Field event champions return to Diamond League action in Shanghai
Luvo Manyonga, Sam Kendricks and Gong Lijiao all enjoyed impressive early season victories at the Shanghai meeting last year before going on to clinch gold at the London World Championships and claim the 2017 Diamond League trophies for their events last August.
Manyonga stunned the Shanghai Stadium 12 months ago when he leapt to a Diamond League record of 8.61 metres to beat a much-fancied trio of homegrown long jumpers by almost 40cm and set him on the road to overall success on the world’s premier one-day meeting circuit.
Manyonga had jumped an African record of 8.65m just a few weeks earlier and remained undefeated throughout the 2017 season as he picked up the world title in London and the Diamond League crown in Zürich with leaps of 8.48m and 8.49m respectively.
The South African returns to Shanghai this year with yet another garland around his neck after winning gold at last month’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with a 2018 world lead of 8.41m.
The 26-year-old may need to go beyond that to retain his Shanghai crown, however, for he not only faces the three promising Chinese jumpers he held at bay last year but also Cuba’s teenage sensation, Juan Miguel Echevarria, who beat him by 2cm to win the world indoor title in March.
Echevarria, a former world youth and world junior finalist, triumphed at his first senior global championships when he sailed out to a personal best of 8.46m in Birmingham and will be keen to leave a mark on his Diamond League debut.
As for the domestic threat, Gao Xinglong will hope to move up the podium after placing second to Manyonga last year, while Huang Changzhou and Shi Yuhao will be looking for a boost from their home crowd.
Home support helped carry Gong to shot put victory last year when she came under pressure from USA’s Daniella Bunch before claiming her third win at the Shanghai meeting with a best of 19.46m.
That was just the start of a dream season for the 29-year-old who had previously amassed four world championship and three Olympic medals in her career, but never a gold.
That all changed in London last August when a fifth round throw of 19.94m handed Gong the world title ahead of Anita Márton. She duly added the Diamond League crown in Zürich a fortnight later and ended the year with only one defeat from 12 meetings.
Márton will be one of Gong’s main opponents again in Shanghai on 12 May, as will Bunch, now known as Daniella Hill. The 29-year-old Márton will be full of confidence after breaking the Hungarian record to win the world indoor title in Birmingham while Hill will be aiming for her first Diamond League victory after three second places last year.
Jamaica’s newly crowned Commonwealth champion, Danniel Thomas-Dodd, is also in the field, as is the woman she beat at the Gold Coast Games – Valerie Adams, New Zealand’s double Olympic and four-time world champion who returns to Shanghai for the first time since winning here 2010.
USA’s world and Olympic finalist, Raven Saunders, shouldn’t be discounted, nor should Gong’s teammate, Gao Yang, who has just missed out on medals at recent indoor and outdoor world championships.
If anything, Kendricks’ challenge will be even tougher as he tries to complete a Shanghai treble after victories here in 2016 and 2017, on both occasions clearing 5.88m.
Kendricks went on to land his first six-metre vault at the US championships last June and took his first global title in London two months later ahead of Poland’s Piotr Lisek and the flying Frenchman, world record holder Renaud Lavillenie.
That pair will be among his chief challengers in a high-quality Shanghai field with Lavillenie looking for his first win here since 2014 after placing second in 2016 and 2017. The 31-year-old got revenge on Kendricks in Birmingham earlier this year when he added a third world indoor title to his 2012 Olympic crown and already leads the world outdoor lists with 5.95m this year.
Three former world champions, Shawnacy Barber, Raphael Holzdeppe and Pawel Wojciechowski, are also in the line-up, as is Kurtis Marschall who thrilled Australian fans by winning the Commonwealth Games title on the Gold Coast last month.
The three-pronged Chinese challenge will be led by Xue Changrui who was fourth at the World Championships in London last summer.
The 2018 Shanghai Diamond League meeting on 12 May will include 16 events, eight for men (100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 110m hurdles, pole vault, long jump) and eight for women (200m, 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles, 3000m steeplechase, high jump, triple jump, shot put, javelin).