Seventeen reigning world and Olympic champions will gather in Doha on Friday (4) to help kick off the 2018 IAAF Diamond League, which gets underway for the ninth straight year in the Qatari capital, and with it the chase for a piece of the series’ US$8 million prize money purse.
But for the capacity crowd expected to turn out at the Qatar Sports Club track, no appearance will be as eagerly anticipated as that of Mutaz Essa Barshim, who will defend home turf for the first time not only as the reigning world champion, but as the 2017 World Athlete of the Year as well. The 26-year-old was undefeated in 11 competitions last year; one of those came in Doha, his first at his home Diamond League meeting.
On Friday though he'll be looking to regroup from a sub-par indoor season --by the standards of history's second-highest jumper, anyway-- which included two victories and two runner-up finishes, the latter in Birmingham in March where he was forced to settle for world indoor silver.
He'll face Majd Eddin Ghazal of Syria, the world bronze medallist last summer, German Mateusz Przybylko, the Birmingham bronze medallist, and Ukraine's Andriy Protsenko who has a 2.40m lifetime best from 2014.
Plenty of high flying is also expected in the women's pole vault, the evening's opening event, which includes the reigning world and Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi of Greece and Sandi Morris of the US, who turned the tables on her long-time rival when vaulting to world indoor gold in March. Morris has topped 4.88m this season already while Stefanidi will be making her outdoor debut. Recently crowned Commonwealth champion Alysha Newman of Canada is also in the field.
Chasing a piece of the US$8 million pie
Barshim and Stefanidi were two of the dominant figures in Diamond League action in 2017, a year which witnessed the 14-meeting series’ successful adoption of a championship-style model, a format that continues in 2018.
How does it work?
Athletes earn points in the first 12 stops to earn qualification for the two final meetings to be held in Zurich (30 Aug) and Brussels (31 Aug). As part of the overall US$8 million in prize money available across the series, the finals offer a prize purse of US$3.2 million. $100,000 will be at stake in each of the 32 Diamond disciplines, including $50,000 for each winner along with a stunning Diamond Trophy and the title of IAAF Diamond League Champion.
Top moments trio
Yesterday, we looked back at the three finest moments in the history of the Doha Diamond League - the protagonists of each will figure prominently again in this year's edition.
The most recent came last year when Olympic javelin throw champion Thomas Röhler wowed the crowd with a 93.90m Diamond League record, elevating him to second on the world all-time list. That long launch into the dark Doha sky also propelled the event into its role as one of summer's major highlights. Two months later his compatriot Johannes Vetter supplanted him as the world No 2 after a 94.44m bomb in Luzern; the following month he took the world title in London. Both will be throwing on Friday, along with Czech Jakub Vadlejch, who'll begin his chase for a third consecutive IAAF Diamond League trophy. Vadlejch was third in London last year.
In 2015, Christian Taylor and Pedro Pablo Pichardo conspired to produce one of the finest triple jump battles in history, with the latter prevailing by just two centimetres at 18.06m. Never before had two men jumped beyond 18 metres in the same competition.
The pair return on Friday with Taylor, the twice Olympic and three-time world champion, the favourite as he guns for a fourth Doha crown. The field includes Portugal's 2008 Olympic champion Nelson Evora, 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Bin Dong of China.
The third moment came a year earlier courtesy of Hellen Obiri who broke the African 3000m record with a sizzling 8:20.68 run, in the process leading one of the deepest 3000m races in history. The Kenyan returns this season as the reigning world 5000m champion to headline Doha's 3000m contest which this year serves as the meeting's traditional evening-capping middle distance race. More often than not, Doha's nightcap stands the test of time to end the season as one of the year's fastest races.
Obiri leads a strong field of Kenyans, which includes Lilian Rengeruk, the 2013 world youth champion and 2014 world junior 3000m silver medallist, and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, the fifth-place finisher at the last year's World Championships. Keep an eye on Jenny Simpson, the reigning world silver medallist and Olympic bronze medallist at 1500m. The 31-year-old Boulder, Colorado-based runner has run well this season, most recently with a solid 9:16.78 two mile performance at the Drake Relays.
