The 2017 IAAF World Championships get underway on Friday as we return to the Olympic stadium in London that saw some of the most brilliant performances from the likes of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Allyson Felix.
While Farah and Bolt say their farewells to the track, Felix looks to make world championship history before continuing her path to another Olympics in 2020. Track and field has also seen the emergence of stars like Wayde Van Niekerk and Kendra Harrison in the past five years so as we turn the page on one chapter of athletics, we’re already looking at the future.
Many of the races can be watched on NBC Sports Network and streamed online with NBC Sports’ Gold Package.
Here’s a look at the top storylines and athletes to watch in London:
Will Bolt Go Out On Top?
Saturday, Aug. 5 – 4:45 p.m.
Jamaica’s sprints legend enters his final world championships in questionable shape but we’ve been here before. When doubt surrounds Usain Bolt, the greatest of all-time still manages to win. He will only be contesting the 100 meters and the 4x100 meter relay in London, which means a new champion will be crowned in the 200 meters for the first time since 2007.
Bolt’s season best of 9.95 was run at the Monaco Diamond League meet in July and it is the slowest time of his career heading into a world championship or Olympics. The U.S.’s Christian Coleman, who made headlines for his NCAA record in June and running a fast 40-yard dash, has the fastest time of the year with his 9.82. He was beaten by 2004 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin at the U.S. Championships. Bolt’s biggest threat was Olympic bronze medalist Andre DeGrasse of Canada but he injured his hamstring this week and withdrew from the championships.
Below is a look at Bolt’s margin of victory in the 100 meters since 2009:
Bolt’s winning time: 9.58 (WR)
Margin of victory: .13
(Bolt false-started at the 2011 world championships and was disqualified.)
Bolt’s winning time: 9.77
Margin of victory: .08
Bolt’s winning time: 9.79
Margin of victory: .01
Bolt already holds the record most most world championship medals by a male athlete with 13-11 of which are gold and two are silver. In London, he has a chance to tie and surpass fellow Jamaican Merlene Ottey’s record 14 medals, which she won from 1991-97.
Friday, Aug. 4 – 4:20 p.m.
Great Britain’s Mo Farah has cemented his place in the history books as one of the distance running greats of all-time by winning every global championship gold medal at 10,000 meters since 2011. In London, he will to look defend the 5,000 and 10,000 meter titles for a third consecutive world championships. It all takes place on same track that propelled him to fame at the 2012 Summer Games. Farah will race once more on the track in Zurich after the championships before focusing on road racing.
There is an American with a good chance of spoiling Farah’s party. Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo has been very vocal about his goal of dethroning the champion. At the U.S. Championships in late June, he solo’ed a 13:08.62 for the 11th fastest time of the year. Farah did beat Chelimo at the Prefontaine Classic in May.
Evan Jager’s Shot At History
Tuesday, Aug. 8 – 4:10 p.m.
There has never been a non-African world champion in the men’s steeplechase but Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager of the U.S. has a chance of becoming the first. The Kenyans are 17 for 19 at the world championships with the two other wins going to Saif Saaeed Shaheen, the Kenyan-born world record holder who competed for Qatar. Jager prevented a Kenyan sweep in Rio de Janeiro and now has the fastest time of the year with his 8:01.29 victory at the Monaco Diamond League, where the runner-up was six seconds behind. Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto has the second-fastest time of the year with his 8:04.63 from Rome in June but is reportedly injured with days to go until he competes in London.
Wayde van Niekerk threatens barrier, double
Tuesday, Aug. 8 – 4:52 p.m.
Last summer, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk stunned the world with his 43.03 world record to win gold in the 400 meters. He destroyed Michael Johnson’s record and now may have his sights set on becoming the first man to run under 43 seconds. Watching van Niekerk run is stunning as he’s able to ease up before the finish line and still run under 44 seconds. He’ll be challenged by Botswana’s Isaac Makwala and U.S.’s fresh star Fred Kerley out of Texas A&M.
Van Niekerk can also match Michael Johnson’s gold medal double feat from the 1995 world championships and become just the second man to sweep golds in both events. Van Niekerk is heavily favored in the 200 meters as the field will be without Bolt for the first time since 2003 and DeGrasse is out due to injury.
The sport may be saying farewell to Bolt but van Niekerk is lining himself up nicely to be the heir as its star. London is a fitting stage for his coronation.
Semenya outruns controversy
Sunday, Aug. 13 – 3:10 p.m.
