Simbine, Africa's finest looking to shine in Diamond League finale

South Africa's Akani Simbine will know that Ronnie Baker is the man to beat if he wants to claim a surprise Diamond Trophy in Brussels, Belgium Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

If Thursday night's first leg of the IAAF Diamond League finals provided drama and surprises in Zurich, then the same can be expected from the remaining finals set for Brussels on Friday.

A further 16 champions will be crowned at the 42nd AG Van Damme Memorial with a combination of nine reigning world champions, eight defending world champions and a dozen 2018 world leaders set to thrill the fans inside the King Baudouin Stadium.

Of course, Africa's best will -- as usual -- be among the leading candidates to add to the excitement by either confirming their status as world leaders or making use of the championship-style format adopted last year to upset the favourites.


The latter will be the case in the 100m final at 20:54 (CAT) which has been billed as 'Ronnie Baker vs. Christian Coleman Round 4' (Baker leads 2-1 this season), but provides Akani Simbine with the chance of providing a plot twist.

The 24-year-old South African finished fourth in the standings following the qualification phase of the season; thanks to a 5th in Rome, 4th in Paris, 3rd in London and 6th in Birmingham. Counting against him, though, result is that he failed to beat either of the American favourites or Reece Prescod, the Briton who finished third in the standings.

However, Simbine's season's best of 9.93 in London last month is better than either Coleman or Prescod have managed this season, which should give him the confidence that he can outperform them on finals day. That leaves Baker, who has been imperious in winning four Diamond League races and lowered his lifetime best to 9.87 last week in Poland; but Marie-Josée Ta Lou showed last night that finals pressure can get to even the most clear-cut of favourites.

Simbine will be the lone competitor from South Africa in action on Friday night in Brussels after Caster Semenya decided against attempting the 800m-1500m double and Khotso Mokoena (triple jump) and Antonio Alkana (110m hurdles) failed to qualify for their respective finals.

It will be much the same for Nigeria's Tobi Amusan, who'll run in the 100m hurdles at 21:15 (CAT), because Ese Brume didn't secure a place in the long jump never mind the fact that Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor was disqualified after a false start in the 100m final last night.

Amusan claimed the Commonwealth Games title in April, but has not been able to break up the American triumvirate of Kendra Harrison, Brianna McNeil and Sharika Nelvis who'll battle it out for the Diamond Trophy.


As such, Africa's interest in goings on at the AG Memorial Van Damme will largely be focussed on Kenyans and Ethiopians.

Kenya's Mathew Sawe will be first to make an appearance at King Baudouin Stadium when he takes part in the high jump, starting at 19:45 (CAT). The 30-year-old African champion was only a late addition to the 12-man field having finished the regular season in joint-13th on the standings, so should be looking to improve that placing or be inspired to challenge his personal best of 2.30m set in June.

In truth, his exploits are likely to be be overshadowed by those of his compatriots in the women's 3000m steeplechase and men's 800m finals.

Considering Beatrice Chepkoech shattered the world record with a stunning 8:44.32 run in Monaco last month, before then claiming the African title, the Diamond Trophy would seem hers to lose at 20:11 (CAT). However, Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi's back-to-back wins in Rome and Oslo earlier in the season helped her finish atop the standings and proved that she can't be discounted, though she doesn't have the flat-out pace that the 27-year-old Chepkoech does. Norah Jeruto and Celliphine Chespol will be looking to complete a Kenyan sweep of the podium.

Similarly, Emmanuel Korir claimed wins in Doha, Eugene, London and Birmingham and his 1:42.05 run in London is the fastest in the world for six years. What price then that veteran Ferguson Rotich, Commonwealth champion Wycliffe Kinyamal or Jonathan Kitilit can shock him on Friday at 21:02 (CAT)?


Meanwhile, the Ethiopians should come into their own in the women's 1500m and men's 5000m -- which will conclude African interest in the Diamond League for 2018.

Unusually, Gudaf Tsegay will largely fight a lone battle for the continent in the 1500m at 20:41 (CAT). The Ethiopian, still only 21, won in Stockholm in a personal best time of 3:57.64 but will have a tough battle on her hands to claim the win.

Ordinarily Ethiopia-born Dutch runner Sifan Hassan, winner at the London mile and Birmingham 1500m, would be considered a favourite but she pushed hard to finish second in the 5000m in Zurich last night. That brings Eugene and Lausanne winner Shelby Houlihan into firm contention not least because her improved personal best of 3:57.54 makes her the fastest in the field. A tactical race would bring Briton Laura Muir, American Jenny Simpson and Rababe Arafi of Morocco into 'dark-horse winner' territory.

Though Ethiopian hopes are pretty much nailed on in the 5000m (21:22, CAT), picking a likely winner is not. Four qualification races were held and Selemon Barega won in Stockholm and finished second in Lausanne while his compatriot Yomif Kejelcha, a two-time world indoor 3000m champion, won in Rabat and finished third in London.

They start as clear favourites to duel for the Diamond Trophy. However, there is also Abadi Hadis, Getaneh Molla, and world champion Muktar Edris who will all look at the absence of Birhanu Balew, the Ethiopia-born Bahraini who set this year's world leading time in Lausanne, as their own opportunity for a major title.