Athletics: Twelve rising stars to watch at Track & Field World Champs

From Abby Steiner to Erriyon Knighton, Favour Ofili to Sasha Zhoya, we've picked out six men and six women who could have breakout performances at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene.

By ZK Goh

When the 2022 World Athletics Championships begin at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene, USA, on 15 July, all eyes will be on the stars of track and field. Names like Allyson Felix, Athing Mu, Armand Duplantis, and Mutaz Essa Barshim will dominate the global headlines.

But there's also a fast-rising group of younger athletes, ranging from their late teens to early 20s, who are ready to burst onto the international stage and grab some of that attention for themselves. From the likes of the hosts' women's 200m hope Abby Steiner to Morocco's next big thing in 800m Moad Zahafi, has picked out 12 younger stars – six men and six women – to keep an eye on in Eugene. The list is presented in alphabetical order by last name.

Ackeem Blake, Jamaica, 20 - men's 100m, men's 4x100m

Team Jamaica are no strangers to producing some of the world's very best sprinters, and they may have found their next star in the making in Ackeem Blake. The 20-year-old has recently become the latest Jamaican to go sub-10 in the men's 100m. Having previously had a best of 10.35 in 2021, Blake has now gone sub-10 three times this season – and had a fourth sub-10 time wiped out through a disqualification. Don't bet against Blake lowering his 9.93 personal best even more in Eugene. He's also in the selection pool for Jamaica's sprint relay.

Talitha Diggs, USA, 19 - women's 400m, women's 4x400m

Diggs, who runs collegiately for the Florida Gators, has come on leaps and bounds in the last two years and marked herself out as one of the U.S.'s top 400m runners at the moment. After not running the distance at all in the pandemic-interrupted 2020 season, Diggs lowered her personal record by over four seconds in 2021. This year, she has gone even further, going under 50 seconds for the first time when she clocked 49.99 to win the NCAA title at Hayward Field, before taking victory at the same venue at the U.S. championships and trials, beating Allyson Felix in the process.

Larissa Iaphichino, Italy, 19 - women's long jump

While Germany's defending world and Olympic champion Malaika Mihambo is the favourite in the women's long jump, an Italian will have an eye on making it into the top 6. Larissa Iaphichino is the daughter of two former athletes – Gianni Iaphichino, a pole vaulter who competed at the 1995 World Indoor Championships, and Fiona May, who represented both Great Britain and Italy in her career, winning two Olympic silver medals for Italy. And Iaphichino junior's personal best of 6.91m, set last February, stands as the world under-20 record indoors.

Erriyon Knighton, USA, 18 - men's 200m

Knighton is, quite simply, not just one of the world's top runners, he is the best men's 200m athlete this year, and should be well in the mix to win a medal in Eugene. The American's 2022 world lead stands at 19.49 seconds, which is pending ratification as the world under-20 record – which he currently holds anyway after clocking 19.84 at Hayward Field at last year's Olympic Trials. Knighton finished fourth in the Tokyo 2020 final, and is finally ready to make the podium.

READ MORE: Erriyon Knighton: Can the US speedster break Usain Bolt’s world record?

READ MORE: Top things to know about US teen sprint sensation Erriyon Knighton

Beatrice Masilingi, Namibia, 19 - women's 200m

Originally an 800m runner, Namibia’s Masilingi is among the athletes affected by the current World Athletics rules surrounding athletes with Differences in Sex Development (DSD). That meant both her and compatriot Christine Mboma – who will miss the World Championships through injury – dropped down to the 200m distance. Masilingi made the Tokyo 2020 Olympic final just months after doing so, coming sixth (Mboma won silver). Look for the Namibian to try to improve on that in Eugene.

Mary Moraa, Kenya, 22 - women's 800m

Moraa was a relatively late switch to the 800m. A long-time 400m runner, the Kenyan only switched to the middle-distance half-mile in 2020, and has quickly shaved time off her personal best - going from over two minutes to 1:57 in the span of just two years. She ran a highly-impressive 1:57.45 at the national trials, the fourth-fastest time in the world in 2022 which placed her third on the world lead list behind only Athing Mu and Ajee' Wilson. Another 1:57 race a week after that at the Stockholm Diamond League certified her status as a bona fide podium hopeful in Eugene.

Favour Ofili, Nigeria, 19 - women's 100m, women's 200m

“I am going there to win.” Those were the fighting words of Favour Ofili, Nigeria’s next big sprint hope, to in an exclusive interview ahead of the Worlds. Ofili runs both the 100m and 200m, although the half-lap is probably the 19-year-old’s stronger event. In fact, the Nigerian broke and briefly held the U.S. NCAA collegiate record in the distance earlier this year with a 21.96, which stood for just under two months. “We (African sprinters) now believe in ourselves. We now believe that anything is possible,” she said.

Abby Steiner, USA, 22 - women's 200m

The woman who took Ofili’s collegiate record away was American Abby Steiner, who lowered it to 21.80 at the NCAA Championships in June. Remarkably, she equalled that time in the U.S. Championships and trials semi-finals, before going on to win the event in 21.77. Steiner’s trajectory is on the up and she enters the Worlds as one of the Jamaican stars’ biggest threats – only Shericka Jackson (21.55) has run faster this year.

Letsile Tebogo, Botswana, 19 - men's 100m

Watch out, world – Letsile Tebogo is finally here on the senior global stage. The 19-year-old set tongues wagging earlier this year when he seemingly broke the world under-20 record in a home meet in Gaborone, Botswana, by clocking 9.96 seconds. However, the record was later rejected by World Athletics due to a lack of equipment testing. But that setback hasn’t stopped Tebogo from looking towards Eugene to prove the doubters wrong.

Emmanuel Wanyonyi, Kenya, 17 - men's 800m

Wanyonyi may only be 17, but he is already the world under-20 champion in the men’s 800m, having won the event on home soil last August. This season, the teenager has also out-run his Olympic champion teammate Emmanuel Korir. Given the tactical nature of the distance, Wanyonyi could well spring a surprise if not closely marked in Eugene.

Moad Zahafi, Morocco, 24 - men's 800m

Another men’s 800m runner to watch is Morocco’s Moad Zahafi, who’s finally coming into his own aged 24. Zahafi’s first full season at the NCAA Division I level has brought rewards, as the Moroccan has taken more than a second off his personal best this year. He has fond memories of Hayward Field, having won the NCAA collegiate title there in June.

Sasha Zhoya, France, 20 - men's 110m hurdles

The Australian-born Sasha Zhoya has been ripping up the record books at youth and junior level, and now the senior World Championships will get a view of the French-Zimbabwean-Australian tri-national wonderkid. Zhoya currently holds the youth world best at 12.87 and the world under-20 record at 12.72, but both marks were set using age-appropriate hurdles. This year is his first at senior level, and he has already set tongues wagging after recording 13.17 to win the French national championships – a time good enough to place him joint-ninth on the world lead list. Winner of the 2021 European Athletics men’s rising star award, Zhoya has bright things in his future, beginning at Hayward Field.


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