Ones To Watch: London 2017 World Athletics Championships

Usain Bolt (Men’s 100 Metres)

In what are set to be Usain Bolt’s final races before retirement, the greatest sprinter of all time – the reigning world record holder in the men’s 100 and 200 metres, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist, and an eleven-time World champion – is looking to defend his titles in the 100 metres and 4 x 100 metres relay. Bolt has raced sparely this season, but finally seemed to find some semblance of form at the last Diamond League meeting before the World Championships, a couple of weeks ago in Monaco when he won a competitive 100 metres in a season’s best time of 9.95.

The fastest sprinter in the world this year is Christian Coleman, the 21-year-old American, who ran a time of 9.82 in the heats of the US Nationals back at the beginning of June. Coleman inevitably lacks big race experience however: his best times this year have all come within the United States, while in the final of the US Nationals, he lost out to Justin Gatlin in a time of 9.95, the 35-year-old former Olympic and World champion undoubtedly still a medal threat.

Perhaps Bolt’s biggest challenge could come in the form of South Africa’s Akani Simbine, who with a best of 9.92 has run under 10 seconds eight times already this year. The field is relatively open – Chijindu Ujah of the United Kingdom has had some success at international meets this year and is another medal shout, as is the injury-plagued Yohan Blake – especially after the late withdrawal of Canada’s Andre De Grasse, who was one of the favourites in both the 100 and 200 metres before succumbing to a torn hamstring.

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Elaine Thompson (Women’s 100 Metres)

Possessing all of the talent, accolades, charisma, and good looks to be the future face of sprinting, Elaine Thompson seems set to dominate the women’s 100 metres. At the start of 2016, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was looking to claim an historic third consecutive 100 metres title, and she remained the woman to beat. But it was Thompson who emerged in Rio with gold in both the 100 and 200 metres, a rare sprint double not achieved since 1988.

Thompson has the best time in the world this year, clocking 10.71 to win the Jamaican Championships in Kingston, and she has been in imperious form, even getting the best of Dafne Schippers at the Anniversary Games in London while wearing sneakers rather than spikes. Thompson’s main contenders will be Michelle-Lee Ahye and Kelly-Ann Baptiste of Trinidad and Tobago, the reliable Murielle Ahouré and Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, and Tori Bowie who triumphed at the US Nationals, these five women along with Schippers perhaps racing for second, but all achieving strong times so far this year.

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Dafne Schippers (Women’s 200 Metres)

Dafne Schippers announced herself on the world stage in 2015, laying aside the heptathlon to focus for the first time on sprinting, and coming away from the World Championships in Beijing with gold in the 200 metres to go alongside the silver she won in the 100 metres earlier in the week. In the process, Schippers became the third fastest woman in history over 200 metres.

She managed a silver in the 200 metres at Rio last year, behind Elaine Thompson, who in London will be sticking with the shorter event. Still Schippers faces a tough task if she is to retain her 200 metres title. Highly consistent, she has struggled this year to reach top speed. The favourite instead will be Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, who will be looking to achieve an unprecedented double over 200 and 400 metres.

In the latter event, she will battle it out once more with Allyson Felix, who she dove past on the line to win an unforgettable gold last year in Rio. In the 200 metres, Miller-Uibo must head off the challenge of two other Americans: the impressive 22-year-old Deajah Stevens, and Tori Bowie, who has the fastest time in the world this year by some distance, thanks to a remarkable 21.77 at the Diamond League in Eugene in May. Bowie however is short of races heading into the championships.

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Wayde van Niekerk (Men’s 400 Metres)

It is difficult to oversell the scale of Wayde van Niekerk’s performance at the Rio Olympics, but for a decent gauge just witness the reaction of Usain Bolt. The occasion was the final of the men’s 400 metres, which saw Van Niekerk take gold in a time of 43.03, in the process bettering the great Michael Johnson’s career-long achievement, the world record he finally obtained only as he neared his 32nd birthday in 1999. The world record had stood for seventeen years and was one of the few in track and field which once seemed almost unbeatable. But Van Niekerk broke it by 0.15.

Van Niekerk hasn’t competed much this season, but he has still found time to set new personal bests in the 100 and 200 metres, a world record in the rarely competed 300 metres, and meeting records in Lausanne and Monaco, where he was pushed hard by Isaac Makwala. Like Van Niekerk, Makwala is on top form, and the pair will compete for gold in London over both the 400 and 200 metres.