Intriguing sprint match-ups
The women's 100m features a showdown between Elaine Thompson and Dafne Schippers, the Olympic 100m and world 200m champions, respectively. Jamaica's Thompson will be looking to shake off a fourth place finish in the Commonwealth 200m while Dutchwoman Schippers will be making her outdoor debut. Murielle Ahoure of Ivory Coast, the world indoor 60m champion, and her teammate Marie-Josee Ta Lou, the London double dash silver medallist, will also be making their first outdoor starts.
The men's 400m meanwhile features Isaac Makwala and Baboloki Thebe of Botswana, the Commonwealth Games 1-2. Makwala dominated the race in Gold Coast, clocking 44.35, topping his 21-year-old compatriot by 0.74. Look out for London 2017 silver medallist Steven Gardiner, who'll be making his first full-lap appearance of the year. He twice set Bahamian records at 400m last year, 44.26 and 43.89, and opened this season with a 19.75 national record in the 200m. Qatari fans will be backing Abdalleleh Haroun, the 2017 world bronze medallist.
The evening's final sprint battle, the men's 200m, pits Turkey's world champion Ramil Guliyev against Olympic silver medallist Andre De Grasse of Canada, 2017 Diamond League champion Noah Lyles of the USA, and world bronze medallist Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago. The biggest surprise could come from Omar McLeod of Jamaica, the world and Olympic champion in the 110m hurdles who'll be making an intriguing switch.
Harrison back to defend
A year ago, Kendra Harrison broke a bone in her left hand while warming up in Doha, but went on to win the 100m hurdles anyway. Obviously, the world record holder is difficult to stop. She arrives with a pair of fast times under her belt already this outdoor season --wind-assisted 12.40 and 12.37 runs-- and with a new title, that of world indoor 60m hurdles champion.
She’ll face reigning Olympic champion Brianna McNeal (nee Rollins), 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson and Doha Diamond League meeting record holder Jasmin Stowers.
Meanwhile, Olympic champion Kerron Clement heads the field in the men's 400m hurdles, taking on Yasmani Copello of Turkey, the London silver medallist, and Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Islands, the 2017 Diamond Trophy winner. Clement and Copello will be making tseason's debuts while McMaster rides the momentum that swept him to the Commonwealth title last month.
Once again, Sandra Perkovic leads the field in the women's discus throw, beginning her campaign for a seventh Diamond Trophy. She's already illustrated strong form with an early-season 69.13m, the best in the world this year. She'll take on Australia's 2009 world champion Dani Stevens who last month won her second Commonwealth title, Cuba’s Denia Caballero, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist who beat Perkovic to win the 2015 world title.
Kszczot and Semenya looking to impress
Rounding out the middle distance action are the men’s 800m and women’s 1500m.
The men's race features the outdoor debut of Poland's Adam Kszczot, whose dominant indoor campaign concluded with a World Indoor Championships triumph. He'll be taking on rising Kenyan star Emmanuel Kipkirui Korir whose credentials include a 1:44.21 indoor African record set in February and a 1:43.10 best set last year with his victory in Monaco. The field also includes sub-1:43 man Ferguson Rotich and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy of the USA. The dark horse? Elijah Manangoi, the world 1500m champion.
In the women's 1500m, Caster Semenya will be difficult to beat, arriving off the back of her dominant victories in both the 800m and 1500m at the Commonwealth Games. The South African, a two-time Olympic and three-time world champion in the 800m, added 1500m world bronze to her collection last season, one in which she also claimed the 800m Diamond League title, the path to which began with victory over the distance in Doha.
At the moment her chief competition appears to be Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia, the 2016 world indoor bronze medallist and world U20 indoor record holder, Kenyan Winny Chebet, a world indoor 1500m finalist, Rababe Arafi of Morocco, a world and Olympic 1500m finalist, and Eunice Sum of Kenya, the 2013 world 800m champion.
A pair of non-Diamond races round out the programme. Moroccan Abdelaati Iguider and Kenyans Bethwell Birgen and Collins Cheboi are the fastest in the field, arriving with sub-3:30 credentials. In the 3000m steeplechase, 2014 world junior champion Barnabas Kipyego and Hillary Kipsang Yego are the men to beat.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF