Justin Gatlin, Allyson Felix to end season with major tests; Brussels preview

Allyson Felix, Dafne Schippers
AP
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One year ago in Brussels, Justin Gatlin and Allyson Felix put up their best performances since the London Olympics.

Gatlin pulled off perhaps the greatest single-day sprint double of all time. Felix put any torn hamstring concerns behind her with the fastest 200m in the world since her 2012 Olympic title.

The two marquee U.S. sprinters of the moment return to the Belgian capital for the final Diamond League meet of the season Friday. Their tests this year will be greater than in 2014.

Gatlin, 33 and five years removed from a four-year doping ban, races for the first time since he was beaten by Usain Bolt in the 100m and 200m at the World Championships in Beijing last month.

“You cannot dwell on races that are behind you,” Gatlin said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

He will compete twice in Brussels, without Bolt in either field, as he did in 2014. Gatlin is slated to run a 100m and then, 62 minutes later, a 200m.

In 2014, Gatlin ran a then-personal-best 100m (9.77) and then his second-best 200m (19.71) an hour later in Brussels.

This year, he will have to show he can bounce back from the stinging Worlds defeats. His primary competition in the Brussels 100m and 200m is stronger than in 2014 as well.

Felix, who won the 400m at Worlds to cap a comeback from tearing a hamstring in the 2013 Worlds 200m final, will race the 200m in Brussels for a second straight year.

In 2014, Felix entered the Brussels 200m as quite arguably an underdog. Three other women coming into the race had run faster over 200m that season, and it was Felix’s last chance that year to prove she was over the injury.

She came through, shaving .32 off her fastest time of 2014 and setting her up for a dominant 2015. However, Felix’s superiority over 200m is again in question on the eve of Brussels.

That’s because she sat out the World Championships 200m, to focus on the 400m, and saw the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers race to victory in the fourth fastest time ever.

Felix and Schippers will go head to head at 200m in the most anticipated race in Brussels on Friday.

“I’ve always loved to race against the best athletes, because it pushes you, it makes you have better performances,” Felix told media in Brussels. “I’m always up for the challenge.”

Here are the full entry lists and schedule. Here are five events to watch (all times Eastern):

Men’s Shot Put — 12:25 p.m.

It’s American Joe Kovacs versus German David Storl in a meeting of the last three World Championships winners. Kovacs, in his first outdoor global championship, kept Storl from a Worlds three-peat in Beijing. The two have combined for the top 13 throws in the world this year.

Two-time reigning Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland and Olympic bronze medalist Reese Hoffa are also in the field.

Men’s 100m — 2:14 p.m.

Though Gatlin lost to Bolt at Worlds, he was still the fastest man in the world that day (running 9.77 in the semifinals to Bolt’s 9.79 in the final) and over the last two years.

In Brussels, Gatlin will not face Bolt, who withdrew from this meet Monday, citing fatigue, and is done for the season. Gatlin will see the former world-record holder Asafa Powell, who is the third fastest man this year behind Gatlin and Bolt.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:29 p.m.

What does Christian Taylor have left? The Olympic and World champion triple jumped 18.21 meters in Beijing, the No. 2 mark all time behind Brit Jonathan Edwards‘ world record of 18.29.

Taylor will benefit from the presence of Cuban rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who has jumped 18.08 and 18.06 meters this year, making him the No. 4 triple jumper all time.

Women’s 200m — 2:32 p.m.

Felix and Schippers have gone head to head four times since the start of 2014 and split the meetings, according to the track stats website Tilastopaja.org. This race is their most anticipated yet.

Felix has said she will definitely race the 200m at the Olympic trials in July to try to defend her Olympic title in Rio, even though she did not contest the 200m at Worlds last month. Schippers’ winning time at Worlds was .06 faster than Felix’s personal best from 2012.

If Schippers beats Felix in Brussels, it’s pretty easy to make the argument that the Dutchwoman is the clear Olympic 200m favorite heading into the Olympic year.

Jamaican Elaine Thompson could also win this race. At Worlds, she was .03 slower than Schippers and .03 faster than Felix’s personal best. She’s the youngest of the trio and the least experienced on the international stage.

Men’s 200m — 3:16 p.m.

If Bolt had stayed in this field, it would have marked the first time the reigning World champions in the 100m, 200m and 400m went head to head since 2009, when Bolt and LaShawn Merritt dueled.

Instead, the showdown will be the Worlds 100m and 200m silver medalist Gatlin against the Worlds 400m gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk. Gatlin has the fastest time this year among the field at 19.57, with the South African van Niekerk third at 19.94. Jamaicans Rasheed Dwyer and Nickel Ashmeade are also in the mix.

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