A “super-fast” track in the newly renovated King Baudouin Stadium will offer several of the sport’s stellar performers – notably Shericka Jackson, Femke Bol and Mondo Duplantis – special motivation for the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels on Friday (8) and world records could be in prospect.
Meeting director Kim Gevaert announced this week that she was “super-happy” with the work that has been done on a track whose forgiving curvature has always encouraged fast times for 200m and 400m runners in particular.
“The track at the King Baudouin Stadium has always been a good track, but it was really worn down to the bone,” Gevaert said. “It was high time for a new one. It was fine for sprinters, but the old track had become too hard for distance runners.”
What that will mean for talents who still have times on their minds in the penultimate Diamond League meeting of the season remains to be seen – and savoured.
A world record is very much on the mind of Jackson, who retained her world 200m title last month.
After taking gold in 21.41, the second fastest time ever run and just 0.07 off the world record set by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner of the United States at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the powerful Jamaican looked just a little cast down when she saw her time.
She revealed why afterwards: “Honestly, when I crossed the line and saw the time, I said aaahhh, I’m close, I’m close. I wrote down two times on my bib today. The slowest I wrote was 21.40 and I got 21.41. I just wanted to see the race before I celebrated because I didn’t know if it was wind-legal.”
Jackson refused to say if the second target was a world record – but one can only assume so. So eyes firmly peeled for this race…
It’s worth noting that the second fastest 200m of all time by a man was run in this same stadium in 2011 when Yohan Blake of Jamaica clocked 19.26.
Of Jackson’s rivals, only USA’s Jenna Prandini has run under 22 seconds (21.89). But the field contains strong competitors such as Anthonique Strachan of The Bahamas, who has a best of 22.15, and Britain’s Darryl Neita, who lowered her personal best to 22.16 in Budapest.
Speaking at the pre-event press conference, Jackson commented: “At the World Championships I was so close to the world record. Just a little wind and I would have been the world record-holder. But my coach and I have spoken and we are going after it this year. I hope to get it tomorrow. And if I do, then that will probably ease a little pressure off me going into Eugene. But if not, we have another shot at Eugene.
“There’s no perfect race but I just want to run a good race tomorrow and put everything in place, because we are right there, we are so close, we are knocking on the door. And tomorrow we will have Jamaican weather – and it’s a new track. Tomorrow is definitely supposed to be one of those good days! My mind is feeling good, my body is ready, and that’s the best thing I can put together. Anything is possible tomorrow.”
Puerto Rico’s Olympic 100m hurdles champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, who has a best of 22.27, is also in the field. But the great likelihood is that the main contest will be between Jackson and the clock.
World 400m hurdles champion Bol, unbeaten this year in her frequent races over her signature event, will seek to trouble the personal best of 51.45 she set in London in July. What has she got left for 2023?
Also in the mix will be Jamaica’s Rushell Clayton, who will be seeking to improve upon the personal best of 52.81 that earned her bronze in Budapest.
This will be a first appearance in Brussels for Bol, although she has attended previous editions in support of her boyfriend, Belgian pole vaulter Ben Broeders.
“I love the atmosphere in Brussels, and I know the track is really nice now and I am looking forward to it.”
Asked about tomorrow, and whether she viewed breaking the 25-year-old meeting record of 53.43 as “a piece of cake”, she responded: “It’s never easy at the end of the season. Your body feels tired, but there is less pressure and this is almost a home meet for me. I am looking forward to running and I am feeling really good about it.”
Meanwhile, with his pole vault world title safely – and simply – retained, Duplantis is on the hunt for a seventh consecutive world record on a surface which might complement his already highly respectable flat speed.
Sweden’s 23-year-old Olympic champion set his first mark of 6.17m in February 2020, and his most recent effort of 6.22m in February of this year. The next centimetre gain seems only a matter of time.
Of his six world records, all but one – the 6.21m he set at last year’s World Athletics Championships in Oregon – have been set indoors. But will he buck the trend in Brussels?
Brussels is one of eight Diamond League meetings at which he holds the meeting record, thanks to a 6.05m jump back in 2021.
He will have to maintain full concentration to secure a win, however, given the presence of the world silver medallist Ernest John Obiena of the Philippines, who holds the Asian record of 6.00m, and the joint bronze medallists from Budapest, Chris Nilsen of the United States and Australia’s Kurtis Marschall, who set a personal best of 5.95m to claim his medal.
Watch out also for USA’s Sam Kendricks, the two-time world champion, who returned to his form of two years ago with a 5.95m clearance in Zurich last Thursday.
“I haven’t been to the track yet, I’ve heard some lovely things about it,” Duplantis told the press conference. “It was probably about that time maybe for them to do something with it,” said Duplantis, who had two good efforts at a world record of 6.23m at last week’s Diamond League meeting in Zurich.
“But the stadium itself is fantastic, the crowd is fantastic, and it looks like we are going to have some good weather as well so it seems like its adding up to all the right pieces there to do something really nice.
“And I actually feel quite well and I feel like I have some big bars in me. I have two competitions left in the season so I am going to try to hit it as hard as I possibly can and leave something high up there.”
At the age of 21, Yaroslava Mahuchikh has just won her first outdoor global high jump gold, four years after winning the first of two world silvers in Doha.
