Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim will be up against home hero and World Indoor champion Gianmarco Tamberi and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko, world champion in Moscow 2013, at today’s Diamond League meet in Rome.
Barshim, who holds the the meet record at 2.41m from two years ago, has done well indoors this year, with four successive victories – clearing a season’s best of 2.36m in Malmo and also clinching a fourth successive Asian Indoor title in front of his home fans in Doha. Outdoors, however, his best was a 2.26m effort in Doha last month, when Erik Kynard jumped 2.33 for the win.
World silver medallists Zhang Guowei and Robbie Grabarz, who won at the Olympic Stadium in 2012, will also be vying for the honours in the fifth leg of the 2016 IAAF Diamond League, which will be another stage of fine-tuning ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.
Qatar’s world indoor silver medallist Abdelalelah Haroun will try and challenge South African sprinting sensation Wayde Van Niekerk, who has risen to fame as the only male athlete to have run the 100m sub-10sec, the 200m sub-20sec and the 400m sub-44sec.
Joining them over a lap will be Botswana’s Isaac Makwala and Grenada’s Bralon Taplin.
It will be up to Asian record holder Femi Ogunode of Qatar to challenge the in-form American sprint star Justin Gatlin in the 100m.
Gatlin has form in the Italian capital, last year tying Maurice Greene’s record of four wins at the Golden Gala and breaking Usain Bolt’s meeting record with 9.75sec.
Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion who was banned for doping between 2006 and 2010, clocked a wind-assisted 9.88 seconds at Eugene last week.
The world number one took the tape ahead of Jamaican Asafa Powell and American Tyson Gay and will doubtless seek to extend that form heading into the Rio Games.
The 100m line-up also features European record holder Jimmy Vicaut and South African record holder Akani Simbine.
But the blue riband event could well be eclipsed by the men’s 3,000m steeplechase, which promises to be an electric race.
All three podium finishers from the 2015 Beijing world championships will be in Rome: four-time world champion and reigning Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi, Brimin Kipruto and Conseslus Kipruto.
To that trio are added two more Kenyans in the shape of Golden Gala record holder Paul Kipsiele Koech and Jairus Birech, winner of the two last editions of the Diamond Race who has announced he would this season target the world record set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saeed Shaheen (7:53.63) in 2004.
The men’s 200m features American hopeful Trayvon Bromell, world indoor champion in the 60m and world
bronze in the 100m, out to break the 20-sec barrier.
In-form South African Caster Semenya will race the women’s 800m having dominated her rivals in the Diamond League meets in Doha and Rabat.
In Rome she will be up against the Beijing worlds podium in Marina Arzamasova, Melissa Bishop and Eunice Sum, the top-two of the World Indoor Championships in Portland Francine Nyonsaba and Ajee Wilson and European champions Linsey Sharp and Selina Buchel.
Ethiopia’s world 5000m champion Almaz Ayana will try to better the Rome record of 14:23.46 set by compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba.
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