This week (1/9 & 3/9) sees Olympic stars in action in the Koning Boudewijnstadion in Brussels for the annual Van Damme Memorial Diamond League Meeting.
The event was founded in 1977, and named in honour of one of Belgium’s greatest athletes, Ivo van Damme. Van Damme, the two time Olympic silver medallist in the 800m and 1500m at the ’76 Games, was tragically killed in a car accident, just months after his Olympic success. It was a horrible tragedy, but this fantastic event in his memory has provided a wonderful spectacle for athletics fans over the past 44 years.
The stadium – formerly known as Heysel Stadium – has been the site for many great events in athletics and football. Most famously, it was the site of the tragic European Cup Final in 1985, where Liverpool played Juventus. During a clash of rival fans, a wall in the stadium collapsed and 39 fans – mostly Italians – were killed.
The inaugural Van Damme event in 1977 saw Olympic champion John Walker’s solo 1500m world record attempt, with the big New Zealander just falling short by half a second. Next year saw Sebastian Coe break his British 800m record and three years later in the Heysel stadium, he smashed Steve Ovett’s 1 mile record, running 3.47.33. In the years since, we’ve seen some remarkable achievements from the world’s elite. There was Svetlana Masterkova’s world 1000m record in ’96 and 10,000m world records from Salah Hissou (1996) and Paul Tergat the following year. Tergat’s was the first ever sub 26.30 in the event. The same meeting saw the first sub 12.40 5000m by Daniel Komen.
Perhaps the greatest performance at the meeting was Aries Merritt’s 110m hurdles world record of 12.80 in 2012. Merritt’s run took a massive 0.07 off the record – the biggest margin since Renaldo Nehemiah ‘s first sub 13.00 run.
Last year, Brussels was the site of Sir Mo Farah’s and Sifan Hassan’s phenomenal world records in the 1 hour track run. Farah (21,330m) and Hassan (18,930m) smashed the existing records in this rarely run event in the empty stadium. Hassan’s back this year , but there is no Farah, with the great man struggling for form and missing the Olympics after a number of injury niggles. However, there are still many other great athletes to see in the Belgian capital this year.
Wednesday evening sees the Diamond League discus (men’s and women) take place. World and Olympic gold medallist , Croatian Sandra Perkovic should win here, The Cuban Yaime Perez should be her main challenger. The men’s event has World Championship gold medallist Daniel Stahl (SWE) here, looking like a possible winner here. He’ll be keen for a win after a disappointing season. Slovenian Kristian Ceh will be his main challenger.
Friday night’s action will be fantastic. The men’s pole vault again sees superstar Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis is here and should dominate. The Filipino Ernest Obiena and American Chris Nilsen will again throw down the challenge to one of the most dominant athletes in the sport.
View this post on Instagram
Australians Nicole McDermott and Eleanor Patterson will take on an elite field in the women’s high jump.The Russian Olympic champion Mariya Lasitskene and the Ukrainians Iryna Gerashchenko and Yaroslava Mahuchikh will make things tough for McDermott to repeat her heroic win in Lausanne.
Granadian Olympic bronze medallist Kirani James should be the winner in the men’s 400, On paper he is a good half a second faster than his rivals. Local veteran Kevin Borlee will be keen to perform well on home soil, though he is well down on form this season. American Michael Cherry will push James the closest and the Dutchman with the movie star charisma, Liemarvin Bonevacia, will also be in the mix.
The women’s mile will feature one of the icons of international distance running, the great Sifan Hassan. The world record-holder should dominate here. The only likely challengers would be Ugandan Winnie Nanyondo and Australia’s Linden Hall. Hall will perhaps be slightly disappointed with her narrow loss in the Lausanne 1500m,and the conditions there possibly cost her a national record. Here Hall could break her national mile record if the pacing is right. Her best time in the 1500m converts to about a 4.17 or 4.18.mile – a good 3 or 4 seconds faster than her best time. Hassan might look to break her own world record, though that would seem unlikely given what she’s put her body through this season.
In the men’s 100m, there’s a very good line up. Trayvon Brommel, the supremely gifted yet erratic American, will face his multi-talented compatriot Michael Norman, South Africa’s Akani Simbine and the Olympic 200m silver medallist, American Fred Kerley. If he’s on his game, Brommel should win, though he will be pushed hard. After his narrow loss in the Lausanne 200m, Kerley will want to have a good run here. Kerley’s no stooge, and will come home strongly in the latter part of the race. Australian Rohan Browning – who had a breakthrough Olympic campaign, narrowly missing out on breaking 10 seconds – will hopefully lift and be competitive here. Patrick Johnson’s national record of 9.93 is 18 years old. Browning certainly has the ability to beat it.
The women’s 5000m has a top-quality field. Lesenbet Gidey appears to be a cut above her rivals, though compatriots Ejgayehu Taye, Fantu Worku and Kenyans Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chebet and Margaret Kipkemboi should make it an interesting race.
We will see a close-fought men’s long jump, with Spaniard Eusebio Caceres and South Africa Ruswahi Samaai the class athletes here. Caceres looks tough to beat here. The South African is a very good athlete, but is a little down on form this season. McCarter (USA) could challenge here too.
There’s another evenly-matched field for the women’s 100m hurdles. Danielle Williams (JAM) should win. She was very good in Lausanne and is smooth and beautifully-balanced over the hurdles. Sember the Brit and Williams’ fellow Jamaican Megan Tapper will make it interesting.
The women’s 200m should be riveting. The phenomenally talented Christine Mboma (NAM) could win, though she’ll have her work cut out. The controversial American Sha’Carri Richardson is in the field and she will be motivated to put the poor run in the Pre Classic behind her. Another woman keen to make amends is Jamaican Shericka Jackson. After missing the final in Tokyo, she will be focussed and determined. World champion Brit Dina Asher-Smith is also in the field. She’s down on form, but is a class performer and will be another to watch.
There’s another deep line-up for the men’s 1500m. Australians Stewart McSweyn and Ollie Hoare face Kenyans Abel Kipsang,Charles Simwotwo, Samuel Tefera (ETH),and the Spaniards Mohammed Katir and Adel Mechaal. American Erik Sowinski will set the pace early and look to McSweyn to take up the running in the third lap. McSweyn and Hoare have had outstanding seasons and both Aussies should be in the thick of the action from the gun.
View this post on Instagram
Alison Dos Santos, the smooth-as-silk Brazilian, has been in unbelievable form this year. In the absence of Karsten Warholm, he’ll be the man to beat in the 400m hurdles. Kyron McMaster will be chasing hard and could challenge.
In the women’s 800m, Brit Keely Hodgkinson, the British national record-holder (1.55.88), is the one to beat.Hodgkinson is a tough competitor and has a good tactical head on her shoulders. Her countrywoman Jemma Reekie and the Jamaican Goule will possibly challenge.
On the programme are a number of events, showcasing local juniors and open events, as well as a wheelchair race. It is a great innovation to include local competitors at an event of this calibre and it looks to be an engrossing night’s athletics.