And the prodigiously talented Ukrainian, who also won Olympic bronze and finished last year as world indoor and Diamond League champion, is finishing her season strongly, having equalled the world lead of 2.02m set by Australia’s Nicola Olyslagers at last Saturday’s Diamond League meeting in Xiamen.
The Ukrainian’s outdoor best of 2.05m came at last year’s Brussels meeting, so the vibes will be good on Friday. But the competition will be tough, because Australia’s 2022 world champion Eleanor Patterson, who earned silver in Budapest, will be present, along with World Championships fourth-place finisher Morgan Lake and prodigious 18-year-old Serb Angelina Topic.
Mahuchikh – who has lived in Belgium for two years after fleeing Ukraine and regards the country as her “second home” – confirmed at the press conference that a world record is now her focus after earning her country’s first world gold in a decade.
“To do this for my country in this difficult time is extremely important,” she said. “It gives happiness to our people and to our soldiers.
“I made some world record attempts last year, and with a new track it might be possible in Brussels.
“Of course I think everything is possible, and we have limits only in our minds, so I hope and I want to try again for the world record for tomorrow. It is all in the mind.”
Without the superhuman Yulimar Rojas in the field, Ukraine’s European champion and world silver medallist Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk will be the favourite in the women’s triple jump. Jamaica’s Shanieka Ricketts, who has managed 14.93m this year, will be ready for any slips.
Norway’s Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen will be making his first appearance since his draining efforts at the World Championships. But apparently a world record is also on his mind in the rarely-run 2000m distance – a record of 4:44.79 set in 1999 by the Moroccan who also holds the world 1500m record to which the Norwegian aspires: Hicham El Guerrouj.
After being overtaken on the final bend and beaten to the line by a Briton in the 1500m final for a second successive year – after which he complained of having been below par with a bug and a sore throat – Ingebrigtsen found the health and strength to retain his world 5000m title against a hugely competitive field.
The 22-year-old phenomenon will return to the rarely raced distance of the 2000m to take on a field that includes Narve Gilje Nordas, his compatriot who finished just 0.03 behind Ingebrigtsen to take 1500m bronze in Budapest.
Also in the hunt will be Kenya’s Abel Kipsang and the Netherlands’ fast-rising 18-year-old Niels Laros, 10th in the world 1500m final in a national record of 3:31.25.
Japan’s Haruka Kitaguchi will face the opponent she beat to world javelin gold with her last throw in Budapest, Flor Ruiz Hurtado.
It looked as if the Colombian was on for a historic victory thanks to her opening effort of 65.47m, a South American record, but Kitaguchi produced a grand finale of 66.73m to claim her first senior global title.
There will be similar rivalry in the women’s shot put, where Chase Ealey of the United States will face Sarah Mitton, the Canadian she beat to gold in the Hungarian capital. Four other finalists from Budapest, included fourth-placed Auriol Dongmo of Portugal, are involved in a contest set to take place in Brussels city centre, a day before the main programme.
Britain’s surprise world 800m bronze medallist Ben Pattison will have his work cut out against a field that includes eight men who have run faster than his personal best of 1:44.02, including fellow Brit Daniel Rowden, Bryce Hoppel of the United States and Kenya’s Wyclife Kinyamal.
The men’s 400m will also be a compelling spectacle given the presence of world silver medallist Matthew Hudson-Smith, who ran a European record of 44.26 in the semifinals in Budapest. The field will also include Jamaican record-holder Rusheen McDonald, the fastest in the field this year with 44.03, and Norway’s 20-year-old Havard Bentdal Ingvaldsen, who set a national record of 44.39 in Budapest.
While none of the world medallists are in the field for the women’s 1500m, the Brussels version looks replete with potential drama given the presence of the next five women home.
Ireland’s Ciara Mageean, fourth in Budapest in an Irish record of 3:56.61, fifth-placed Nelly Chepchirchir of Kenya, Britons Laura Muir and the fast-rising Katie Snowden, sixth and eighth respectively, and Australia’s seventh-placed Jessica Hull look likely to produce one of the most competitive races of the evening.
Jamaica’s double Olympic 100m and 200m champion Elaine Thompson-Herah has had one of her more difficult years, but it will be fascinating to see what she will do in an event that also contains Britain’s 2019 world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith.
World 100m bronze medallist Zharnel Hughes, who finished fourth in the world 200m final, will be keen to see if the super-fast new track can help him improve on the British record of 19.73 he set in the longer sprint earlier this season.
The field includes three other world finalists in Kenny Bednarek of the United States, Canada’s Olympic champion Andre De Grasse, and Joseph Fahnbulleh of Liberia.
Intriguingly, Kenya’s world 800m champion Mary Moraa will step down to the 400m – in which she has a very respectable best of 50.38 – against a field that includes world bronze medallist Sada Williams of Barbados. Also lining up in this event is USA’s world 400m hurdles silver medallist Shamier Little, who set a PB of 49.68 in this event earlier this year.
Ethiopia’s Medina Eisa, who set a world U20 record of 14:16.54 in London this season, looks the favourite for an interesting mix of talents in the women’s 5000m.
Credit: World Athletics