Rare Olympic gold medalist duel set for Rabat; Diamond League preview
A rare, perhaps unprecedented, matchup of Olympic women’s 400m and 800m champions headlines a Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, on Sunday.
Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo and South African Caster Semenya are both entered in the 400m. Coverage begins on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold at 2 p.m. ET.
It’s the first time in recent history, perhaps ever, the reigning 400m and 800m gold medalists go head-to-head in an individual race. The comprehensive track and field statistics website Tilastopaja.org shows no other instances since the women’s 400m was added to the Games in 1964.
Savor it now, because Miller-Uibo and Semenya will not race each other at worlds next month. Semenya is contesting only the 800m there. Miller-Uibo is going for the 200m and 400m.
A number of sprint stars line up in Rabat, including Elaine Thompson and Andre De Grasse.
Here are the Rabat entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):
1:02 p.m. -- Men’s Shot Put
1:10 p.m. -- Women’s Triple Jump
1:50 p.m. -- Men’s High Jump
1:52 p.m. -- Women’s 400m Hurdles B
1:55 p.m. -- Men’s Pole Vault
2 p.m. -- Women’s Javelin
2:03 p.m. -- Women’s 400m Hurdles A
2:13 p.m. -- Men’s 100m
2:22 p.m. -- Men’s 800m
2:30 p.m. -- Men’s Long Jump
2:32 p.m. -- Women’s Steeplechase
2:50 p.m. -- Men’s 200m
2:58 p.m. -- Women’s 1500m
3:12 p.m. -- Women’s 100m
3:20 p.m. -- Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:37 p.m. -- Women’s 400m
3:46 p.m. -- Men’s 3000m
Here are five events to watch:
Men’s 100m -- 2:13 p.m.
Yohan Blake, the joint-second-fastest man in history, was set to win his first Diamond League race in five years on Sunday. But Blake, the class of a field otherwise lacking world championships medal favorites, withdrew Saturday, reportedly due to a groin injury.
That is very concerning with worlds in three weeks.
Last time out, Blake swept the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Championships, posting his fastest times since 2012 to rank Nos. 2 and 5 in the world this year. In the years since 2012, Blake went from legitimate threat to Usain Bolt to the walking wounded, tearing his right and left hamstrings in 2013 and 2014. He was inching closer to his old form.
In Blake’s absence, the favorites Sunday are Olympic sixth-place finisher Ben Youssef Meite of Cote d’Ivoire and Brit C.J. Ujah, who has won two Diamond League 100m races this season.
Men’s 800m -- 2:22 p.m.
Like Blake, Nijel Amos was once the man pushing a legend in this event. At 18 years old, he took silver to David Rudisha in the memorable London Olympic final, shattering the world junior record.
But the Botswana runner missed the 2013 Worlds due to injury and failed to make the final at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. He came back strong, winning his first Diamond League race in two years and then posting 1:43.18 in London last Sunday, the fastest time in the world this year by four tenths of a second.
Rudisha has lost two of three 800m races this year, so he may be vulnerable next month. The world-record holder isn’t in Sunday’s race, but other world medal threats are -- U.S. champion Donavan Brazier and Kenyan teen phenom Kipyegon Bett.
Men’s 200m -- 2:50 p.m.
Interesting mix here. There’s Andre De Grasse, the Olympic silver medalist in Rio. There’s Warren Weir, the Olympic bronze medalist in London contesting his first Diamond League race in three years. There’s U.S. champion Ameer Webb. There’s U.S. 400m champion Fred Kerley. And then Brit Zharnel Hughes, the former teen phenom and longtime Usain Bolt training partner.
Nobody in his field has broken 20 seconds this year (six other men have), but look for De Grasse and Webb to chase 19. They’ll need to in order to be considered threats to Wayde van Niekerk at worlds.
Women’s 100m -- 3:12 p.m.
Elaine Thompson should extend her 100m winning streak to 17 meets here. The field lacks her top rivals -- American Tori Bowie and the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers.
It does include two of the other top six women in the world this year -- Michelle-Lee Ahye and Kelly-Ann Baptiste, two veterans from Trinidad and Tobago. If they can push Thompson, the Jamaican 100m record of 10.70 seconds may be in jeopardy.
Women’s 400m -- 3:37 p.m.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo has won the 400m at nine straight meets since her loss to Allyson Felix at the 2015 World Championships. That streak is very much on the line here.
Caster Semenya chopped 2.14 seconds off her 400m personal best last year, while focusing on the 800m. She even won the Diamond League finale in Brussels in a time that would have placed fifth in Rio.
Miller-Uibo was easily faster than Semenya’s personal best in her two 400m races this year, but she is not the fastest woman this year in the Rabat field. She trails Quanera Hayes, who won the 400m at the USATF Outdoor Champs in the second-fastest time in the world this year.
An interested onlooker will be Felix, ranked No. 1 in 2017.
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