Brussels, September 10
Justin Gatlin will take centre stage in the absence of Usain Bolt from Friday’s season-ending Diamond League meet in Brussels, while Dutch sprint star Dafne Schippers comes up against Allyson Felix over 200-metre.
Bolt pushed Gatlin into second place in both the 100 and 200m at last month’s world championships in Beijing, in a clash built up by some as a symbolic victory of a clean sprinter over a drugs offender, given the American’s two-time doping ban past. The Jamaican, however, has opted not to race in the 200m at Brussels, expressing his desire to rest up before turning attention to preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics where he will bid to defend his “double-treble” gold haul in the 100, 200 and 4x100m relay.
That has cleared the way for a tilt at both sprints here for the 33-year-old Gatlin, who bounced back from his first doping ban to win Olympic 100m gold in 2004 and double sprint titles at the Helsinki worlds in 2005 before serving a second suspension between 2006-10. Last season, Gatlin scorched to the year’s fastest times when doubling up in the Belgian capital, but he will be up against it this year.
Also lining up will be South African Wayde van Niekerk, who claimed a sensational 400m gold at the Beijing worlds in 43.48sec. Van Niekerk notched up a 200m best of 19.87sec in his first ever race against Bolt, so Gatlin will have to be on top form to top the podium. The 100m also features a strong field including Jamaican duo Nesta Carter and Asafa Powell, American Mike Rodgers and France’s Jimmy Vicaut.
One of the highlights of a packed evening session at the Stade King Baudouin II featuring 23 Olympic gold medallists and 48 world champions will undoubtedly be the women’s 200m. Newly-crowned world champion Schippers will come up against American veteran Allyson Felix, the most decorated female athlete in IAAF history.
Felix claimed gold in the world 400m in Beijing, having dominated the 200m for many seasons, and could only watch on as Schippers ran the fourth fastest time ever, 21.63sec, to win gold in the half-lap race. “It is exciting to see new talents coming up in the event and I love new challenges,” said Felix, a three-time world 200m champion and reigning Olympic gold medallist whose best of 21.69sec set in 2012 places her sixth on the all-time list.
“Yes, the 200m was an impressive race in Beijing, they ran very fast,” she said. “It was hard not to be a part of that, because races like that don’t often come your way.” Felix added that her goal was to qualify in both events for the Rio Games in 2016. “Next year I will attempt to make the US team for both the 200m and the 400m,” the 29-year-old said. “As far as the Olympic time schedule is concerned I can’t say anything about that, things can always change. But I would love the opportunity to compete in both events. In a perfect world I would say yes.”
In the field, American world champion Christian Taylor faces off once more with Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo in the men’s triple jump. The two jumpers have been pushing each other to an extent where Briton Jonathan Edwards’ 1995 record of 18.29m seems like it might finally be under threat. “It is an event where the world record is always in danger with these guys out there,” said meet organiser Wilfried Meert.
Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, the Olympic pole vault champion and world record holder, will be going for revenge over Canada’s Shawnacy Barber, who claimed a shock world gold last month. Lavillenie could only manage a bronze to continue his disappointing medal showing at world championships.