Americans To Have A Major Influence At Zürich DL

Sandi Morris looks to continue her winning ways against the defending champ. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

And now, the Diamond League finale! The 12 meets held around the globe since the first weekend in May have led us to the dual final meets, overlapping events in Zürich and Brussels. With plenty of glory and money on the line, athlete motivations will peak and we’ll surely see plenty of surprises.

The action begins in Zürich on Wednesday evening, with the men’s pole vault being staged downtown in the main train station. While it’s not a DL event (that final will be staged in Brussels on Friday), it’s hard to dismiss an event featuring the reigning Olympic champion, World Champion and World Record holder (and they’re three different people).

The next day, the famed Letzigrund Stadium fires up. Everything’s going to be worth watching—it’s a DL Final—but of special interest to us are the events where we expect the American contingent to affect the outcome in a big way.

Women’s PV: Can Morris Top Stefanídi?

The defending champion, Katerína Stefanídi, was well-nigh unbeatable last year, losing only once, in a relatively unimportant indoor event. The year is a different beast, and the reigning Olympic/World champion has lost a half-dozen times. World leader Sandi Morris (16-2¾/4.95) is leading her 5-2 this season and recently took a couple of nice shots at the World Record. Each is a tremendous big-meet competitor with nerves of steel. This should be a riveting battle. And don’t discount the other vaulters in the field. Young Kiwi Eliza McCartney (16-2½/4.94) has shown brilliance this year, but in her last meet came down hard on her heel, bruising it. Russian Anzhelika Sidorova (16-¾/4.90i) will also be present, though Jenn Suhr, No. 3 on the yearly world list, will not, having just revealed she is ending her season for medical reasons.

Men’s Shot: Can Crouser & Hill Dominate?

If the Americans don’t figure in the men’s shot, we’re in trouble. The last DL meet in Birmingham offered what U.S. fans hope will prove to be nice foreshadowing, with Ryan Crouser and Darrell Hill taking 1-2. Here they will face recently crowned Euro champ Michał Haratyk, Brazilian revelation Darlan Romani, and world champ Tom Walsh among others. Crouser has told us, “I go into every meet wanting a PR and wanting to win.” In this event, the same goes for all of the others. That’s what makes it fun to watch.

Men’s 400: Who’s The Best Comebacker?

Two men in the field stand out as having missed a big crucial chunk of the action before reappearing this month. Bahamian Steven Gardiner started out the season in a big way, producing a 19.75 in the 200 in April and May Diamond League wins in 43.87 and 43.99. Then a June injury set him down for a couple of months. A 44.43 win at the Skolimowska Memorial in Poland last week signaled his health.

Similar story for Fred Kerley, who won the Rome DL in 44.33 before succumbing to injury. He returned at the Birmingham DL, clocking a modest 45.54 win in conditions that weren’t entirely favorable. Is he ready to take on Gardiner? The rest of the field could challenge as well. Late-bloomer Paul Dedewo is having his best season ever, with a PR 44.43 at the London DL. And European champ Matthew Hudson-Smith could also figure in an event that has been heavily affected by injuries this year (5 of the world’s top 10 have already ended their seasons).

Women’s 800: What Will Happen Behind Semenya?

Bold predictions are usually the ones that look dumbest the next day, but it’s hard to name a stronger favorite than South Africa’s Caster Semenya. With recent PRs at 400 (49.96) and 1500 (3:59.92), the math says she’s never been more ready for an attempt at the 800 World Record of 1:53.28. And it almost doesn’t matter how organizers set up the race, as this season Semenya has made it clear that her best rabbit is herself. That being said, it will be interesting to see the race behind her. Francine Niyonsaba is No. 2 on the list this year at 1:55.86. Ajee’ Wilson has only beat the Burundian once ever—at Prefontaine this year. It would be surprising to think that doing it again isn’t one of her top goals. Wilson’s AR of 1:55.61 is still dangling out there unratified. It might be easiest just to run faster.

Men’s Steeple: Is Jager Ready?

It’s a situation America’s best steeplechaser has been in loads of times before: lining up against a stellar field of Africans, including Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali, the world leader at 7:58.15. It has been 5 weeks since his last race, an 8:01.02 runner-up to El Bakkali in Monaco, but it’s unlikely that’s been time wasted. Expect Jager to be near the front early and be a factor in the race throughout. Conseslus Kipruto, the only other man in the field with a best faster than Jager’s, won the last DL at Birmingham and should easily be a factor on the last lap here.

Women’s 400H: Can Little Close The Deal?

Shamier Little has been putting together what may be the best season of her career so far. Missing the Birmingham DL because of a bad cold doesn’t change the fact that the Chicagoan has been virtually untouchable since the Bislett meet more than two months ago. She’ll be facing off against her top rival this year, Jamaican Janieve Russell, who ran a PR 53.46 behind Little in Lausanne. However, maybe the biggest threat is another American. Dalilah Muhammad, the Olympic champion and defending DL champ, has had a season of mixed results since she won Bislett, but she is clearly an athlete who knows how to peak. Georganne Moline and European champ Léa Sprunger should also be up there, the latter having the benefit of a home crowd.

Men’s 200: Another Lyles Show?

The half-lap event’s man of the year so far, list leader Noah Lyles is the only American who will be in the final. And while he’s the favorite, he faces world champ Ramil Guliyev, who won the Euros with his Turkish Record 19.76. Lyles would be well-advised to take the fast-finishing Guliyev very seriously. Three others in the field have been under 20 this season: Canada’s Aaron Brown (19.98), Ecuador’s Alex Quiñonez (19.93) and Jereem Richards (19.99) of Trinidad.

Of course, there will be other fantastic events. But we’ve focused on the ones where Americans can make a difference. That certainly won’t happen in the women’s 100 or 5000, which have no Americans in the lineup, or on the men’s side the 1500 and javelin, both of which promise to be thrilling.