Semenya among African women headlining Paris Diamond League meeting

As expected, South Africa's Caster Semenya has continued her 800m dominance over Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba and Margarat Wambui of Kenya during the IAAF Diamond League season. EPA/WALTER BIERI

African athletes will as usual be among the headline acts of Saturday's Meeting de Paris, which marks the halfway point on the road to the IAAF Diamond League finals and as a result features stacked fields.


South Africa's Antonio Alkana will be the first athlete from the continent in action, when he takes part in the men's 110m hurdles qualification races, starting at 19:17 (CAT).

Despite a star-studded list of entrants (hence the two heats), the 28-year-old has the fifth-fastest season's best so should expect to qualify for the final -- scheduled for 20:53 (CAT) -- where he would test his mettle against the likes of world silver medallist Sergey Shubenkov and world record holder Aries Merritt.

Alkana will be one of six South Africans in action on Saturday night at Charlety Stadium. He will be followed on track by Henricho Bruintjies and Thando Roto in the 100m B race (19:35, CAT), rising 200m star Luxolo Adams (at 20:30), the irrepressible Caster Semenya in her favoured 800m at 21:42 (CAT) and speedster Akani Simbine in the 100m which concludes the evening's event at 21:52 (CAT).

As usual, Semenya should be a shoe-in for full haul of points that come with a win - which would be her 25th in a row at this distance - but her usual set of chasers will be lying in wait for any slip up; namely Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba, Kenyan Margaret Wambui, Ethiopia's Habitam Alemu and Ajee Wilson from the USA.

The goals of Semenya's compatriots may not be as lofty though, as neither Bruintjies and Roto's race nor Adams' counts for Diamond League points. As such, their efforts may relate to catching the eye for further top-tier invitations. Adams, particularly, as the 21-year-old national champion lines up alongside former European champion Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, Olympic bronze medallist Christophe Lemaitre of France and former World Championships silver medallist Alonso Edward of Panama.

Simbine, of course, is well capable of doing a Semenya and winning but further encouragement for the 24-year-old should come from the fact that he is being talked off only as a dark horse... alongside 2011 world champion Yohan Blake of all people.

Instead, Saturday's 100m race is being billed as head-to-head between Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut, who has run 9.92 this season, against Ronnie Baker, who set a legal personal best of 9.90 in finishing second behind Noah Lyles's season-leading 9.88 at the US Championships in Des Moines last weekend.


As it happens, if the South Africans can only count on one victory at Meeting de Paris, then the Kenyans will settle for no less than three.

The quartet of Hyvin Kiyeng (who has now twice avenged her London 2017 defeat to Emma Coburn), Celliphine Chespol, Beatrice Chepkoech and Norah Jeruto are all running the 3000m steeplechase at 20:12 (CAT) and will expect one of them to claim the line honours. That said, it was Jamaica's Aisha Praught-Leer who claimed the Commonwealth Games title in April and she would gleefully claim another upset win should the Kenyans take her presence for granted.

Timothy Cheruiyot has also been the form 1500m runner this season and would back himself to beat all comers again at 20:39 (CAT). However, apart from having to keep an eye on his compatriots Charles Simotwo, Bethwell Birgen and Vincent Kibet the race also features the Ethiopian duo of Aman Wote and Taresa Tolosa, Ayanleh Souleiman from Djibouti and Norwegian Filip Ingebrigtsen to suggest a quick race is in the offing.

In another non-Diamond League race, the men's 800m at 21:10 (CAT), Commonwealth champion Jonathan Kitilit, Alfred Kipketer and Ferguson Rotich will be aiming to claim another middle-distance win in Paris but to do so they will have to overcome what should be fevered home support for home world champion Pierre-Ambroise Bosse... as such a cat and mouse game between could prove dangerous.


The presence of another local, Brigitte Ntiamoah, in the women's 200m race (21:33, CAT) should keep the noise at fever pitch but it may well be Ivory Coast's Marie-Josee Ta Lou basking in it.

The 29-year-old has extended the best form of her career into a second year, confirmed by her three IAAF Diamond League race wins and having the two fastest 100m times so far this season. Intriguingly the 200m list is headed by Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor on 22.04, but Ta Lou will be looking to get the better American duo Jenna Prandini and Kyra Jefferson, as well as the ever-improving Shericka Jackson from Jamaica in Paris.

Meanwhile, while Ta Lou is well-established as a contender, Arthur Gue Cissé will be an even more outside bet than Simbine and Blake in the meeting closing 100m. That said, the 21-year-old has run a career best 9.94 this year which should mark him out as a bigger threat and future hope than currently mentioned.