Americans In Paris: A Half-Dozen Things To Watch

Wimbley lost to Naser & Francis in the Oslo 400; how will they shake out in Paris? (MARK SHEARMAN)

Now that the USATF championships is behind us, American athletes—well, at least those of the superstar variety—are flocking to Europe. Next up on Saturday is the Paris Diamond League, the seventh of 14 DL meets on the ’18 calendar. Some of the best U.S. athletes of the season will be making a big impact at the Stade Charléty. Here are some of the events we’ll be watching closely.

1. Women’s 400: Can Wimbley Take Down Naser?

Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser has been dominating the 1-lapper on the early circuit with wins in Rome (50.51), Oslo (49.98) and Stockholm (49.84 PR). However, a new star was unveiled in Des Moines with Shakima Wimbley’s huge 49.52 victory. Now the Miami alum, who lost to Naser at Oslo, looks primed to mount a major challenge. But she won’t be the only American ready to rumble. World champ Phyllis Francis, who also beat Wimbley in Norway, is rounding into shape, as her USATF 200 runner-up finish (after a 22.42 PR in the semis) showed. And veteran Jessica Beard is in the best shape of her life at age 29, with her 50.08 PR runner-up finish to Wimbley at Nationals.

2. Men’s 100: Baker & Rodgers Against The World?

With a steady string of fast dashes this year, topped by his 9.90 in 2nd at USATF, Ronnie Baker is ready to go and he already has DL victories at Eugene and Rome to his credit. Mike Rodgers also impressed in Iowa, even if we only saw him in the heats, where he blasted a 9.89 that briefly held the world lead. Hoping to bring down the Americans are Bingtian Su, the Chinese recordsetter at 9.91 in Madrid last week, and France’s Jimmy Vicaut (9.92 PR in Marseille 2 weeks ago). No Noah Lyles this time around, as the 100 & 200 world leader is skipping this meet to point toward a fast half-lapper in Lausanne on July 5.

3. Women’s 200: Prandini The Favorite

Oregon alum Jenna Prandini is back at top form after her 10.98/22.22 performances in Des Moines. She should be ready to prove something in France. The 200 field is not exactly loaded, but Marie Josée Ta Lou has been burning up the 100 this year (10.85 WL and 2 other races under 11.00) and probably is ready for a big improvement on her 22.49 season best. Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson could also put up a fight, as her 22.28 last weekend in Kingston shows she’s rounding back into the shape that gave her a Commonwealth silver with her 22.18 PR in April. Prandini will be ably backed up by Kyra Jefferson (22.02 PR) and Kimberlyn Duncan (22.19 PR).

4. Men’s 110H: Is Allen Ready For The Big Boys?

Devon Allen surprised many with his micro-margin victory over Grant Holloway in Des Moines. The time, though, was an unimpressive (on a global level) 13.46. The fact that it was run into a 1.8 wind after a long storm delay cuts it a little bit of slack. Still, it’s a long way from the world-leading 12.99 that Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov set less than 2 weeks ago. Allen will get his chance to measure himself against the “Authorized Neutral Athlete,” as well as Spain’s Orlando Ortega (13.17 SB) and Jamaica’s Ronald Levy (13.16 SB). The Duck alum is planning a lot of races in Europe this summer, and diving into the deep end is a plan he is comfortable with. And as much as this is a test for Allen, it is equally important to the continuing comeback of World Record holder Aries Merritt.

5. Women’s 800: Semenya/Wilson Getting Predictable?

OK, I’ll say it. The women’s 2-lapper is at risk of becoming truly boring. Consistency, that noble goal that all athletes strive for, has given us Caster Semenya, who hasn’t lost an 800 since ’15 (she’s won 24 straight finals). It has also given us Ajee’ Wilson, who is probably the most steady American halfmiler ever. They will go 1-2, any betting fan would say. Any other result would make this race interesting. And a Wilson upset would make the race downright fascinating for U.S. fans. (By the way, Semenya leads Wilson in career 800 encounters, 5-3, though Wilson hasn’t beaten her in the last 4 years.)

6. Men’s Pole Vault: Can Mondo Beat Kendricks & Co. Again?

Mondo Duplantis’s big win over Sam Kendricks at the Stockholm DL marked the first time in 7 meetings that the boy wonder defeated the reigning world champion. Can he do it again? One would think that the homefield advantage worked to Mondo’s favor quite well on Swedish soil. If that’s a factor at all, expect France’s Renaud Lavillenie to rise to the occasion at the Stade Charléty. Then again, if you’re looking at recent evidence for any homefield advantage, it doesn’t look so good for the WR holder. At last weekend’s Paris street vault, he finished only 4th in an all-French field, clearing a pedestrian 18-1¼ (5.52).

Lest We Forget…

What else to look for in Paris? Plenty. Can Abderrahmane Samba continue his astonishing mastery of the 400 hurdles? We’ll have to wait to see him go against world leader Rai Benjamin, but another matchup with Karsten Warholm should be fun—and might drag an American such as TJ Holmes, Bershawn Jackson or Kerron Clement under 48 as well.

Then there’s the non-DL 800, with a very solid field. Americans Isaiah Harris and Erik Sowinski hope to be in the mix, but the stat-minded will be watching Australians Peter Bol and Joseph Deng. The two are chasing Ralph Doubell’s historic national record of 1:44.40 set in winning the ’68 Olympics. At Stockholm Bol won in 1:44.56, just ahead of training partner Deng’s 1:44.61.

And in other non-DL action, Michael Norman will be running the 200, along with his training partner Benjamin. Word on the street is that could be worth keeping an eye on.