Crunch time for Simbine, Ta Lou et al in Diamond League

Benjamin Kigen got the better of the almost unbeatable Conseslus Kipruto in Eugene, but who will reign supreme in Rome? EPA/STEVE DIPAOLA

While the majority of Africa's premium athletes have secured their places at the IAAF Diamond League finals in Zurich and Brussels come month-end, others will still be relying on top performances at Saturday's meeting in Birmingham to do so.


That is much the case for five of the seven South African athletes entered into the various events at Alexander Stadium in England's 'second city'.

Sprinter Akani Simbine, who added the African 100m title to his Commonwealth Games crown recently, is lying joint-second behind American athlete Ronnie Baker in the overall 100m standings. As such he can run free of stress in Birmingham as he will book his spot in the series final provided he progresses through the early afternoon heats to the final which will close the meeting at 16:53 (CAT). He will be joined in the 100m event by African 200m champion Ncincilili Titi, who while out of the running for the finals will look to end the league phase on a high.

Wenda Nel's sixth place in the 400m hurdles standings also places her in a comfortable qualification spot but she will nonetheless have to run well at 15:03 (CAT) as her event is stacked and she has the second-slowest season's best of the entrants.

Things are much more on a knife-edge for 110m hurdles national record holder Antonio Alkana, as he is lying 10th in that event's rankings. His first goal on Saturday will be getting through heats too and then creating an upset in the final at 16:04 (CAT) to sneak past other contenders. Only eight positions are available for women's 3000m runners too, so Dominique Scott-Efurd (currently in 17th position in her specialist discipline) may be more focussed on breaking the nine-minute barrier for the first time this season.

World champion long jumper Luvo Manyonga (comfortably leading that event's rankings) and Zarck Visser will compete in Birmingham, but it does not form part of the official Diamond League series so will be more of a tune-up for Manyonga and confidence-booster for Visser who has struggled for form and consistency this year.


While the men's 100m has been given the blue riband billing in Birmingham and Ivorian fans will hope Arthur Cisse (Africa's second-best at the continental championships) makes it through the heats to run in it, more eyes will be on their 'golden girl' Marie-Josee Ta Lou.

Ta Lou has been unbeatable over 100m this year (though her compatriot Murielle Ahoure has accrued more Diamond League points by racing more often), but hasn't been as dominant in the 200m despite having also sealed a finals place in it. She can lay down a marker though on Saturday in what will be a stacked 200m race at 16:44 (CAT). It features world champion Dafne Schippers (they ironically have the joint-slowest season bests of the gathered field), season debutant Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, world leader Shericka Jackson, in-form European champion Dina Asher-Smith as well as Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Jenna Prandini and Gabrielle Thomas as the dark horses.

Calling a winner is nigh on impossible, but a quick race is undoubtedly in the offing.


Botswana, meanwhile, were initially also going to have a duo in action on Saturday but Isaac Makwala has taken a chance that his current joint-fourth ranking in the 400m will be enough to qualify for the finals.

Fred Kerley, the man he shares fourth with, will thus start the race as clear favourite but Makwala's compatriot Baboloki Thebe -- who claimed Comonwealth Games silver behind him -- could well stage an upset. Either way, his participation will rubber-stamp his place in the finals as he sits joint-eighth and others either side of him aren't running in Birmingham.


Kenyan participation at Saturday's meeting will be shrouded not only in grief, following the untimely death of Nicholas Bett last week, but also a cloud following the IAAF's suspension of Kipyegon Bett on Friday on doping charges.

Nonetheless, those entered in events in Birmingham will want to fly their nation's flag high, as they've done throughout the Diamond League season.

Nelly Jepkosgei has a decent chance for a win in the 1500m at 15:22 (CAT), as she will have Winny Chebet in support... but in Ethiopia-born stars Gudaf Tsegay and Sifan Hassan (who runs for the Netherlands) it will take a top effort from Jepkosgei. Either way her finals place is safe and secure.

Next up on track (15:33, CAT) will be the men's 3000m steeplechase. Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali might have the fastest season's best in the field but the Kenyan contingent will be super-charged. The dominant Conseslus Kipruto has suffered a few losses this year, not least at the feet of Benjamin Kigen (who leads the rankings) and it doesn't take overstating that the other Nicholas Bett will be highly motivated.

Come 15:49 (CAT), a Kenyan winner is almost guaranteed in the women's 3000m too... not least because Hellen Obiri (2nd), Agnes Tirop (joint-third) or Caroline Kipkirui (5th) and Lilian Rengeruk (joint-sixth) dominate the top of rankings. Obiri won the 5000m in Rabat, but hasn't had the pace in the shorter format races won by Kipkirui in Doha (who ran a personal best in setting this year's World Lead) and PB) and Rengeruk in London so that might be the deciding factor to who claims the points.

Finally, betting houses would also pay out on a Kenyan win the 800m at 16:34 (CAT). The other entrants have fast times, but Kenyans have won all the races in Diamond League this season so look no further than Jonathan Kitilit, Emmanuel Korir, Elijah Manangoi or Ferguson Rotich for the win. Korir leads the internal rivalry 3-2 over Rotich this year so they should be favourites.