mondo calmly breaking his own U20 record every 47 minutes, what a year for the event, right? Really exciting competitions, the Euro Championships seeing things never done before, it’s almost like a YEAR OF THE POLE VAULT.
And then after Zurich, I was looking at the men’s shot put, because I’ve developed a habit of seeing what the big guys are doing, and saw that Tomas Walsh had thrown a diamond league record that wasn’t even his best throw of the year, to beat Darrell Hill throwing a massive 22.40 SB that wasn’t even his PB, with Ryan Crouser throwing 22.18 for third…and I thought wait a minute. Haven’t they been doing this all year? They’ve been trading 22m throws the whole season. Is that normal?
Let’s find out together.
I ran the numbers, and in short, no. This is not normal. In fact, we are experiencing the greatest era of shot put dominance in history. Last year we had 17 throws over 22m by 5 guys, this year 16 by 4 guys. Over the last three years we’ve seen a total of 43 throws over 22m by 6 men. The only thing coming even close to this is 1986-1988, when there were 38 throws by 7 men, and that is a lot of syringes being tossed around, my friends (apologies to the great Werner Günthör).
This has gone a bit under the radar as Walsh went berserk this year, but we also have possibly the most consistently great shot putter in history right now in Ryan Crouser – he’s gone over 22m 21 times in these last three years. The only people close to him are Christian Cantwell (who led the only other era of big shots, from 2002-2011, with the Cantwell/Hoffa/Reese/Nelson group), a doped up Ulf Timmerman, and Walsh, with 16, 15, and 13 performances respectively.
22 meters is a rare benchmark, but we are now seeing that it won’t even win you competitions. And there are multiple guys knocking at the door – Darlan Romani (21.94 PB) wants in the club, David Storl, Ryan Whiting and Joe Kovacs want back in…I’m sorry, but how has this gone so under the radar?
Let’s crunch some more numbers and do a comparison, okay?
I used 5.95m as a measurement to compare men’s pole vault – not because it’s a particular benchmark, but because 6m is too small of a dataset, and 5.95 has been done 129 times, similar to the 151 for 22m. Ready for a report out on our big pole vault year? We had five vaults over 5.95, by four different athletes. That’s it. Last year there were 2, both by Sam. This isn’t even in sniffing distance of the best vaulting era, with Bubka being joined by 10 other guys jumping just as high for a 9 year span. We forget he wasn’t just blowing everyone out. It was competitive. We don’t remember most of those other 10 guys, but can you name 10 today that you think capable of going 5.95?
How about a table to express the difference?
Pole Vault (5.95m)
Shot Put (22m)
Avg annual performances
Avg annual performers
This is pretty stark. Men’s pole vault is absolutely exciting to watch right now – very exciting – but the number of big jumps is just slightly above average. The shot put? It’s filled with 25 year olds absolutely destroying the ring at historic levels, and the competitive balance is as high as any event in the sport. I don’t want to disparage the pole vault because I’m genuinely pumped about the young talent and what they might do, but the throws get such little attention (hi there, hammer throwers!) despite doing some things that have simply never been seen.
And from a human element they’re just as much fun to watch as the vaulters. Want a bromance? Watch these guys brohug after throws. They scream, they’re excited, they’re over the top, and they are the best show in the field right now. I, for one, plan to be a big shot put fan in 2019, because I think we could see six or seven men get over 22m, and I think 23m is in play by multiple throwers. The hardest working agent in athletics agrees with me. Show the shot put some love.
A look ahead at the most likely British victories at the 24th European Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany.
By Reece Maycock
In 2012 the regularity of the European championships changed from every four years, to every two. In the three contests since then (including the 2012 Helsinki version) Great Britain and Northern Ireland have supplied wildly different teams, with dramatically varying levels of success. In Helsinki there were 4 golds,two years later in Zurich an astonishing 12 (5 more than the total number of medals won in the Finnish capital). In Amsterdam two years back 5 titles were won and 16 overall medals achieved. However before we get ahead of ourselves and declare this championship a British whitewash it’s worth noting that non-Olympic year Europeans have not always provided GBR with an abundance of gold (Barcelona 2010 – 6; Gothenburg 2006 – 1). So where should we pitch our hopes? Does sending our largest ever team mean the domination of Zurich will be repeated? Or will the retirements of Jess, Mo, Greg and Christine hold up a mirror to the cracks in British Athletics?
