The Qatar Sports Club has become the traditional venue to get the IAAF Diamond League underway and, for the sixth consecutive year, once again there should be some outstanding performances and exciting contests in Doha on Friday (15).
Middle-distance races have often provided the thrills. This year, the men’s 800m sees a potentially great head-to-head battle between Ethiopia's world champion, indoors and outdoors, Mohammed Aman and Kenya’s world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop, the latter making one of his rarer forays at the shorter distance.
Aman this year has eschewed the indoor season and will be making his 2015 debut but rarely brings anything less than his best form to the starting line. Kiprop’s gold medals, meanwhile, may have come over 1500m but he has already shown good early season form over two laps of the track with a 1:44.4 outing on home soil in Nairobi back in March.
The duel should make for a raucous and enthusiastic atmosphere.
The expatriate Ethiopian community in Qatar has packed the stadium at the meeting for many years and 12 months ago saw a large contingent of Kenyan fans cheer on their compatriots in one of sport's enduring national rivalries.
If someone is to upset the top two then perhaps it will be Qatar’s own Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla.
The 26-year-old Balla, the national record-holder with 1:43.94 from 2013, was the fastest man in the world indoors this past winter at 1:45.48 and looks set to move up to another level.
Mo Farah is the star attraction in the men’s 3000m.
During the first few months of this year, the world, Olympic and European 5000m and 10,000m champion demonstrated his astonishing range by lowering the European half-marathon record to 59:32, having earlier set a world indoor two miles best of 8:03.40.
Already the holder of the European 1500m and 10,000m records, he will be looking to add the European 3000m record, which currently stands at 7:26.62 to Belgium’s Mohammed Mourit from 2000, to his list of accolades.
Regardless of what the clock finally says, he will also be looking to beat a strong field which includes the Ethiopian duo of Hagos Gebrhiwet, the world 5000m silver medallist behind Farah who also won the Doha 3000m that year, and Yenew Alamirew who set the Doha meeting record of 7:27.26 in 2011.
Hassan looks to continue her winning ways
The women’s 1500m also sees significant European interest with Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi and the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan doing battle.
Aregawi is the world indoor and outdoor champion over the distance and the Diamond Race winner in the event in 2012 and 2013. Her 3:56.60 victory and meeting record in Doha two years ago was the fastest time in the world in 2013.
However, the effervescent and engaging Hassan, who is equally at home chatting in Dutch, English or Amharic – like Aregawi having been born in Ethiopia – ascended to being arguably the top 1500m runner in the world last year with a superb season that included winning at the IAAF Continental Cup, defeating Aregawi to take the European title, and running 3:57.00 in Paris for the fastest time in the world.
Among the other names in the field are Ethiopia’s world junior champion Dawit Seyaum and Ukraine’s Anna Mishchenko, who had a good win in 4:02.47 at the Kawasaki IAAF World Challenge meeting on Sunday.
Dropping down the distances, US superstars and Olympic champions Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross grace the women’s 200m and 400m respectively.
Felix, the Olympic 200m champion and the fastest woman in the world last year, certainly knows her way around the Qatar Sports Club and this year she’ll be chasing an 11th victory on the track; her tally currently standing at three wins in the 100m, two in the 200m and five consecutively in the 400m from 2007 to 2011.
The three-time world 200m champion and 2012 IAAF world athlete of the year's main rival should be Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure, who won 100m and 200m silver medals at the 2013 IAAF World Championships.
Richards-Ross already rocking
Richards-Ross has already shown she is in great shape, providing two outstanding 400m legs for US teams that won the 4x400m and distance medley relay at the IAAF/BTC World Relays, Bahamas 2015 two weekends ago.
She followed those performances with a world-leading individual run of 49.95 in the Jamaican capital of Kingston on Saturday, her earliest sub-50-second clocking since 2006, the year she set the still-standing US record of 48.70.
Leading the challenge to Richards-Ross will be world indoor champion Francena McCorory and Jamaica’s 2014 Diamond Race winner Novlene Williams-Mills.
All eyes are on another US athlete, Joe Kovacs, in the men’s shot put. The 2014 US champion recently improved his personal best to 22.35m to move up to 12th on the world all-time list.
He will certainly have to produce a good distance again to defeat a loaded field which includes his compatriot and two-time world indoor champion Ryan Whiting and Germany’s two-time world champion David Storl. Whiting holds the meeting record with 22.28m from 2013, which helped him win that season’s Diamond Race.
Perkovic standing tall
If the men’s shot should be super-competitive, the women’s discus is likely to be more of an exhibition thanks to the presence of Croatia’s Olympic, world and European champion Sandra Perkovic.
Perkovic, who has won no fewer than 21 times at IAAF Diamond League meetings, is not unbeatable but she doesn’t often lose – only once in 2012 and 2013, and twice last year – and has already thrown beyond the halcyon mark of 70 metres this year.
Australia’s Dani Samuels, the 2009 world champion, is possibly the best bet to inflict a rare defeat on Perkovic.
The women’s 100m hurdles field has the two most recent Olympic champions, USA’s 2014 Diamond Race winner Dawn Harper Nelson and Australia’s Sally Pearson. But perhaps the mantle of being the favourite, at least on current form, falls to Jasmin Stowers.
The latest US talent over the barriers has already run 12.40 and 12.39 this season, the latter in Kingston on Saturday.
The men’s 100m features USA’s Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world over the distance last year with 9.77 at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels, which contributed to him being the 2014 Diamond Race winner.
The men’s pole vault has been deprived of the presence of IAAF world athlete of the year Renaud Lavillenie, who acquired a minor injury while competing in a French club meeting at the weekend, which gives the opportunity for the likes of Germany's world champion Raphael Holzdeppe and Greece's world indoor champion Konstantinos Filippidis to make a return to the centre stage.
After winning his third straight Diamond Trophy last season, Olympic champion Christian Taylor may be the triple jump favourite by pedigree, but Cuba’s prodigious 21-year-old world silver medallist Pedro Pablo Pichardo sailed out to a national record 17.94m in Havana on Friday and his feat has caught everyone’s attention.
The formidable French triple jump duo of European champion Benjamin Compaore and world champion Teddy Tamgho are also in Doha.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF