Athletics: Lyles leads top-grade field at Diamond League opener

LONDON • After a frustrating summer of cancellations, exhibitions and virtual competitions, athletics will finally able to unveil its shop window as the Diamond League swings into belated action with a star-studded field in Monaco today.

Track and field should have been taking centre stage at the Tokyo Olympics this week, but that highlight has long been wiped from this year’s calendar due to Covid-19, along with a host of Diamond League events.

So it is no exaggeration to describe today’s season-opening Meeting Herculis as eagerly awaited, and topping a high-class bill in the principality will be Noah Lyles in the 200 metres.

The 23-year-old world champion faces some quality competition in the shape of Ramil Guliyev and Christophe Lemaitre, as well as his younger brother, Josephus, 22.

Lyles has admitted having psychological problems worsened by the Covid-19 outbreak, the Black Lives Matter movement and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics at which he was hotly tipped for success. Now on anti-depressants, he is raring to go, saying: “I know it’s going to be a really good track… I want to do everything in my power to make sure that this race is really fast.”

Beatrice Chepkoech, who broke the women’s 3,000m steeplechase world record in 2018 with a time of 8min 44.32sec, and Sifan Hassan, who did the same over a mile last year (4:12.33), face off over 5,000m in a race also featuring world champion Hellen Obiri.

Pole vaulter Armand Duplantis is another world record holder on duty and, after enjoying a successful summer of somewhat left-field exhibitions, faces more traditional competition from reigning world and Diamond League champion Sam Kendricks.

There will also be two high-quality 1,500m races on the programme. In the women’s event, 800m world champion Halimah Nakaayi will be up against Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon and Briton Laura Muir.

In the men’s race, world champion Timothy Cheruiyot gets reacquainted with the Ingebrigtsen brothers, Filip and Jakob.

World champion Karsten Warholm is on duty in the men’s 400m hurdles, while Marie-Josee Ta Lou will start as the favourite in the women’s 100m.

Ahead of the event, the sport’s governing body World Athletics, has issued a reminder about the recently introduced “Rule 5”, which puts a sole height limit of 25mm on all shoes worn in track events of 800m and above in distance.

The rule was introduced after concerns that shoes such as Nike’s Alphafly were giving athletes an unfair technical advantage.

All athletes will be Covid-19 tested as part of the strict guidelines that have allowed the event to be held with competitors travelling in from around the world.

“We’ve changed everything, from the athletes’ travel and accommodation logistics to the way the competition will be staged and conducted,” said the Monaco meet’s director Jean-Pierre Schoebel.

There has already been one high-profile casualty, with Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3,000m steeplechase champion, dropping out earlier this week after testing positive for the virus.

REUTERS

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