Semenya, Obiri, Ta Lou confident of Zurich wins

Caster Semenya of South Africa celebrates after winning the Women's 800m competition at the IAAF Diamond League meeting at the stade Charlety in Paris EPA/Ian Langsdon

While a number of Africa's best athletes will be leading contenders to win their respective IAAF Diamond League finals, three women stand out.

Caster Semenya, Marie-Josée Ta Lou and Hellen Obiri will all be confident of bringing Diamond Trophies back to the continent from Thursday's Weltklasse meeting in Zurich, which serves as the first leg of the IAAF Diamond League finals.

In Semenya's case, if there was a term more emphatic than 'odds-on-favourite', then the South African would be it come the 800m at 20:13 (CAT). The 27-year-old hasn't been beaten in a race that matters of her favoured discipline since the 2015 World Championships, and has been in imperious form this year too... adding Commonwealth Games and African titles to her endless list of honours.

She won the Paris Diamond League meeting in a world leading time of 1:54.25, which happens to not only be her personal best but the fourth-fastest 800m ever run. For good measure she followed it up in Monaco with the sixth-fastest time ever run...

That said, when media at the pre-finals press conference quizzed Semenya about her expectations in Zurich (and Brussels where she will take on the 1500m), she wouldn't be drawn into talking about the record books.

"For me the main focus is to run my own race and focus on my rhythm... we line up to win the Diamond Trophy but if the times come then they come," she said.

Be that as it may, spectators at Letzigrund should be prepared for a quick race. After all, Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba ended up topping the rankings over the course of the season (because she ran in more events and thus accrued more points), while fellow Africans Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia and Morocco's Rababe Arafi have also run their lifetime bests in 2018. Then there's the USA's Ajee Wilson who has followed up her bronze at London 2017 with silver at the World Indoor Championships and the North and Central America title this year.

"I respect my opponents, and I expect the same thing so it's not about what happened in Paris... or in Monaco... it's all about what will go down in the final. It's a different day, a different field ... but the ultimate goal is to entertain people."

It's a given that there'll be fast times and entertainment when the women's 100m takes place at 20:40 (CAT), and 2018 form would suggest a given that Marie-Josée Ta Lou emerges victorious too.

The 29-year-old Ivorian came into this season on the back of a year filled with 'so close, but not so cigar' as she had to settle for silver in both the 100m and 200m at the IAAF World Championships in London. Ta Lou also had a number of other runner-up finishes in Diamond League meetings which would have tested her resolve.

Nonetheless, there's been a role reversal this year. In the Diamond League alone she has claimed 100m wins in each of the four meetings she has run in -- namely Doha which started the season, Eugene in the USA, as well as Lausanne and Monaco (the most-recent European legs which counted for points). Ta Lou also easily claimed the African title -- the sprint double in fact -- in Asaba, Nigeria at the start of the month.

As such, all that is left for her to do to round off a dream year is do what she has been doing up to this point. As an aside, Ta Lou spoke about the effect that her successful last two seasons has been having.

"I've been receiving many messages this year from all over which say that I am not just representing Ivory Coast but the whole continent. So I'm really happy for that and to be a model for other athletes from Africa; that shows me that it's not just about winning or losing."

As it happens, Ta Lou will be joined in the final by her compatriot Murielle Ahouré (who won the world indoor title in March), as well as Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor and South Africa's Carina Horn in a further fillip for women's athletics in Africa.

However, Ta Lou's likely challengers for the Diamond Trophy will come from the non-Africans; namely Dina Asher-Smith (Great Britain), Dafne Schippers (Netherlands), Swiss favourite Mujinga Kambundji and Michelle Lee-Ahye (Trinidad & Tobago).

Asher-Smith (22) stands out because her breakout year has not only seen her claim the European 100m-200m double but also match Ta Lou's 10.85m in winning the former in Berlin just a few weeks back... so an intriguing head-to-head looms.

Of the African trio with a compelling chance of claiming a Diamond Trophy, Hellen Obiri finds herself in the most precarious position. Apart from the fact that the 5000m is stacked with talent, the 28-year-old Kenyan hasn't had as much of an all-conquering year as Semenya and Ta Lou or what she had herself in 2017 when she won the final.

Obiri had a chastening start to the Diamond League season when she finished a lowly 14th in Doha, and most recently had to settle for third in Birmingham. However, apart from the fact those races were won by her compatriots Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui and Agnes Tirop respectively, they were were also contested over 3000m rather than 5000m.

Over the longer distance Obiri has been far more consistent, winning the Commonwealth Games title in April, the Kenyan title ahead of Lilian Kasait Rengeruk in June and setting the world lead of 14:21.75 while winning the Rabat Diamond League in mid-July.

As such, she will be confident in her ability to hold off not only her Kenyan compatriots but also long-term rival and double-indoor champion Genzebe Dibaba (as she did in Rabat), the other Ethiopians in Senbere Teferi and Letensebet Gidey as well as dark horse Sifan Hassan -- the Ethiopia-born Dutch runner who'll be rushing off to Brussels to compete in her favoured 1500m.

"I'm here to win the final," Obiri said at the pre-meeting press conference. "I know it will be very very tough with Hassan here and Dibaba and that it's a strong field, but me too, I'm also very strong and at the end of the day there will be one winner."