Five women’s events to watch at World Track and Field Championships
Women’s track and field may not have a singular, electric figure like Usain Bolt, but some of the most compelling events at the World Championships in Beijing feature a global array of female athletes.
Great Britain sends arguably its biggest star from the London Olympics head to head with perhaps its biggest star of the Rio Olympics. Brazil’s most accomplished active track and field athlete? Also a woman.
Then there’s the U.S. sprinter bidding to break a record shared with Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis. And the Ethiopian who has been the must-watch athlete in the sport this season.
Here are five women’s events to watch at the World Championships:
Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23 -- Heptathlon
The heptathlon. Seven events. Two days. Three hyphens.
British Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill is in her first global championship since the London Games and giving birth to son Reggie on July 17, 2014.
Countrywoman Katarina Johnson-Thompson, 22, has been the phenom of the event during Ennis-Hill’s absence from major competition. Her 6,682-point total in 2014 ranks second in the world since the London Olympics.
Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, wife of U.S. Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton, totaled 6,808 points in May, the best in the world since the London Olympics.
Monday, Aug. 24 -- 100m -- 9:35 a.m. ET
Only three women have ever run faster than Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and none of them will be lining up in Beijing.
The two-time Jamaican Olympic 100m champion is the prohibitive favorite to win her third World 100m title in four tries. She is Usain Bolt without the world records. She’s consistently in the 10.7s at global championships, right up there with the fastest women of all time -- Americans Florence Griffith-Joyner, Marion Jones* and Carmelita Jeter.
Fraser-Pryce has clocked 10.74 and 10.79 this season. Americans English Gardner (also 10.79) and Tori Bowie (10.80, 10.81 and 10.82 the last two years) may be her closest challengers, but a U.S. gold would be an upset.
The 200m (Friday, Aug. 28) will lack star power. Fraser-Pryce, Gardner and Bowie won’t contest it. Neither will Olympic champion Allyson Felix.
Tuesday, Aug. 25 -- 1500m -- 8:35 a.m. ET
Two months ago, Jenny Simpson looked like a possible favorite among a deep field to take gold in Beijing. Now, she may not even be the best American medal threat.
And the favorite is the new world-record holder, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, who was primarily a 5000m runner before this summer (and maybe still is).
Everything changed July 17, when Dibaba chopped four seconds off her personal best and broke a 22-year-old world record. In that same race, Shannon Rowbury finished third, notable because she beat the 2011 World champion Simpson (fourth) and broke the 32-year-old American record that Simpson coveted.
Dibaba is expected to race both the 1500m and, on Sunday, Aug. 30, the 5000m. She is fourth fastest all time in that distance, just behind her biggest threat, countrywoman Almaz Ayana. No woman has swept the 1500m and 5000m at a World Championships or Olympics.
Wednesday, Aug. 26 -- Pole Vault -- 7 a.m. ET
This figures to be a four-woman competition.
Olympic champion Jenn Suhr (U.S.), 2013 World silver medalist Yarisley Silva (Cuba), 2009 World champion Fabiana Murer (Brazil) and Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou (Greece) have each cleared 4.80m or higher this year multiple times. Nobody else in the field has done so once since June 2012.
Suhr, who dethroned world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva at the London Olympics, will not have to worry about her Russian rival at this meet. Isinbayeva hasn’t competed since 2013 but may return for the Rio Olympics. So this marks the best and perhaps last chance for Suhr, 33, to capture the World title that’s eluded her.
Silva, 28, had been fairly silent since taking bronze behind Isinbayeva and Suhr at the 2013 World Championships. Until the last month, during which she cleared 4.81m, 4.85m and 4.91m, the latest tying the best clearance in the world since Isinibayeva’s 2009 world record.
Murer, 34, is Brazil’s biggest track and field star. Any pressure she feels in Beijing will be exponentially heavier next summer.
Thursday, Aug. 27 -- 400m -- 8:40 a.m. ET
This is Allyson Felix‘s chosen race at the World Championships after scrutinized deliberations. She is the favorite, and history is at hand.
Felix is tied with Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis for the most career World Championships gold medals (eight). She is tied with Lewis for the most career World medals of any color for an American.
Felix hasn’t raced the 400m at a global championship since 2011, when she took silver, but she is expected to take gold in Beijing in large part due to a lack of competition. Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross and Francena McCorory, who holds the three fastest times in the world this year, failed to qualify at the U.S. Championships.
Felix will face off against the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller, eight years younger than Felix at 21 and the only woman in the field to run faster than Felix this year.
Felix’s performance in Beijing could go a long way in determining which event(s) she eyes at the Rio Olympics, be it the 200m, 400m or both. Felix is also part of the U.S. relay pools for the 4x100m and 4x400m on the final two days of Worlds, Aug. 28-29.