LONDON (Reuters) - After a frustrating summer of cancellations, exhibitions and virtual competitions, athletics is finally able to reveal its shop window as the Diamond League swings into belated action with a star-studded field in Monaco on Friday.
The sport should have been taking centre stage in the glow of the Tokyo Olympics this week but that highlight has long been wiped from the 2020 calendar, along with a host of Diamond League events.
So it is no exaggeration to describe Friday’s Meeting Herculis as “eagerly awaited” and topping a high-class bill in the Principality is Noah Lyles in the 200 metres.
The American faces some quality competition in the shape of Ramil Guliyev and Christophe Lemaitre, while one rival might not be so well known to the wider athletics public but is extremely familiar to Lyles - his younger brother Josephus.
Josephus is primarily a 400m man and has not raced his big brother in an official race for more than three years.
Beatrice Chepkoech, who broke the women’s 3000m steeplechase world record at Monaco in 2018, and Sifan Hassan, who did the same over a mile last year, face off over 5,000m in a race also featuring world champion Hellen Obiri.
Pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis is another world record holder on duty and, after enjoying a successful summer of somewhat leftfield exhibitions, faces more traditional competition from reigning world and Diamond League champion Sam Kendricks.
There are two high-quality 1500m races on the programme. In the women’s event Uganda’s 800m world champion Halimah Nakaayi is up against Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon and Briton Laura Muir.
In the men’s race, world champion Timothy Cheruiyot gets reacquainted with Norway’s Ingebrigtsen brothers.
World champion Karsten Warholm is on duty in the men’s 400m hurdles, while Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou will start favourite in the women’s 100m.
Ahead of the event, the sport’s governing body World Athletics, has issued a reminder about the recently-introduced “Rule 5”, which puts a sole height limit of 25mm on all shoes worn in track events of 800m and above in distance.
The rule does not prevent a road running shoe from being worn on the track but a 30mm or 40mm road running shoe cannot be worn for track events because of the 25mm limit. The rule was introduced after concerns that shoes such as Nike’s Alphafly were giving athletes an unfair technical advantage.
Shoes, of course, will not be the only things undergoing tests, as all athletes will be COVID-19 tested as part of the strict guidelines that have allowed the event to be held with competitors travelling in from around the world.
“We have changed everything, from the athletes’ travel and accommodation logistics to the way the competition will be staged and conducted,” said meeting director Jean-Pierre Schoebel.
“We studied everything to ensure we’d provide the maximum security to everyone involved in the meeting. We’ve never worked as hard as this year. I can’t tell you how difficult the situation has been.”
Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, had been due to run in Monaco until he tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms earlier this week.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Pritha Sarkar
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