Sally Pearson offers Australia their best chance of Olympic gold on the track next month, as the 100 metres hurdles world champion should demonstrate at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
All the athletes hope this event will be a dry run before the London Games. I say “dry run”, because Britain has experienced its wettest summer in a century, and storms have battered the old south London athletics stadium all week ahead of the two-day IAAF Diamond League event which gets underway on Friday afternoon. Cold, wet weather will put a damper on performances.
While this might add a tenth of a second or more to Pearson’s winning time, it is unlikely to slow her sufficiently to see her get beaten in this race. The 25-year-old from Sydney leaps the 10 flights like a kangaroo, her 12.40sec performance in winning in Paris last weekend putting her even further ahead on the 2012 world rankings.
Pearson has five of the eight fastest performances of the year, and she’s more than 0.1sec quicker than her closest rival on paper, Brigitte Foster-Hylton. The 1.17 offered on Pearson winning at the Diamond League is likely to be more generous than anything on offer come the Olympics.
This race looks like a dress rehearsal for the Olympics, with second favourite the American, Kellie Wells, at 10.00. In her entire career, Wells has managed to better the Aussie just twice, once in the dim and distant past of 2008, and then in Brussels at the end of last season, when Pearson was chasing a $1 million bonus for the world record and crashed to the ground.
If you want to have a dash at over-turning the odds, then surely Foster-Hylton, the veteran Jamaican No.1, is the way to go. Saturday will be just the second time that Foster-Hylton, now 37, has raced against Pearson since the Jamaican took the world title in 2009.
Foster-Hylton is in decent form this season, having clocked 12.51 seconds, and winning at the Doha Diamond League. In a race involving 10 barriers taken at maximum speed, the 15.00 is tempting. Certainly, you have to think that Foster-Hylton will beat the Tiffany Porter, the American-born athlete representing Great Britain (1.75 in the head-to-head odds).
The 400 metres races should offer useful insight into the form of the two world champions, Kirani James and Amantle Montsho. Their odds, 1.35 and 1.05 respectively, are a fair reflection of their dominance at this distance.
It was at this meeting 12 months ago that James announced himself as a contender for the Daegu world champs, but neither he nor Montsho have any serious opposition arrayed against them this weekend, so expect a virtual timetrial.
The same applies in the men’s pole vault, where Renaud Lavillenie (1.30) is the dominant force.
Four short-odds favourites might not represent the most attractive weekend accumulator, so if you are seeking a bet in a more competitive event, then the women’s 800m on Saturday offers more interest.
Front-runner Janeth Jepkosgei is the fastest in the field this year, having run 1min 57.79sec in Hengelo in May. The wonder is that Jepkosgei, the 2007 world champion, is not shorter than 2.50.
Winny Chebet, at 21, is going to her first Olympics thanks to a 2:00.33 season’s best run at altitude in the Kenyan trials last month – a vastly better performance than she has shown in races at Reims and Madrid since. Hence the 4.50 that is available.
What makes this intriguing is that, in Nairobi, Chebet beat Jepkosgei, and London will be the older woman’s first race since then. Neither is likely to win at the Olympics, but the outcome might give some indication of whether Jepkosgei will add to the silver medal she won in Beijing, or that Chebet is the rising star.
Outside the Kenyan re-match, this is quite a thin field: the American, Molly Beckwith (season’s best 1:59.18) is rated third favourite at 6.00. The problem with Beckwith is that she, like too many American distance runners, already had an exhausting season before we get to the business end, having run a dozen races inside 2:02. But having bombed at the US Olympic Trials, where she finished fourth, her season’s been rendered meaningless.
Jepkosgei to beat Beckwith at 1.40 is the easy pick. Might Chebet to win the race be the bet of the day?