MONACO: Usain Bolt and Wayde van Niekerk, the man tipped to take over from the retiring Jamaican as track and field’s next superstar, headline a glittering cast at Friday’s Diamond League meeting in Monaco.
The event offers one final tune-up ahead of next month’s world championships in London, from August 4-13, where eight-time Olympic gold medallist Bolt will bring down the curtain on his incredible career.
The Stade Louis II, the home of French football champions Monaco, provides an idyllic backdrop on the Mediterranean coast for Bolt’s second-to-last appearance.
It is just the second time the 11-time world champion is running in Monaco, after 2011, with the 100m scheduled for 1935 GMT as Bolt looks to dip under the 10-second barrier for the first time this year.
“This race is mostly about execution and working on my flaws,” Bolt said. “I try not to worry too much about time but it’d be good to be under 10 seconds.”
The Jamaican, who turns 31 next month, has been a regular visitor to the principality off the track, having received the IAAF Athlete of the Year award six times.
Bolt has struggled to produce his best form this season, running 10.03 in Kingston and 10.06 in Ostrava in his only two outings, well behind rising US star Christian Coleman’s world-leading 9.82 in Oregon last month.
“The weather is great here so hopefully on Friday, it will be the same and I can perform at my best,” added Bolt, who will line up against South Africa’s Akani Simbine and American Christopher Belcher.
Van Niekerk, the men’s 400m world record-holder, stormed to victory in Lausanne a fortnight ago with the third fastest time of his career, following on from personal bests in the 100m and 200m in June.
The South African’s mark of 43.62 in Switzerland trailed only his performance at the 2015 world championships and his record-breaking run that earned Olympic gold in Rio last year.
But with Bolt not running the 200m in London, Van Niekerk will never get the chance to test himself against the Jamaican sprint king.
“He’s been a massive inspiration,” admitted the 25-year-old Van Niekerk.
“I’ve still got quite a long way to go before I even get close to the heights that Usain has reached.
“It’s really just for me to keep on doing what I’m doing and hopefully I can reach the heights that he has and maybe even try and come close to the times that he’s run.”
World record-holder Kendra Harrison and 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson will face off in the women’s 100m hurdles.
Harrison failed to qualify for last year’s Olympics after a shock sixth-place finish at the US trials, while Australian Pearson is back near the peak of her after two injury-plagued years.
Reigning women’s high jump world champion Maria Lasitskene has been head and shoulders above her rivals this year, clearing a personal best 2.06m in Lausanne to signal her intent ahead of her title defence in London.
She is chasing Bulgarian Stefka Kostadinova’s long-standing mark of 2.09m, a world record set at the 1987 world championships in Rome.
Olympic javelin champion Thomas Roehler of Germany will battle compatriot Johannes Vetter, whose stunning throw of 94.44m on July 11 in Luzern was the second longest in history.
Triple 1500m world champion Asbel Kiprop and Rio 3000m steeplechase gold medallist Conseslus Kipruto are also competing in Monaco.