Let me take you through the 13 (yes, you read that correctly) golds I think are possible in the German capital:
Dina Asher-Smith and Zharnel Hughes have both hit landmarks this year. Asher-Smith has broken her own British record and recorded two sub-11 clockings, in addition to edging out Olympic champion Elaine Thompson for commonwealth bronze in Australia. Hughes went under 10 seconds in Jamaica earlier this year with an equal European leading mark of 9.91. He has since run under 10 seconds twice, both at the London diamond league in his final races before this championship. Both will start as favourites in the 100m with Hughes looking to win his first individual senior title, following disqualification after initially having captured the commonwealth 200m title in April. Asher-Smith will also be contesting the 200m and will start as slight favourite over reigning double world champion Dafne Schippers. The Dutch superstar is yet to fire on all cylinders this year but it would be foolish and disrespectful to disregard her. Her 200m championship final times in each of the past four seasons are: 22.03 (2014 Euros); 21.63 (2015 Worlds); 21.88 (2016 Olympics) and 22:05 (2017 Worlds). All four of those times are faster than Asher-Smith has ever run. Beating Schippers to successfully defend her 200m title from 2016 would surely be the British record holder’s greatest achievement to date.
With a 44.63 clocking, Matthew Hudson-Smith heads the European rankings over 400m. A silver medalist four years ago, Hudson-Smith will go up against Spain’s Oscar Husillos and 400m hurdles World champion Karsten Warholm of Norway, in a bid to win a first senior title. It is feasible that all three national records may be broken in Berlin (GBR 44.36 – Iwan Thomas); (SPA 44.69 – Bruno Hortelano); (NOR 44.87 – Karsten Warholm). Hudson-Smith is getting better with every race and has identified the 21-year-old British record as a target for this season. Husillos has carried his outstanding indoor form (where he briefly became world indoor champion before disqualification) outdoors, and Warholm has broken his 400m hurdles NR in almost every race since that flat 400m run. The European record of 44.33 set way back in 1987 by (East) Germany’s Thomas Schonlebe might be living on borrowed time.
Up until a few weeks ago you’d have said that Lynsey Sharp was having an atrocious season. Out in the heats of the commonwealth games, outside of the top two at the British trials, an in poor-taste rant against Laura Muir and a series of below par runs well outside two minutes. However, two runs inside that benchmark in quick succession and a decent placing at the London diamond league and she finds herself heading to Berlin ranked 2nd in Europe. European champion six years ago in Helsinki, Sharp is presented with an outstanding opportunity to win a second title. With Muir eventually choosing not to double-up, Hassan opting for the 5000m and Selina Buchel and Shelayna Oskan-Clarke looking out of sorts, European leader Renelle Lamote is the only real threat (on paper). Despite having excellent personal bests, neither Lamote nor Sharp are particularly convincing competitors, but I expect the Brit to emerge victorious in Berlin.
Laura Muir and Laura Weightman will surely complete a British 1-2 in the 1500m, most likely joined on the podium by Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui. Muir would have started as overwhelming favourite for both the 800m and 1500m but a slight niggle after the London diamond league means she will only run the event she is most known for. Weightman hasn’t contested many 1500m’s in 2018, choosing to focus on the 5000m for the first part of the season, which resulted in the third major medal of her career. However, the races she has run indicate that a PB is on the cards and her excellent final 100m at last year’s World championships will give her belief that if she is close enough to Muir in the home straight then anything is possible. Muir admitted that she went too hard too early in the mile at the London diamond league so I expect her to wait until 300/250m to go before kicking, but in truth she can win this race in any which way she wants.
There are two possible field gold’s with all of our long jump women capable of winning their first career title and Nick Miller talented enough to beat anyone in the world. Jazmin Sawyers will start as the most unlikely of the three long jumpers to win gold, yet she edged Shara Proctor out of the top two at the British trials and has commonwealth and European medals already. Proctor, who in turn beat Sawyers and Ugen at the London diamond league looks to have finally recaptured the form that took her so close to becoming World champion in 2015. A crisis of confidence followed that magnificent national record in the Bird’s Nest Stadium but her recent 6.91m and continued improvement with every meet indicates that something special could be on the cards. World leader and newest member of the 7 metre club Lorrain Ugen won both the British trials and the Stockholm diamond league, but has also had some poor competitions in between. The bookies have her a slight favourite over reigning European champion, indoors and out, Ivana Spanovic (6.99m this season), an athlete with a plethora of medals and titles. Ugen may have a better jump to her credit this year, but Spanovic is the defending champion. All are extraordinary athletes but to suggest it will be Ivana vs. the Brits would be insulting to the stellar field. I believe a British 1-2-3 is possible, but with equal probability I also believe a British 4-5-6 is feasible. Malaika Mihambo and Sosthene Moguernara (both German) are world class and will not be beaten with anything less than 6.90m+ jumps. The women’s long jump is arguably the event with the highest standard at these championships, possibly slightly ahead of the men’s 1500m. Whoever becomes the European champion will surely have to produce the jump of their life.
