With the 2014 IAAF Diamond League underway, here are ten things we're VERY excited to see.
1. Will the high jump boys fly higher than ever?
At no point since Cuban jumping god Javier Sotomayor set the current world record of 2.45m 21 years ago has the mark looked more vulnerable. Only last week in Doha, for the first time in history, four men jumped 2.37m or higher in the same competition.
FIVE men in the past 12 months have cleared 2.40m or more (only 15 men have ever breached that height). But which of the quintet is capable of stepping up to the mark and touching the heavens?
Over to you Bohan Bondarenko, Ivan Ukhov, Aleksey Dmitrik, Mutaz Essa Barshim and Derek Drouin. The super-talented Erik Kynard (2.37m PB) will be pushing them all the way, too.
2. Can Glasgow follow the London love-in?
A new city – Glasgow – and a new venue – Hampden Park – joins the Diamond League jamboree in 2014. Staged just a few weeks before the iconic home of Scottish football hosts the athletics programme of the Commonwealth Games, the new meet replaces the annual and hugely successful London event.
It is a risk, but a calculated one. With huge demand for athletics tickets at the Commonwealth Games (the most popular sport of the 2.3 million first-stage ticket applications), expect the Scottish public to turn out in their droves to catch a glimpse of the world’s finest athletes in action.
3. Lashawn Merritt vs. Kirani James
This is building up to be quite the rivalry. Merritt is the world champion and reigning Diamond Race winner. Teenage phenom James, Olympic champion and 2011 Diamond Race winner, is a teen no more. Merritt outpointed James 4-3 in Diamond League wins last year.
Already this season Merritt, 27, has defeated James, 21, by only 0.16 in Des Moines, and their head-to-head battles could prove the track highlight of the year.
2014 is promising to be a very close season between James and Merritt
4. Racers Track Club
History has taught us that training buddies rarely, if ever, clash outside of major championships but, hey, we can dream.
Blake produced one of the all-time great moments in Diamond League history when blitzing to 19.26 in Brussels in 2011 – the second fastest 200m time in history.
His 2013 hopes were struck by injury but ‘The Beast’ is back and on his day: he is the biggest threat to Bolt’s superiority.
5. Can anyone stop the Sandra Perkovic juggernaut?
She's won 13 from her last 14 Diamond League competitions and the Croatian discus thrower is better than ever, hurling a national record of 70.51m in Split in March: the longest throw in the world for 22 years.
World silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon of France, Cuban pair of Yarelys Barrios and Yaime Perez, as well as Australia’s Dani Samuels, the last women to defeat her at a Diamond League meet (in Paris, July 2012) – will all challenge, but good luck to ‘em.
Sandra Perkovic is the woman to beat in the discus this year
6. Aman to beat Rudisha?
After winning back to back Diamond League titles in 2010 and 2011 and dominating the 2012 campaign with that rip-roaring world record performance at the London Olympic Games, injuries struck in 2013 to ambush Rudisha's season.
He is back in 2014 (via an April Fool's retirement hoax), but faces a major challenge in the shape of world indoor and outdoor champion Mohammed Aman, who in Rudisha’s absence has been the man to beat – and will feast upon any vulnerability shown by the Olympic champion.
7. Genzebe Dibaba outdoors?
The dominant performer in the indoor season re-wrote the record books with a series of jaw-dropping performances, setting three world records by a combined total of more than 15 seconds for the 1500m, 3000m and two-mile distances.
Such was her outrageous form that any outdoor record between 1500m and 5000m – previously viewed as untouchable – are looming intriguingly into view. Even if she fails to win a race this year, her presence is great for the sport.
At the Diamond League season opener in Doha, Dibaba was outdone in the climax of a lightning fast 3000m, won by Hellen Obiri in a Kenyan and Diamond League record 8:20.68.
8. Can Lavillenie go even higher?
In Sergey Bubka’s backyard of Donetsk, Renaud Lavillenie finally bettered the Ukrainian master’s 21-year-old world record, clearing 6.16m in February.
He boldly suggested to IAAF Inside Athletics this year that he could go ever higher, and his true global competition will come on the high-class Diamond League circuit, where hope to see him at his best.
How high can Renaud Lavillenie fly?
9. Golden age for the sprint hurdles
Forget the men’s 100m or even the men’s high jump the most competitive event in the world right now is the women’s 100m hurdles. Australia’s Sally Pearson dominated in 2011 and 2012 to become world and Olympic champion. Last year she was deposed of her world crown by US sensation Brianna Rollins, who clocked the third fastest 100mH of all-time aged 20.
Also waiting to pounce and all capable of landing the Diamond League title, are any one of Nia Ali, Kristi Castlin, Kelli Wells, Queen Harrison, the defending Diamond League champion Dawn Harper-Nelson and returning bobsleigh Winter Olympian Lolo Jones. Phew! Watch out, too, for Great Britain’s Tiffany Porter.
10. What to make of the returnee champs?
We’ve already mentioned Yohan Blake and David Rudisha eagerly anticipated return in 2014, but a number of other high profile names plan a return after an enforced absence.
The 2012 Olympic 110m hurdles champion and world record holder Aries Merritt is back after an injury interrupted 2013 and watch out also for Allyson Felix, the 2012 IAAF Female Athlete of the Year who limped out of last year’s World Championships through injury.
World javelin record holder Barbora Spotakova also is back in the heat of major competition after missing 2013 following the birth of her son, Janek, last spring.