The other challenger in the men’s 400 metres might be the prodigiously talented Fred Kerley. Just 22 years old, following his breakthrough in May – a stunning time of 43.70 – he has been hugely consistent, but only inside the United States. Makwala’s compatriot Baboloki Thebe will also be in the hunt for a medal.

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Nijel Amos (Men’s 800 Metres)

The men’s 800 metres will be one of the most intriguing races London has to offer, even after the withdrawal of reigning champion David Rudisha due to a quadriceps strain. Following Rudisha’s memorable world record in the final of the 800 metres at London 2012, after an injury-stricken 2013 season, in 2014 Rudisha found himself routinely lagging behind the Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos.

Amos has struggled since, but through the course of 2017 he has been gradually recapturing his old form. He set a season’s best in Paris, then a world leading time of 1:43.18 at the Anniversary Games in London just over a week later, and with or without Rudisha, it seemed that Amos was once again the man to beat. But at the Monaco Diamond League meet a couple of weeks after London, his world leading time was bettered by Emmanuel Kipkurui Korir of Kenya, a converted 400 metres runner who competes for the University of Texas at El Paso. Aged 22, a year younger than Amos, these two could duke it out in the 800 metres for years to come.

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Sifan Hassan (Women’s 1500 Metres)

Establishing herself at world level across the 2015 season, for 2017 Sifan Hassan set up base with the Nike Oregon Project and Alberto Salazar. Reaping the rewards, she has stamped her authority on the women’s 1500 metres, with the three best times in the world this season so far.

She will be pushed all the way however by the Olympic champion Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon, and the world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, who looks out of sorts over 5000 metres – where Hellen Onsando Obiri is the clear favourite – but over the shorter distance showed her class in early July with a victory in Lausanne. Laura Muir and Caster Semenya – opting to run the 1500 in addition to her preferred 800 metres – could also contend.

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Mariya Lasitskene (Women’s High Jump)

Mariya Lasitskene is the overwhelming favourite in the women’s high jump. Still only 24 years old, the defending World champion is the only woman to jump over 2.00 metres this season, a feat she has achieved eleven times. And after setting a new personal best of 2.06 metres in Lausanne, the world record of 2.09 metres – established by Stefka Kostadinova way back in 1987 – looks increasingly plausible. Lasitskene will compete as a neutral, with Russia still banned from international competition.

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Sam Kendricks (Men’s Pole Vault)

Sam Kendricks is the only 6.00 metres pole vaulter in the field this season, and his form has been almost impeccable, with his best set in Sacramento, and wins in the Diamond League in Shanghai, Eugene, Paris, and Lausanne. World record holder Renaud Lavillenie – who has endured perpetual disappointment at the World Championships – has struggled all season for fitness and form. Kendricks could be challenged by Pawel Wojciechowski of Poland, who unlike Lavillenie has found form at the right time with a strong performance in Lausanne followed by victory in Rabat.

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Christian Taylor (Men’s Triple Jump)

Anyone who saw Jonathan Edwards’ world record jumps, set in Gothenburg at the 1995 World Championships, must have thought they had already witnessed the epitome of triple jump speed, grace, and height. Distance too, most importantly, and Edwards’ record of 18.29 still stands. But in recent years Christian Taylor has been getting closer, victory in Beijing in 2015 coming with a jump of 18.21.

Taylor – who is also the two-time Olympic champion – jumped 18.11 in Eugene at the end of May. He remains the strong favourite in this event, especially since his resurgent rival, Pedro Pablo Pichardo, is not fit to compete despite getting the better of Taylor in Lausanne. Taylor’s only real challenger will therefore be his compatriot Will Claye, who handed him his only other defeat of 2017 with a jump of 17.91 at the US Nationals in Sacramento.

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Sara Kolak (Women’s Javelin)

At 22 years old, Croatia’s Sara Kolak is already an Olympic gold medalist. But in 2017 she has gone from strength to strength, bettering her throw of 66.18 metres in Rio with a whopping 68.43 in Lausanne in June, the seventh farthest any woman has ever thrown the javelin. Kolak’s only issue is that at the other end of her career, at the tender age of 36, world record holder Barbora Špotáková of the Czech Republic remains difficult to beat.

Kolak’s world-leading throw in Lausanne was enough to give her the victory in that encounter, but she was narrowly beaten at the Anniversary Games in London by Špotáková, who achieved her season’s best with a throw of 68.26. If both women struggle, Eda Tugsuz of Turkey and Shiying Liu of China should be there or thereabouts.