Nick Miller won’t start as the bookies favourite for the men’s hammer, but he start as mine. His season’s best and British record are over a metre down on the European leading market of Wojciech Nowicki and almost a metre down on hammer superstar Pawel Fajdek’s best mark. However, he showed incredible focus and strength when becoming the first Brit ever to throw over 80m to win the commonwealth title in April and has spent most of the time since then in heavy training. If he has continued to build and tapered correctly there’s no reason to think that he could not improve on that 80.26m. It is likely it will take that to win but Nick seems to grow in confidence each season and he may well topple the traditional Polish powerhouses in the years to come. Sixth at the world’s last year, a medal will be the minimum expectation.
The final Brit with a realistic chance individual gold is everyone’s favourite hurdler: Eilidh Doyle. It’s quite remarkable that despite being injured and therefore not running between her 3rd successive commonwealth games silver medal and the London diamond league that Doyle will head to Berlin as the marginal favourite. Especially given that European leader (over both 400m flat and 400m hurdles) Lea Sprunger, and double World champion Zusanna Hejnova will be competing. Hejnova has not quite taken off this season, equal 4th on the European list with 55.16. Sprunger has had two excellent indoor seasons back-to-back, but on both occasions ended up without a medal. The lactic sniper got the better of her in the final of last year’s European indoors and she was disqualified in the semi’s of this year’s World indoors. The speed demonstrated on the boards has resulted in a fantastic outdoor 400m 50.52 PB but her 54.79 over the hurdles suggests the technical transition has not been quite so smooth. Doyle, on the other hand, picked up her first individual global medal with bronze at the world indoors, followed by silver at the commonwealth games in 54.80, just a fraction behind Sprunger’s European lead. The 2014 European champion’s two races since returning from injury (56.18 and 55.71) won’t worry the Swiss or Czech athletes, but what might be a cause for concern is her assertion that she has completed the training necessary whilst injured and has just been unable to race. Expect all three of them to run under 55 seconds in the final, should they navigate the semis.
All four of the British relay quartets will expect gold in Berlin. The men’s lineup will most probably feature 3/4 of the team that won World gold last year, with Hughes expected to come in for Danny Talbot, who is spending this season out injured. Likewise Desiree Henry will be missing from the women’s 4×100 team, silver medalists in London. Imani Lansiqout/Bianca Williams are likely to join Dina Asher-Smith, Asha Phillip and Daryll Neita. Neither team should be troubled too much by the speed of their competitors.
The 4x400m relays will be more difficult to win. Both men and women have taken their largest squads ever as a result of the novel decision by the organiser’s to have the relays in the middle of the athletics program, swinging the relay battles mightily in favour of the countries with the most depth, i.e. GBR.
The 4x400m heats take place the morning after the women’s 400m semi-finals and the men’s 400m hurdles final. That possibly rules out Anika Onoura, Amy Allcock and Laviai Nielsen, all of whom will expect to be competing in those semis and hoping to progress to the final. It will also probably rule out Jack Green, unless he does not make the hurdles last eight. The women’s 400m hurdles final and men’s 400m final also take place on the same day as the heats. Not only has that ended Lea Sprungers bid for a 400/400mh hurdle double, it also rules out at least Doyle and Hudson-Smith, possibly Meghan Beesley and Dwayne Cowan. The relay finals themselves occur just after the women’s 400m final, likely wiping out all three of the British women selected in the individual event (mentioned above). It really is bizarre. What this does mean however is that despite having the third best men’s squad (behind Belgium and Spain) GBR will probably win the men’s title. This is because the two other countries simply do not have the same depth. Their first four are probably better, man-for-man, than our team (with the exception of Hudson-Smith) but we have Cameron Chalmers, Sebastian Rodger, Owen Smith, Martyn Rooney, Delano Williams and Rabah Yousif all ready to run a leg each in any given combination. The Borlees are going to have to run the individual 400ms and both legs of the relay, and Hortelano (200m) and Husillos (400m) will have to do the same for Spain.
The British women’s team is good enough to win with or without this bizarre set-up, but their closest rivals, Poland and France, have been weakened by the timetabling. It does mean the final may be the unusual line-up of Doyle, Beesley, Zoey Clark and Mary Abici, with Emily Diamond, Kirsten McAslan and Finette Agyapong all possibly featuring in the heats.