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Diamond League Eugene: What to expect

June 02 2012

The Diamond League shifts to the United States this weekend for the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. The field assembled is the strongest of the season by far, and arguably the best in the 38-year history of the meet.

The event will begin Friday evening, when the program will feature the women’s discus and men’s triple jump, both of which are Diamond League scoring events, and will conclude with the men’s 10,000m Kenyan Olympic Trials. The top two finishers in the race will head to the London Olympics, with the third and final member of the team selected by Athletics Kenya. To learn more about the athletes competing in that race, check out our event preview.

It’s back to historic Hayward Field on Saturday afternoon for the remainder of the Diamond League events. The action will be broadcast LIVE on NBC beginning at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT. Here are six story lines to follow.

Olympics in June: All season long, the hurdles have been the premier event in track and field because the elite runners turn out (meet budgets permitting) at every stop and, unlike the flat sprints, do not duck each other. That said, the field assembled for this race was supposed to rival the Olympic final in London and on one of the fastest tracks on the planet.That lineup took a hit when it was announced that world-record-holder Dayron Robles of Cuba would likely miss the meet due to visa issues. That leaves a field comprised of 2004 Olympic gold medalist Liu Xiang of China, American record holder David Oliver, world champion Jason Richardson and world indoor champion Aries Merritt, both of the U.S., Worlds bronze medalist Andy Turner of Great Britain, rising U.S. decathlon star Ashton Eaton and Shi Dongpeng of China.

Doubling down: In preparation for his likely double in the sprints at the Olympic Trials and London Games, American Walter Dix is scheduled to run both the 100m and 200m at Pre. First up would be the 100m, where he would face Americans Justin Gatlin, Mike Rodgers and Darvis “Doc” Patton, and resurgent Michael Thompson from Trinidad & Tobago. Perhaps the more compelling race will be the 200m, where Dix would oppose fellow Americans Wallace Spearmon, who has already run 19.95, and Shawn Crawford, the two-time Olympic medalist, and Churandy Martina of the Netherlands.

Two quarters not half bad: The men’s 400m is top-heavy with Olympic talent, headed by 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt of the U.S., world champion Kirani James of Grenada, and 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner of the U.S. South African double-amputee Oscar Pistorius is in the field and still in need of a second Olympic A standard time of 45.30 or faster to punch his ticket to London, where he would be the first Paralympic athlete to compete in the able-bodied Games. The field is rounded out by American Angelo Taylor, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400m hurdles, Worlds bronze medalist Kevin Borlee of Belgium, and Bahamian stars Chris Brown and Demetrius Pender.

The women’s 400m will see American Sanya Richards-Ross take on world champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana, whom she handled easily in Ostrava last Friday. Novlene Williams-Mills of Jamaica, who has beaten both women already this year, is also in the field. Behind Richards-Ross is a group of American women who also figure to vie for Olympic spots in Francena McCorory, Natasha Hastings, Debbie Dunn and Deedee Trotter.

Distance drama: Since winning the SPAR 10-K road race in Dublin in 27:47 on April 15, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele has hardly looked like a two-time Olympic champion fit to defend his crowns. He has twice been a non-factor in Diamond League races, finishing ninth in the 3000m in Doha (7:40.00) and 16th in the 5000m in Shanghai (13:13.89). It’s hard to label any race with no Olympic qualifying tied to it as being must-win, but this is close for Bekele. He will be up against a field of Olympic contenders, including world champion Mo Farah of Great Britain, Galen Rupp and Matt Tegenkamp of the U.S., Ethiopians Yenew Alamirew and Abera Kuma, and an armada of Kenyans headed by Augustine Choge and Isiah Koech. Another dismal performance here would all but strip Bekele of any aura of invincibility he once had.

Bowerman Mile: The two main protagonists in this 17-runner field are Kenyans Asbel Kiprop, the reigning Olympic champion, and Silas Kiplagat, last year’s Worlds silver medalist. Kiplagat bumped Kiprop late in Doha and went on to win in a world-leading 3:29.63. The American contingent is headed by Bernard Lagat, who will be using the race as part of his speed work in preparation for the 5000m at the Olympic Trials. He will be joined by 2008 Olympic teammates Leo Manzano and Lopez Lomong, as well as 2012 hopefuls David Torrence and Russell Brown. Also watch out for world indoor champion Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco, World Indoors bronze medalist Mekonnen Gebremedhin of Ethiopia, defending champion Haron Keitany of Kenya and meet-record holder (3:48.28) Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, also of Kenya.

Femmes in the field: The women’s field events are particularly strong this year. Friday’s women’s discus competition will see American record holder and Olympic champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton defend home turf against Sandra Perković of Croatia, Yarelis Barrios of Cuba and Darya Pishchalnikova of Russia. The high jump will see world indoor champion Chaunte Lowe of the U.S. take on world champion Anna Chicherova of Russia and a field that will also include Ariane Friedrich of Germany.

The women’s pole vault will see American record holder Jenn Suhr tangle with world champion Fabiana Murer of Brazil, 11-time Worlds and Olympic medalist Svetlana Feofanova of Russia, rising Brit Holly Bleasdale and Youth Olympic champion Angelica Bengtsson of Sweden. In the long jump, two-time world champion Brittney Reese of the U.S. will face 2008 Olympic champ Maurren Maggi of Brazil and two-time U.S. indoor champion Janay DeLoach.

Article courtesy of Joe Battaglia, NBC Olympics