This weekend marks the second leg of the IAAF Diamond League, as Shanghai Stadium offers the five athlete Australian contingent a 10-hour flight and truly world class competition, with 20 Olympic & World champions in attendance.
Australia will be represented by Kurtis Marschall (Pole Vault), Henry Frayne (Long Jump), Kelsey Barber (nee Roberts) (Javelin), Ryan Gregson (1500m) and Stewart McSweyn (5000m). With each athlete facing competition from at least one World or Olympic Champion.
Marschall makes a return to competition following a thrilling Commonwealth Games victory. The 21-year old has recently relocated to Western Australia to train under Steve Hooker’s former coach, Alex Parnov. A field featuring reigning World champion Sam Kendricks (USA), and four other jumpers with personal bests higher than 5.90m, including the world’s highest vaulter, 6.16m Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie.
The event bears numerous storylines, as Marschall faces off once again with Shawn Barber (CAN), offering fans a repeat of the dramatic Gold Coast match up.
The depth of competition surrounding Frayne in Shanghai should not be understated, with the field of 10 containing five athletes with international medals, including the current World indoor, outdoor and Olympic champions.
Frayne is likely to be spurred on by the presence of World and Commonwealth champion Luvo Manyonga (RSA), following a back and forth tussle on the Gold Coast, stretching Manyonga to the 10th biggest jump of his career to put gold out of reach and break Frayne’s Games Record with an 8.41m leap.
Similarly, Manyonga faces a Birmingham rematch with 2018 World indoor champion, 8.40m jumper Juan Miguel Echevarria (CUB), and Olympic champion Jeff Henderson (USA). Henderson, an 8.52m athlete has shown a return to form jumping 8.44m this season, his longest jump since 2015.
The women’s javelin field assembled in Shanghai contains eight 65 metre-plus throwers, sure to challenge Barber, potentially pushing the Commonwealth Games silver medallist past the 65-metre mark, following a personal best of 64.57m in Brisbane.
The field of 10 athletes is led by Barber’s Commonwealth Games rival Sunette Viljoen (RSA), the field leader on paper, with a 69.35m personal best ranking highest in the competition. The 34-year old South African hasn’t cleared 66-metres since 2015, therefore favouritism may fall between to in-form Huihui Lyu (CHN) (65.66m SB), Eda Tuğsuz (TUR) (65.20m SB) or 2015 World champion Katharina Molitor (GER).
King Island’s most famous athletic export, McSweyn is fast-becoming a household name amongst athletics fans, following a determined 5000m performance at the Commonwealth Games, the 13:19.96 athlete is thrilled to be making the trip to Shanghai.
“Someone was trying to tell me about the meet hotel earlier in the week, I had to cut them off and explain that I would’ve camped if it meant getting a start in this sort of field!”
Highlighting the youngster’s growing confidence and enthusiasm, McSweyn was well aware of the opportunity provided.
“Diamond League races don’t tend to have much of a second pack, you have to commit early on. I feel that I’m in good shape, so I’m optimistic heading into Saturday night.”.
In a field topped by Hagos Gebrihiwet (ETH) and Dejen Gebremeskel (ETH), the fifth and seventh fastest athletes over the distance since 2005, fellow countryman and reigning World Champion Muktar Edris is sure to feature in the trio’s outdoor opener for 2018. Dominant steeplechaser Conseslus Kipruto (KEN) will also make an appearance, signalling a new challenge for the World, Olympic and Commonwealth steeplechase champion.
After a resilient final lap burst in Doha to place seventh (3:37.00), Gregson returns to the Diamond League circuit to face a substantially stronger field 1500m field in Shanghai. Additions from the 1500m field in Doha include World and Commonwealth silver medalist, Timothy Cheruiyot (KEN, 3:29.10), 19-year old World Indoor champion Samuel Tefera (ETH, 3:33.78), World Under-20 champion Kumari Taki (KEN) and 3:29.91 athlete Aman Wote (ETH).
Gregson will hope to be aided by a more willing field in his second Diamond League appearance for the season, following an unusually cagey race, which saw Bethwell Birgen (KEN) make a breakwaya of sorts from the main group, running clear with the pacemaker until the final 300 metres.
For more details visit the IAAF Diamond League website.
Competition commences 7.40pm (AEST) Saturday 12 May.
Follow Athletics Australia on Twitter for live updates.
Sean Whipp for Athletics Australia.
Image: Kurtis Marschall (Getty images)