Allyson Felix, Mo Farah and Sally Pearson at the press conference ahead of the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha (© DECA Text & Bild)
Proving that he’s one of the current superstars of the sport, and in anticipation of his first appearance at Doha's Qatar Sports Club at the first IAAF Diamond League meeting of 2015, British distance runner Mo Farah drew most of the questions and the biggest crowd at the pre-event press conference and his ‘meet-the-press’ event on Thursday (14).
Inevitably, the popular world, Olympic and European 5000m and 10,000m champion was asked about his expectations in the 3000m on Friday.
“I want to test myself," he said. "If I see the results of the past three years, they always run about 7:30 or under, but I am trying to race rather than look at the times. You have got to race the guys, not the clock. It is possible to break the (European 3000m) record, if it’s a fast race, but it depends on how the race goes.”
The mark Farah is chasing is 7:26.62 set by Belgium’s Mohamed Mourhit in 2000, but regardless of the result, he admitted that he will fondly remember his first trip to Qatar.
“It’s my first time in Doha. I really enjoyed spending time with the kids (he visited a school on Wednesday). They see us on TV and they have this huge enthusiasm, so just talking to them is fantastic.
“Doha is an amazing place in terms of facilities. I visited the Aspire indoor track and the elevation rooms. Qatar should keep on the amazing work and show the world what they can do.”
Like Farah, Sally Pearson came away with gold from the last Olympics but unlike the man who was sitting alongside her, the 100m hurdles winner in London is not the favourite in her specialist event on Friday.
In addition to competing with the USA's 2014 world No.1 and Diamond Race winner Dawn Harper Nelson, there is also the emerging US talent Jasmin Stowers, whose performances this year have been raising eyebrows.
Stowers something a mystery
“I don’t know anything about her (Stowers), I have never raced her and I haven’t seen videos of her races. I wasn’t rushing to look at her races on YouTube when I got the news of her times because I’m not much good with technology,” joked Pearson.
“I am looking forward to racing her and, obviously, the other girls. I was impressed by her times. It’s exciting to know other girls are running quick times.
“My expectations for tomorrow’s race are obviously to win, although everybody knows that in the 100m hurdles there are so many great competitors.
"For sure it is going to be an exciting race, but I am in a very good shape,” she warned a little more seriously, letting her rivals know she’s far from yesterday’s woman.
Allyson Felix was also on hand. The Olympic 200m champion’s popularity in Doha, where she has won 11 times in the past, is reflected by the fact that she is one of five featured athletes on the meeting’s promotional posters.
“Qatar has hosted so many sports events in recent years, they are doing an amazing job. They are constantly building and introducing new innovations. Athletes always love to be here,” said Felix.
If Felix seems to have been around for years, Sifan Hassan is a relative international novice, having made her big breakthrough last summer. The Dutch woman is now the European champion indoors and outdoors.
Hassan also set a world-leading indoor 1500m time in Stockholm in February when she clocked 4:00.46.
“That was a shock to me, I didn’t expect anything like that. I knew I was in good shape but I thought maybe I’d do 4:02 or 4:03. I was ill after that, but now I am back in good shape,” said Hassan who has been preparing since the end of the indoor season at high altitude in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“That was fantastic, the place is very beautiful and we had a great group of Dutch runners and Norwegians as my coach coaches a lot of Norwegian runners.
"The day before I was about to leave, and by coincidence as I didn't know she was going to be there, I did one session with Meraf Bahta (Sweden’s European 5000m champion, who beat Hassan in that race). I can tell you she’s in very good shape.”
Last year, Hassan dabbled with longer distances and took the European 5000m silver medal behind Bahta, but she revealed that this year her focus will remain solidly on the 1500m.
“I like to run 3000m and 5000m and I always used to think those were my distances and I was more comfortable at longer distances, but my coach said he thought I was a 1500m runner.
“I will do 800m this season to improve my speed, maybe somewhere a 3000m, but no 5000m this year. However, compared to the start of last summer, I think I am in better shape."
After a plethora of track runners on Thursday, it was finally time for the field event athletes to get their moment in the spot light. The meeting organisers paraded Olympic champion Christian Taylor and world champion Teddy Tamgho.
The mutual respect between the two global triple jump champions was evident.
“Teddy brings a different edge and attitude to the sport, I have a lot of respect for him,” Taylor said about his rival.
“Christian is the Olympic champion and when you compete against him, you have the hunger to beat him,” answered Tamgho.
However, a lot of the conversation revolved around the one man not in the hall, Cuba’s prodigious 21-year-old world silver medallist Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who sailed out to a national record of 17.94m in Havana on Friday.
“That was a big surprise, it’s so early in the season," said Taylor. "I’m a student of the sport and that’s not usual. It’s not a surprise if you see something like 17.50m or 17.60m there in late February or early March, but nearly 18 metres, that’s unusual. That’s one reason I’m looking forward to the competition more than ever, to see what he brings here.
“He’s got a good pedigree; former world junior champion, silver in Moscow behind Teddy,” added Taylor, with Tamgho nodding in agreement. "It’s more the timing. He’s now raised the bar for the rest of us, that’s what the real surprise was."
Phil Minshull for the IAAF