London Olympic champ Sally Pearson missed a full year due to injuries, but it’s Beijing gold medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson who faces a tougher road to Rio.
Pearson and Harper-Nelson, who swapped one-two 100m hurdles finishes at the last two Olympics, headline Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Oslo. The competition lacks the sport’s biggest sprint stars — Usain Bolt (who is racing his top Jamaican rivals Saturday), Justin Gatlin, Allyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are all sitting out.
It could be Harper-Nelson’s final Diamond League meet before the U.S. Olympic Trials, as she is not yet listed in next week’s competition in Stockholm.
Harper-Nelson’s bid for a third Olympics is complicated by the incredible depth in U.S. women’s hurdles. Four different Americans share the nine fastest times in the world this year.
Harper-Nelson ranks No. 14 in the world this year, and 10th among Americans, which is very concerning given only the top three finishers at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., on July 8 make the Rio team.
There is no doubt that Pearson will be in Rio to defend her Olympic title as Australia is not deep in any track and field events. Even so, Pearson must improve mightily on her first two races Sunday and Tuesday since returning from wrist surgery and an Achilles injury to be a medal threat at the Games.
Oslo start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):
12:20 p.m. — Women’s discus
12:55 — Men’s triple jump
1:15 — Men’s pole vault
1:30 — Men’s shot put
2:00 — Women’s high jump
2:03 — Men’s 400m hurdles
2:15 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
2:35 — Women’s 400m
2:40 — Men’s javelin
2:45 — Men’s 5000m
2:45 — Women’s long jump
3:12 — Women’s 100m hurdles
3:20 — Men’s 100m
3:30 — Men’s mile
3:40 — Women’s 200m
3:50 — Women’s mile
Here are five events to watch:
Men’s Pole Vault — 1:15 p.m. ET
Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie and World champion Shawn Barber face off for the eighth time already this year. Lavillenie, the world-record holder, has won five of the seven meetings and finished higher than Barber in all of them, according to Tilastopaja.org.
Missing from the Oslo field is rising American Sam Kendricks, who beat both of them in Shanghai on May 14 and owns the highest clearance in the world this year.
Men’s 400m hurdles — 2:03 p.m. ET
Surprise World champion Nicholas Bett of Kenya hasn’t run within 1.5 seconds off his personal-best gold-medal winning time since that Beijing final. But his nondescript start to 2016 mirrors his first months of the 2015 outdoor season. In Oslo, Bett will look to better sixth- and eighth-place finishes from his first two Diamond League races.
His competition includes the last two Olympic silver medalists, Michael Tinsley and Kerron Clement, who are at the very least contenders to make the U.S. team for Rio, if not favorites, as the second- and third-fastest Americans this year.
Women’s 100m hurdles — 3:12 p.m. ET
Neither Pearson nor Harper-Nelson has finished in the top three of a Diamond League race in three combined starts this year. Oslo is a prime opportunity, since the field includes only two other Americans — Brianna Rollins and Jasmin Stowers.
Keni Harrison, the Olympic favorite who ran the second-fastest time ever at the Prefontaine Classic on May 28, is not in Oslo.
Men’s Mile — 3:30 p.m. ET
Kenyan Asbel Kiprop is undefeated in 1500m or mile races since May 30, 2015. In Oslo, he faces 2012 Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. Makhloufi was fourth in the 2015 World Championships, won by Kiprop, and fifth in the Pre Classic, 1.41 seconds behind Kiprop.
Women’s 200m — 3:40 p.m. ET
World gold and silver medalists Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson meet for the second time this year. They went two-three at the Pre Classic, won by American Tori Bowie in the fastest time in the world this year (21.99).
Schippers and Thompson are both capable of bettering Bowie’s mark, given they ran 21.63 and 21.66 at Worlds on Aug. 28. The gold-medal odds for Schippers, Thompson and Bowie will be impacted by Felix and Fraser-Pryce, who are absent from Oslo and coming back from injuries.