Pole vault stars to light up Shanghai Diamond League
Olympic champion and Brazilian hero Thiago Braz makes his Shanghai debut at the start of a 2017 outdoor season when he hopes to add the World Championship crown to the Olympic gold he won so memorably late one night in Rio last August.
The 23-year-old broke the Brazilian and South American record twice in the Olympic final as he enthralled the delirious home supporters by defeating the reigning champion and world number one, Renaud Lavillenie.
Braz soared to 6.03m in Rio to lead the world rankings for 2016 and would no doubt be delighted if he can approach that barrier-breaking height once more.
The two will lock horns again in Shanghai as Lavillenie also launches his Diamond League campaign on 13 May. The Frenchman will be looking for a maximum points as he bids to win the Diamond Trophy for a record eighth time.
The 30-year-old three-times European champion makes no secret of his love for the Diamond League having won the Race more times than any other athlete.
At the Weltklasse meeting in Zürich last September, the 2012 Olympic champion clinched his seventh Trophy when he cleared 5.90m, maintaining his record as the only athlete in any event to have won the Diamond League every year since the circuit of world-class one-day meetings started in 2010.
After losing both his Olympic and European titles last year, he will be keen to kick-start the 2017 summer season with another victory at China’s top-ranked international athletics meeting.
He won the Shanghai meeting in 2014 but was beaten last year by Sam Kendricks. The US vaulter leapt 5.88m in the Shanghai Stadium 12 months ago and went on to bag a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.
The stellar line-up also includes the last two outdoor world champions as Germany’s Moscow 2013 champion, Raphael Holzdeppe, and Canada’s Shawn Barber, the victor from the Beijing 2015 World Championships, are also in the field.
Holzdeppe finished second to Barber in Beijing two years ago but has been struggling to find top form since then, while Barber was third in Shanghai last May but could only finish 10th in Rio.
Both will feel they have a point to prove as they take on the three Rio Olympic medallists on 13 May.