Caster Semenya. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Caster Semenya. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Wayde van Niekerk. Photo: Reuters/Sergio Moraes
Wayde van Niekerk. Photo: Reuters/Sergio Moraes

USAIN Bolt is guest of honour for the 30th birthday of the Herculis meeting in Monaco, but the invitation list for the 11th IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season is jam-packed with other athletic talent, with South Africans Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya among the high performers.

For most athletes competing at the Stade Louis II, this will be the last opportunity to sharpen up for the IAAF World Championships London 2017 from August 4-13, and to secure their place in the IAAF Diamond League finals in Zurich on  August 24 or Brussels on September 1. 

In what was his first 400m since winning the 2016 Olympic title in a world record of 43.03, Van Niekerk ran the fastest time of the year, 43.62, at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne on July 6, having set a world 300m best of 30.81 eight days earlier in Ostrava.

The 25-year-old South African is now in that territory familiar to Bolt in that something extraordinary is expected of him every time he competes. 

But he will need to be fully focused to hold off a field that includes Botswana’s sprint duo of Baboloki Thebe, who has run a personal best of 44.02 this season, and Isaac Makwala, who clocked 43.92 in Madrid last Friday, becoming the first man to run a sub-44-second 400m and a sub-20-second 200m on the same day as he clocked 19.77 for the shorter distance.

Van Niekerk had to share top billing in Lausanne with world high jump champion Maria Lasitskene (nee Kuchina), who added two centimetres to her personal best in recording 2.06m, putting her joint fifth on the world all-time list.

Olympic and world 800m champion Semenya has been unbeatable at her main distance this season, but the Monaco field includes all those most likely to challenge her.

These include the Olympic silver and bronze medallists, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, as well as Canada’s world silver medallist Melissa Bishop and the US pair of 2013 world silver medallist Brenda Martinez and US champion Ajee Wilson.

The women’s 3 000m brings together Kenya’s Olympic 5000m silver medallist Hellen Obiri and Britain’s European indoor 1 500m and 3 000m champion Laura Muir, 12 days after their rousing contest over the mile in London which saw Obiri set  a national record of 4:16.56 and Muir register a personal best of 4:18.03.

Kenya’s Olympic 3 000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto faces a field that includes Olympic silver medallist Evan Jager of the United States and his two leading Kenyan rivals, Jairus Birech and 35-year-old double Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi. 

But Kipruto’s biggest challenge may be the ankle problem that caused him to drop out early from the race in Rabat last week. 

Olympic 1 500m champion Matt Centrowitz will have a rigorously testing evening against the two 21-year-olds who are the top Kenyans of the moment – Timothy Cheruiyot, who leads this season’s world list with 3:30.77, and Ronald Kwemoi, second in the world this year with a 3:30.89 at altitude as he beat Cheruiyot to the Kenyan title in Nairobi.

Also lurking in the field with something to prove is Kenya’s three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop. This track has witnessed some super-fast 1 500m times, and Friday night could add to that legacy. 

African News Agency (ANA)