Justin Gatlin has been unbeatable this season, a statement that must be accompanied by the fact Usain Bolt has yet to step on a competitive track this year.
Gatlin and Bolt won’t be facing off any time soon — you wonder if at all this year — but the Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday is a reminder of their rivalry, even if the mighty Jamaican is missing.
Gatlin handed Bolt defeat at this meet last year — 9.94 to 9.95 seconds — which produced one of the memorable images of Bolt’s career outside of the Olympics or World Championships. The shrug.
It’s the only time Gatlin has beaten Bolt since the American returned from his four-year drug suspension. Bolt, after a slow start to last season, relegated Gatlin to silver at the World Championships.
But Gatlin has been the marquee men’s sprinter through three of 13 Diamond League meets this season. That’s somewhat by default, with Bolt’s partially injury-related absence, Tyson Gay‘s suspension and Yohan Blake‘s light schedule coming off a hamstring injury.
That’s not to say Gatlin hasn’t been fast. He’s been clocked legally at 9.87 and 9.92 seconds and a wind-aided 9.76 at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday. He could be even faster if pushed by competition. That’s not likely to come in Rome.
Here are five events to watch Thursday:
The 200m at the Pre Classic on Saturday rattled the women’s sprinting picture. Unheralded American Tori Bowie beat Olympic champion Allyson Felix and World gold, silver and bronze medalists Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Murielle Ahoure and Blessing Okagbare.
Bowie must consolidate that surprising victory five days after with a strong showing at half the distance. Fraser-Pryce, set back a bit by injury this season, a reason for that mystifying last-place finish in Oregon, is entered. As is Octavious Freeman, the reigning U.S. silver medalist, in her 2014 Diamond League debut.
“In Eugene, my body did not respond. I felt a left leg problem,” Fraser-Pryce said, according to The Associated Press. “I have not had a perfect start to the season, but it’s not a championship year.”
Men’s high jump
This marked the most exciting event of the early outdoor season, before the World Relays and the Pre Classic shifted focus to track events. All the major players are here, which could inch somebody near Javier Sotomayor‘s world record 2.45m from 1993.
There’s Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov (2.41m this year), World champion Bohdan Bondarenko (2.40m), Olympic and world bronze medalist Derek Drouin (2.40m) and Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard (2.37m).
Among the many eye-catching results at the Pre Classic was the Bowerman Mile, where Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman clocked the fastest time since 2007. Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the fastest 1500m man each of the last four years and two-time reigning World champion, faded to seventh.
Kiprop appears to be set to run at Stadio Olimpico despite a recall by Athletics Kenya’s president.
Souleiman and another top Kenyan, Silas Kiplagat, are also on the start list.
Women’s 100m hurdles
Olympic champion Sally Pearson, World champion Brianna Rollins, World Indoor 60m hurdles champion Nia Ali and 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson are the headliners here. It’s the first 100m hurdles race of the Diamond League season and first of Rollins’ career.
Rollins and a less heralded American, Kristi Castlin, are the world leaders so far this year at 12.58 seconds, though Pearson is just behind at 12.59.
Gatlin shouldn’t sweat his unblemished 2014 record in Rome. Nobody in the field has run within a tenth of a second of Gatlin’s world-leading time for 2014 (9.87).
The men fighting for second include Jamaican World bronze medalist Nesta Carter, South African Simon Magakwe (the only man in Rome outside Gatlin to break 10 seconds this season) and the surprise World Indoor 60m champion Richard Kilty of Great Britain.