South Africa’s Caster Semenya was the subject of a lot of criticism ahead of the Olympics due to her natural levels of higher testosterone making her stronger and faster than most women. She won gold in Rio de Janeiro and has continued to improve her times in 2017.
After Semenya won gold in the 800 meters at the 2009 world championships, the IAAF implemented a rule that limited the amount of natural testosterone for female athletes. Athletes with higher levels of testosterone needed to undergo treatment to lower their levels. Semenya’s performances fell off until the IAAF's Hyperandrogenism regulations were suspended for two years in 2015 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Semenya has since made a resurgence and the IAAF is appealing the CAS decision by citing a “significant competitive advantage” by females born with higher natural testosterone.
She recently fired back at the scrutiny by telling a South African television station: “'I don't understand when you say I have an advantage because I am a woman,” she said. 'When I pee, I pee like a woman. I don't understand when you say I'm a man or I have a deep voice. I know I am a female so there's no question for me.”
A decision by CAS has been delayed until September.
While Semenya has been unbeatable in the 800 meters, she could face a stiff challenge from Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba and American record holder Ajee Wilson, who also ran 1:55 in the Monaco race.
Semenya will also contest the 1,500 meters at a global championship for the first time. That event will precede her 800 meter races so it will be interesting to see whether that takes a toll on her.
A new Kenyan wave
Sunday, Aug. 13 – 3:30 p.m.
Last year’s Olympic final provided one of the greatest races of the Games as Matthew Centrowitz won a tactically slow race to break a 108-year drought for the U.S. in the event. Will that happen again? Not if the Kenyans want their way back on top. The 1,500 meters is a crapshoot but Kenya’s Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot and Ronald Kwemoi have run 3:30 or faster. That doesn’t even factor in the great Asbel Kiprop, who has won the past three world championship titles. Centrowitz is going to have his hands full if he wants to win his first world championship gold but watching a new generation of Kenyan stars is equally as thrilling.
Another U.S. medal sweep?
Saturday, Aug. 12 – 3:05 p.m.
Kendra Harrison was not a member of the U.S. Olympic team last summer after she finished fourth at the Olympic Trials. She still had a tremendous outdoor campaign and set the world record of 12.20 at the London Diamond League. This year, she’ll be running on the same track but in a Team USA kit with a chance of medaling. Even without their top hurdler, the U.S. still swept the 100-meter hurdles in Rio. Only Olympic silver medalist Nia Ali qualified for the world championships but the U.S. still has a very strong chance of sweeping the medals.
The best U.S. squad
Thursday, Aug. 10 – 4:35 p.m.
The 400 meter hurdles may not be the most popular event in the sport but it is arguably the U.S.’s strongest event at the moment. The U.S. Championship final was historically the fastest and it was led by Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad winning in 52.64. The top five finishers at the U.S. championships have the five fastest times in the world for 2017 but only three are in London. This is another race where Muhammad, Shamier Little and Kori Carter can bring back hardware across the pond.
Rematch of the Year
Wednesday, Aug. 9 – 4:50 p.m.
Bahamian Shaunae Miller’s dive across the finish line to win gold in the women’s 400 meters over U.S. Allyson Felix stirred up debate but was legal. The two will clash again. Felix’s 49.65 is the fastest time of the year. Miller’s season’s best of 49.77 sits as the third-fastest of the year.
Felix has 13 world championship medals and plans to run the 400, 4x100 and 4x400 so she could leave London with 16 medals, which would surpass Bolt’s possible final total of 15.
Big Boys Can Play
Sunday, Aug. 6 – 3:35 p.m.
There’s three medals but four men have recorded marks farther than 22-meters on the season. The U.S. took gold and silver last year with Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs. Those two are atop the world list with monster throws of 22.65 and 22.57, respectively. Krouser’s best puts him at No. 7 on the all-time list and Kovacs is not too far behind at No. 9. Together, they own the nine best throws of the year. Crouser is just 24 years old and so there’s a chance the world record of 23.12 by Randy Barnes could someday be his.
The World’s Best Athlete Now
Saturday, Aug. 5 and Sunday, Aug. 6
Two-time Olympic champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton is now retired but the multi-events have a star with Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam. At just 21 years old, she won gold in Rio de Janeiro and in May she scored more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon, which is something only four other women in history have accomplished. She may be the best athlete in the world at the moment and deserves much more recognition.