1. Can anyone challenge Dafne Schippers in the 60 meters?
Since shifting her focus from the heptathlon to the sprints, Dafne Schippers has established herself as a force to be reckoned with. The 23-year-old Dutch sensation was second in the 100 meters and won the 200 meters in last summer’s World Outdoor Championship in Beijing. Her 1.78m (5’10”) stature would seem to be a slight disadvantage in the 60 meters, but Schippers has been on a roll so far in 2016, and is undefeated in eight races (including preliminaries). If she gets a challenge today, it could come from American Barbara Pierre, whose 7.00 time from the U.S. Indoor Championships last weekend matches Schippers’ season best. Among the other top contenders is Great Britain’s pair of Dina Asher-Smith and Asha Philip.
2. Could there be an Ethiopian sweep in the women’s 1500 despite no Dibaba?
It would be a safe bet to pick one of the three Ethiopian runners to prevail in the 1500 even without world record holder Genzebe Dibaba in the race. Although she is only 19 and still short on championship experience, Dawit Seyaum has a season best of 4:00.28 and has to rank as one of the favorites after her fourth-place finish in Beijing 2015. Gudaf Tsegay is also just 19 and has new world junior indoor record to her credit. Axumawit Embaye, 21, doesn’t have quite the resume of her compatriots, with a season best of 4:06.11, but did win the IAAF world tour. Outside this trio, Ethipian-born Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands has the talent and experience to win gold. American Brenda Martinez has a world bronze in the 800, but must be considered a dark-horse medal candidate in this field.
3. Can American Boris Berian continue his meteoric rise in the men’s 800?
Boris Berian is one of the great rags-to-almost riches in recent years. Just two years ago he was on the far fringe of the sport, working at a McDonald’s and training on his own after working his shift. Then he was invited to join Brenda Martinez and her coach/husband Carlos Handler to train at Big Bear, California, and in 2015 Berian broke through with the fastest time by an American in the 800. This is his first experience in an international championship meet, and it should be fascinating to see how he does on the big stage. Mo Aman of Ethiopia trains in Eugene with the OTC Elite group so has the comfort of being close to his adopted home. Aman is just 20 but has more big meet experience than anyone else in the field and is the defending world indoor champion.
4. Gianmarco Tamberi: Contender or Pretender in a possibly epic battle with Mutaz Essa Barshim?
If there was no Mutaz Essa Barshim in the picture, it would be easy to pick Gianmarco Tamberi to win gold in the high jump. The flamboyant Italian, known last season for his “half-beard,” has a world-leading 2.38m (7-9¾) and is undefeated so far this season. But in these championships he is up against the second-best jumper of all time in Barshim, who has been a fixture on the world stage for the past five years. Though at 24 he is just a year older than Tamberi, there is a vast difference in medals and experience. Barshim is the defending world indoor champion and has a best of 2.41m (7-10¾) indoors.
5. Yulimar Rojas: A South American Star is Born?
20-year-old Yulimar Rojas has the world-leading mark in the triple jump by more than half a meter. Though she is the 2015 South American champion, Rojas has limited international experience, but is coached by the great Cuban jumper Ivan Pedroso, who won five consecutive world indoor titles in the long jump. Rojas is the sole female athlete from Venezuela at these championships but could bring home triple jump gold.