Olympic 100m champ Jacobs back in limelight at athletics worlds vs. hungry field
Italian sprinter slowed by injuries; distance runner Niyonsaba out with foot issue
A reigning Olympic champion rediscovering his form, a defending world champion with a point to prove and the fastest man in 2022 will headline a packed 100-metre field when the World Athletics Championships get underway Friday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
Olympic gold medallist Marcell Jacobs returns to the big stage after muscle injuries ruled him out of several Diamond League meets and the Italian has been far from his best this season.
Having stunned the world with a European record time of 9.80 seconds in the Olympic final last summer in Tokyo, Jacobs has since been out of the limelight and not run a sub-10 second race — without wind assistance — this year despite winning his fifth national title last month.
"If it were up to me, I would compete at every opportunity, but this is what sport is all about. We are human beings, not machines," Jacobs said before he headed to Eugene early to "test the waters."
The Italian is up against stiff competition with a group of American sprinters vying for the title and ensuring the gold returns to the United States for a third consecutive time -- none more so than Christian Coleman.
WATCH | Jacobs 1st Italian to win Olympic 100-metre gold medal:
The 26-year-old beat former champion Justin Gatlin to win gold at the worlds two years ago in Doha but an 18-month suspension for breaching anti-doping whereabouts rules prevented him from a shot at Olympic glory.
Since his return, Coleman warmed up with two sub-10 finishes last month at the New York Grand Prix and the USA Track & Field (USATF) Championships, also held at Hayward Field.
Coleman has had his eye firmly set on defending his world title since the day it was confirmed he would miss the Tokyo Games. Although he did not run in the USATF championships final, he has a wildcard entry for the worlds.
WATCH | CBC Sports explains the 100-metre dash:
Both Jacobs and Coleman will be wary of Olympic silver medallist Fred Kerley, the American who ran the fastest 100 this season in 9.76 last month.
Kerley has displayed incredible versatility to switch from the 400 to focus on the shorter distances to become the sixth-fastest man in history.
He underlined his credentials when he beat both Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell, who won Diamond League gold at Eugene, by a huge margin to win at the USATF championships where all seven finalists ran in under 10 seconds.
"I'm producing consistent times and a bomb will drop eventually," Kerley had said after the race, adding that he was eyeing Usain Bolt's world record of 9.58 seconds.
"I put the work in, and I actually expected something faster, but I'll wait until the World Championships."
Signs of stress fracture
Francine Niyonsaba withdrew from worlds on Monday with a foot injury, just when she looked to be a good bet for her first major medal in the 5,000 metres after being forced to switch to long-distance events by the contentious testosterone rules.
Niyonsaba said on Instagram she had signs of a stress fracture a month ago and, although she was almost fully recovered, she missed too much training. She said she was "extremely sorry" to withdraw.
Burundi's Niyonsaba is a former Olympic and worlds silver medalist in the 800 but was barred from that event by regulations governing athletes with intersex conditions known as 46,XY differences in sex development.
Those are the same rules that have kept South Africa's two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya out of the 800 for the last three years.
The rules, which were introduced in 2019, force athletes with 46, XY DSD to undergo treatment to reduce their high natural testosterone to below a threshold set by World Athletics if they want to compete in certain female events.
Semenya, Niyonsaba and other DSD athletes have declined to do that since the latest rules were put in place and have been banned from competing in distances from 400 meters to one mile. World Athletics says the natural high testosterone gives them an unfair advantage in those female competitions, though the world body's scientific evidence to back that up has been questioned.
Semenya and Niyonsaba have switched to the 5,000 because it doesn't fall under the rules, and Niyonsaba has had promising results after reinventing herself as a long-distance athlete.
She won the 5K race at the Diamond League final last September, beating two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya. Niyonsaba qualified for the 5,000 final at last year's Tokyo Olympics only to be disqualified after her heat because of a lane infringement. She has said it was an unfair disqualification.
Semenya's return to major event
She also finished fifth in the 10,000 final in Tokyo and entered the 5,000 and 10,000 at worlds in Eugene.
While Niyonsaba will miss out, Semenya is set to run in the 5,000 in Eugene and make her first appearance at a major championship since the worlds in 2017, when she and Niyonsaba finished 1-2 in the 800. Semenya was a surprise inclusion for the 5,000 at the worlds after she missed the qualifying mark but was given a place after higher-ranked runners didn't enter.
The South African's return to the big stage comes just weeks after World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said the body will review its rules on DSD and transgender athletes competing in female events by the end of the year.
Changes to the DSD rules may totally exclude the likes of Semenya, Niyonsaba and 200-meter Olympic silver medalist Christine Mboma from all female competitions.
The move by World Athletics to review and possibly extend its restrictions came after swimming world body FINA announced last month it was effectively banning transgender women from female competitions. That announcement appears to have emboldened track and field to make its regulations stricter.
Currently, DSD and transgender athletes can compete in track if they reduce their testosterone levels. There are currently no openly transgender women in top-level international track and field.
Semenya and Niyonsaba are not transgender but have the intersex condition 46, XY DSD, which means they have both male and female traits. They were assigned female at birth, raised as girls, and have always identified as women.
The transgender and DSD issues are separate but have crossover in sport because they essentially deal with the same debate: Whether women with natural testosterone levels higher than the typical female range should be allowed to compete in female events.
Reigning 400m champ sidelined
Bahamas' Olympic and world 400-metre champion Steven Gardiner he will not defend his world title due to UTE tendon inflammation, he said Monday.
"Instead of putting on my spikes I've been advised to put on a walking boot," he said in an Instagram post. "Devastated by the news but I'm thankful for all the blessing in my career so far."
The World Athletics Championships, which are in the United States for the first time, are set to begin Friday with a handful of late withdrawals, including Olympic women's marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir, who misses out with a right hip injury.
Gardiner, who also collected silver at the 2017 worlds, was the fifth-fastest in the 400 this season and won the Paris Diamond League meet in June.
With files from The Associated Press