Rome looks to javelin star Roehler to light up Diamond League meet
The absence of Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt has Rome Diamond League organisers turning their eyes skywards on Thursday in the hope German javelin star Thomas Roehler raises the roof with another stellar performance.
Bolt, who is set to retire from athletics this year, will only make his European debut -- ahead of the London world championships in August -- at the Czech Golden Spikes event in Ostrava on June 28.
The second of 14 Diamond League meetings spread over 13 different countries, Rome -- in spite of Bolt's absence -- offers up an all-star cast featuring 36 medallists from the 2016 Rio Olympics, and a world record attempt in the women's 5000m for Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba.
And Roehler would be forgiven for wanting to snatch the spotlight -- in Doha last month, the German threw the spear a massive 93.90 metres.
Although well short of Jan Zelezny's world mark of 98.48m, set in 1996, Roehler's throw was the second best of all time, the furthest in 20 years and gave an indication of what's to come from the 25-year-old Olympic champion.
"I did not see that coming. I did not expect that in the first start of the season," Roehler said in Doha on May 5.
"I'm second best ever. It will take some days to realise that."
With ideal conditions set to grace the Italian capital on the 37th edition of the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea, Roehler will be looking for more heroics competing from a field including 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago, and a trio of world champions in Julius Yego, Vitezslav Vesely and Tero Pitkamaki.
On the track, highly-fancied American Ronnie Baker lines up hoping to hold off the threat of Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut, who has run 9.97secs this year, in the 100m following a wind-aided 9.86secs (2.4m/s) victory in Eugene.
The women's 100m features a head-to-head between Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers, the 2015 world 200m champion, and American Tianna Bartoletta, the 2016 Olympic long jump champion -- although Schippers has been fastest this year, setting a 10.95 in April.
With a season's best of 20.41, Canada's Olympic silver medallist Andre De Grasse leads the men's 200m field ahead of Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre (21.22) and Panamanian Alonso Edward, who has won the last three editions of the Diamond Race.
In the absence of Jamaican hurdles king Omar McLeod, American world record holder Aries Merritt, the fastest in the field this year in 13.13sec, can step into the spotlight -- although Spain's Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega (13.15) and Britain's Andrew Pozzi (13.19) could also be in contention.
The entire women's pole vault podium from Rio -- Katerini Stefanidi of Greece, American Sandi Morris and New Zealand's Eliza McCartney -- will reunite, with Cuba's world champion Yarisley Silva and Britain's Holly Bradshaw looking to play the upsetters.
A 5000m world record attempt by Ethiopian distance star Dibaba, who came up short when chasing older sister Tirunesh's mark of 14min 11.15sec in Eugene, will bring the curtain down on the Diamond League events on Thursday, which closes with men's and women's 100m paralympic races.
With a personal best of 14:15.41, Dibaba -- the indoor world record holder in 14:18.86 -- should be pushed all the way by Kenya's Hellen Obiri, who clocked 14:22.47 Shanghai, three seconds quicker than Dibaba managed in Eugene a fortnight later (14:25.22).
© 2017 AFP