By Jonathan Gault
July 7, 2020
Thursday’s Weltklasse Zürich Inspiration Games has two things crucial to any track meet taking place during quarantine: star power and a way to watch it live. As fun as it is to watch Donavan Brazier crush people two days after the fact, nothing can replace live competition.
This being the era of COVID-19, this year’s Inspiration Games won’t have quite the same buzz as the meet it’s replacing: Weltklasse Zürich, traditionally the world’s best one-day track meet. The stands won’t be packed, the fields will be capped at three athletes per event, and the 30 athletes entered will be competing in six countries across 10 time zones. But the Swiss, known for their timing precision, will endeavor to preserve the feel of head-to-head competition by using synchronized starts, split screens, and a two-minute delay to ensure all proceeds smoothly.
There’s plenty to be excited about. Four reigning world champs will be in action — Dalilah Muhammad, Noah Lyles, Sam Kendricks, and Christian Taylor — plus megastars Allyson Felix, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, and Andre De Grasse. One reason Zurich was able to secure all those stars? The prize money — $10,000 for first, $6,000 for second, and $4,000 for third — is in line with a traditional Diamond League meet.
One more bonus: fans will get to see the newly-renovated Hilmer Lodge Stadium at Mt. SAC, which was originally scheduled to host the 2020 US Olympic Trials before USATF yanked the meet and awarded it to Eugene. Felix, Muhammad, pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi, and triple jumper Omar Craddock will all run their events at Mt. SAC on Thursday.
Let’s run through each event quickly below (the meet will be team-scored, with each athlete representing either Europe, North America, or the Rest of the World).
What: 2020 Weltklasse Zürich Inspiration Games
Where: Letzigrund Stadium, Zurich, Switzerland, and various remote sites
When: Thursday, July 9
|Sam Kendricks||USA||NA||Bradenton (USA)|
|Piotr Lisek||POL||E||Karlstad (SWE)|
|Valentin Lavillenie||FRA||W||Aubière (FRA)|
Kendricks and Lisek were part of a great men’s pole vault at the World Championships in Doha last year with Kendricks repeating as champion and Lisek taking the bronze behind him. They haven’t competed against each other since.
Kendricks should be favored. He was a distant third in the Ultimate Garden Clash behind Renaud Lavillenie and Mondo Duplantis back on May 3, but the traditional format in Zurich should favor the methodical Kendricks, who cleared 6.01m indoors back in February. Meanwhile, Lisek could only manage 5.35 in his most recent competition on Saturday in Gothenburg.
Women’s Pole Vault (1:35 p.m. ET)
|Sandi Morris||USA||NA||Bradenton (USA)|
|Angelica Bengtsson||SWE||E||Karlstad (SWE)|
|Ekaterini Stefanidi||GRE||W||Walnut (USA)|
Morris vs. Stefanidi has been the event’s best rivalry in recent years. And though Stefanidi, the reigning Olympic champ, once held a commanding 17-9 head-to-head edge, the two have been fairly even since the start of 2018, with Morris posting nine wins to Stefanidi’s seven.
Morris took their most recent matchup at last year’s Worlds, and was in good form before the pandemic hit, clearing 4.91m at Millrose in February. But since then, Morris has missed time with a knee injury, while Stefanidi prevailed in the women’s Ultimate Garden Clash on May 16.
Men’s Triple Jump (2:05 p.m. ET)
|Omar Craddock||USA||NA||Walnut (USA)|
|Pedro Pablo Pichardo||POR||E||Lissabon (POR)|
|Christian Taylor||USA||W||Bradenton (USA)|
Taylor, who has won the last four global titles, is the favorite whenever he steps onto a triple jump runway. But he only managed 16.75m on Saturday in Clermont — he’s usually well over 17 meters — which Taylor called a “wake-up call” in the pre-meet press conference. Craddock was the US runner-up this year indoors, while Pichardo, a frequent rival of Taylor’s and the fifth-longest jumper in history, was 4th at Worlds in 2019.
Women’s 150m (2:10 p.m. ET)
|Allyson Felix||USA||NA||Walnut (USA)|
|Mujinga Kambundji||SUI||E||Zürich (SUI)|
|Shaunae Miller-Uibo||BAH||W||Bradenton (USA)|
Miller-Uibo, who looked strong on Saturday with a 22.61/50.52 double win at the Showdown in OTown, is clearly favored here, with the main question how fast can she run. She owns the world best over 150m straight (16.23 in Boston in 2018), but the overall world best of 16.10 seems beyond reach, considering it was set by Florence Griffith Joyner en route to her 21.34 200 WR at the 1988 Olympics.
