Updated: June 1, 2016

Wayde van Niekerk will open his international campaign in Rome

All eyes will be on world champion Wayde van Niekerk, who leads a full-strength South African onslaught on Thursday night as he makes his highly anticipated international season debut at the Diamond League meeting in Rome.
Van Niekerk, who clocked 44.11 seconds at the SA Open Championships in Bloemfontein last month, is the fastest man in the field this season for the 400m race.
He faces a line-up including in-form Bralon Taplin of Grenada, who set a personal best of 44.41 in Tempe last month, former World Championships relay silver medallist Rusheen McDonald of Jamaica and African champion Isaac Makwala of Botswana.
Van Niekerk will be joined by seven other SA athletes at the fifth leg of the top-flight international track and field campaign.
Caster Semenya, the fastest woman in the world this year with a 1:56.64 season’s best, is the firm favourite for the women’s 800m race after winning the Diamond League contests in Doha and Rabat last month.
Her strongest opposition could come from world indoor champion Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Kenya’s Eunice Sum, the former world outdoor champion.
Sunette Viljoen, the top-ranked women’s javelin thrower in the world this year, spearheads the entry list after launching a 65.14m seasons’ best to secure victory in Doha, though she must contend with expected challenges from former World Championships gold medallist Christina Obergfoll and reigning world champion Katharina Molitor, both representing Germany, as well as world record holder Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic.
In the men’s long jump, Ruswahl Samaai, fresh off his personal best leap of 8.38m in Rabat less than two weeks ago, and Luvo Manyonga, bouncing back from a minor ankle injury which delayed the start to his international season after producing an impressive 8.30m effort in the domestic campaign, will turn out among the favourites.
They will be up against the American trio of Marquise Goodwin, Michael Hartfield and Jarvis Gotch, who have all gone over 8.30m this year, along with world and Olympic champion Greg Rutherford of Great Britain and Australian Fabrice Lapierre, the former world indoor champion.
National record holder Akani Simbine returns from a minor injury setback to open his international campaign in the men’s 100m sprint.
Having set a new SA mark of 9.96 at the ASA Night Series meeting in Pretoria in March, Simbine will hope to make a statement against a world-class field that includes controversial American Justin Gatlin (9.94) and Nigerian-born speedster Femi Ogunode (9.91), now competing for Qatar, who have also dipped under 10 seconds this season.
On the infield, Victor Hogan boasts the third best throw this year in the men’s discus throw line-up, after setting a 67.62m career record at the national championships in Stellenbosch in April.
Having taken third place at the Diamond League opener in Doha last month, he will be eager to continue building on a breakthrough season.
He faces the likes of Olympic gold medallist Robert Harting of Germany and Polish world champion Piotr Malachowski.
Wenda Nel, one of six women in the women’s 400m hurdles race who have dipped under 55 seconds this season, meets a quality line-up led by World Championships bronze medallist Cassandra Tate of the United States, and Commonwealth Games champion Kaliese Spencer of Jamaica.

Schedule of SA athletes competing at the Diamond League meeting in Rome on Thursday (2 June, 2016):

5.45pm – Victor Hogan (men’s discus throw)
7.55pm – Sunette Viljoen (women’s javelin throw)
8.04pm – Wenda Nel (women’s 400m hurdles)
8.25pm – Caster Semenya (women’s 800m)
8.35pm – Wayde van Niekerk (men’s 400m)
8.40pm – Ruswahl Samaai, Luvo Manyonga (men’s long jump)
9.35pm – Akani Simbine (men’s 100m)

* The meeting will be broadcast live on SuperSport 5 from 8pm