Home favorite Mujinga Kambundji will be her biggest challenger, and could even pull the upset — remember, she was the bronze medalist at Worlds in the 200 last year, and her 10.95 100 pb is significantly better than Miller-Uibo’s 11.19. It will be key for Miller-Uibo to get up to top speed quickly because Kambundji is the much stronger starter; Miller-Uibo can’t spot her too much ground early.
Felix, realistically, won’t be much of a factor here. Though she did run 16.36 for a straight 150 back in 2013 — a world best at the time — she’s now 34 years old and focused on the 400. This event is too short — and Kambundji and Miller-Uibo too good — to expect Felix to contend.
Men’s 100 yards (2:27 p.m. ET)
|Andre De Grasse||CAN||NA||Bradenton (USA)|
|Jimmy Vicaut||FRA||E||Bradenton (USA)|
|Omar McLeod||JAM||W||Bradenton (USA)|
The only thing anyone cares about in a gimmicky event like 100 yards is the world best, which stands at 9.0 (hand-timed) by Ivory Crockett and Houston McTear from the 1970s and 9.07 (FAT) by Asafa Powell en route to a 9.83 100m in 2010. Other men have covered 100 yards faster (an even-paced 9.58 for 100m would produce a split of 8.76 at 100 yards), but those are the marks De Grasse, Vicaut, and McLeod will be shooting for.
This race will benefit from true head-to-head competition — all three guys will be on the same track — but don’t expect any records to fall. De Grasse only managed 10.15 and 10.17 in a couple of 100m runs in Clermont on Saturday, and none of the three have ever run 9.83, the en-route time that would suggest the fitness to challenge the world best.
Women’s 300m hurdles (2:41 p.m. ET)
|Dalilah Muhammad||USA||NA||Walnut (USA)|
|Lea Sprunger||SUI||E||Zürich (SUI)|
|Zuzana Hejnová||CZE||W||Papendal/Arnhem (NED)|
We’ve already seen one 300m hurdles world best go down during this pandemic. Now 400 hurdles world champ/world record holder Dalilah Muhammad will attempt to do the same on the women’s side. The target is 38.16 by the Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnova (who is also in this race) in 2013, and it won’t be easy. Hejnova ran that time when she was at peak fitness — just two weeks before her 52.83 pb, which she ran to win the 2013 world title. Muhammad, with her 52.16 pb, has obviously run faster for 400 hurdles, but there’s no guarantee she’ll be able to come straight out in sub-53 shape in her first meet in nine months.
Men’s 200 (3:06 p.m. ET)
|Noah Lyles||USA||NA||Bradenton (USA)|
|Christophe Lemaitre||FRA||E||Zürich (SUI)|
|Churandy Martina||NED||W||Papendal/Arnhem (NED)|
Undoubtedly, this is the event of the night — one of track’s biggest stars racing his best distance. No conversions or qualifiers necessary here; when someone runs a 200, we know right away if it’s fast or not.
I’ve often felt that Noah Lyles is so exciting that I’d be willing to watch him compete in a 200 against himself. That’s basically what is happening on Thursday, as he’ll be the only man on the track in Florida when he takes on Christophe Lemaitre and Churandy Martina virtually.
Lyles is fit right now. Back in June, he clocked 14.46 for 150 and 31.51 for 300 in time trials. 14.46 is exceptionally quick; the world best for 150 on a curve is 14.44, set by Usain Bolt during his 19.19 200 WR in 2009. And 31.51 isn’t that far off Wayde van Niekerk‘s 30.81 300 world best. Most recently, Lyles ran 9.93 (with a big 4.0 tailwind) on Saturday to beat Justin Gatlin over 100m in Florida. So Lyles seems ready to rip something under 20 seconds on Thursday — perhaps well under, should conditions cooperate in Florida.
Women’s 3×100 relay (3:20 p.m. ET)
Weltklasse always ends with a 4×100, and the Inspiration Games are keeping the tradition alive (sort of) with a 3×100 to conclude proceedings.