David Rudisha on his way to 800m victory in Doha (© Jiro Mochizuki)
A stellar field of Olympic and World champions has gathered in Doha to set the 2013 IAAF Diamond League off and running, and spectators at the Hamad Bin Suhaim Stadium will witness a series of compelling head-to-heads.
Those clashes include World champion Amantle Montsho against Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix in the women’s 400m, and, in the men’s 800m, World record-holder and Olympic champion David Rudisha against the young Ethiopian, Mohammed Aman, who has been the only man to beat him in the last couple of years.
Montsho and Rudisha will be among those seeking a bright start to a season in which they will hope to retain their World titles. The same goes for Christian Taylor, the World and Olympic Triple Jump champion, who plans to get his Diamond League campaign off to a winning start after jumping 17.12m at the Drake Relays last month.
But the 22-year-old Florida athlete, who has relocated this year to London to continue working with his coach Rana Reider, will have to be close to the top of his game to hold off the challenge of Haiti’s Olympic finalist Samyr Laine, who stands second on this season’s world list with 17.36m.
Taylor’s other main rivals will be Benjamin Compaore of France, who has managed 16.78m already this season, and Tosin Oke of Nigeria, who finished seventh in the London 2012 final. The Doha meeting record of 17.49m stands to Teddy Tamgho of France, who has recovered from longstanding injury problems and has a jump of 16.72m to his credit this year.
Taylor is well aware, however, of all his likely rivals as he sets out on a course which he trusts will see him successfully defend his World title in Moscow. “I study all of these guys,” he said after visiting Doha’s ‘Olympics Past and Present’ exhibition with three other Olympic champions who will be opening their Diamond League season here – Jamaica’s Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and his fellow Americans Allyson Felix, London 2012 200m champion, and Brittney Reese, who took Long Jump gold in London.
“I know Teddy will always be a threat. Phillips Idowu hasn’t been seen yet, but I believe he’ll be there in Moscow.” European champion and Olympic bronze medallist Fabrizio Donato, the 36-year-old Italian, is also very much in Taylor’s reckoning. “I cannot believe he is still jumping,” Taylor said with a broad grin.
And beyond his immediate rivals, Taylor is also well aware of Britain’s retired former Olympic and World champion Jonathan Edwards, whose World record of 18.29m still stands.
“Jonathan Edwards – he is the man I am chasing,” Taylor added. “He has the record I want. If you want something different, you have got to do something different. I will do whatever it takes.”
Felix looking for victory No.11
Felix will race over 400m against Montsho, Diamond Race winner for the last two years, and Britain’s Olympic silver medallist and 2008 gold medallist, Christine Ohuruogu.
The 27-year-old American is unbeaten in 10 races in Doha having first competed here in 2005, but she knows race number 11 is going to be especially tough. Montsho has beaten her on the last two occasions they raced over a full lap.
Felix explained that she will gradually introduce more 100m and 200m races as the season progresses, and that those distances would be her targets at this year’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
“I want to continue right back in the 100m and 200m,” she said. “I feel like I’m in my prime and I want to stay and focus on that.
“Everything came together at London 2012. I think after a major championship it is kind of hard to re-group and pick up but I have just been taking things slowly and this is the year when I will gradually get things together.
“I took my longest ever off-season, about two months. I feel good now. I’m excited to get races in, but I’m not race sharp yet so this will help me put things together so that I will be able to peak when the nationals come around. But it’s nice to be able to get out there and compete.”
Felix’s fellow Olympic 4x400m gold medallist Francena McCorory will also be a big factor in the race, having run 51.58 already this season. The meeting record stands to Felix – 49.83 from 2008.
Montsho finished strongly last season to claim the Diamond Race in Brussels after finishing fourth at the Olympics. “I wasn’t tired when I finished my final, and in my racing afterwards I felt fine,” she said of the London 400m final. “It was just one of those things.”
The Botswana athlete remains confident she will be in “perfect shape” for the Moscow World Championships, adding: “Everyone is looking at me and trying to beat me because of this – and this is all the motivation I need to work hard.”
But Montsho, despite her recent record against Felix, remains wary of forecasting the result on Friday. “Everyone has been training in the winter, and we don’t know where everyone stands,” she said. True enough – which is why the Doha Diamond League opener is always so compelling.
As has been the case since the Diamond League held its inaugural meeting in Doha in 2010, every discipline will take place seven times during the season, presenting athletes with points-scoring opportunities as they compete for their portion of eight million dollars in prize money. Those winning the Diamond Race with the best points in their event will claim a Diamond Race trophy and a cheque for $40,000.
Aman gunning for Rudisha
Rudisha, the only man ever to break 1:41 for 800m, will be favourite to win here, but two outstanding teenagers – 19-year-old Aman, and Kenya’s 18-year-old Olympic bronze medallist Timothy Kitum – will be ready to seize upon any weakness.
While Felix seeks the 400m performance she wants to establish her season effectively, Fraser-Pryce will hope to steal a start on her in the 200m Diamond Race. Jamaica’s double Olympic 100m gold medallist has a personal best of 22.09 and could break the stadium record of 22.35 set in 1999 by Romania’s Ionela Tirlea-Manolache.
Fraser-Pryce, who ran 22.38 to win in Kingston on May 4, will face competition from compatriot Sherone Simpson, the 2008 Olympic 100m silver medallist, last year’s Diamond Race winner Charonda Williams of the United States, and Myriam Soumare of France.
Reese, who has a season’s best of 6.81m to her credit, is one of four long jumpers competing with a personal best of more than seven metres and will be up against the Russian whom she beat to gold in London, Yelena Sokolova.
Olympic bronze medallist Janay DeLoach Soukup, who recently jumped 6.82m in Tokyo, is also in the field, along with Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare and British record-holder Shara Proctor who has jumped 6.63m this season.
Home favourite Barshim to star in High Jump
The home focus will be strongly on the men’s High Jump competition, where local hero Mutaz Essa Barshim, the London 2012 bronze medallist, will take on the man who shared that honour with him last summer, Britain’s European champion Robbie Grabarz.
Barshim, who has a best of 2.39m, will also face a very familiar opponent in the shape of his brother Muamer, three years younger, who will seek to improve his best of 2.20m. Russia will have a big say in the result given the presence of World silver medallist Aleksey Dmitrik, Aleksandr Shustov and Sergey Mudrov, all of whom have been over 2.30m recently.
Norway’s double Olympic Javelin champion Andreas Thorkildsen may not quite be a local hero, but he is close to being one as he has a training base in Doha. After a year undermined by injuries, Thorkildsen, who won on four consecutive occasions in Doha from 2006-2009, is ready to reclaim his standing and will come up against the shock London 2012 winner Keshorn Walcott, of Trinidad and Tobago, who recently threw 84.39m.
Also in a top class field are Germany’s World champion Matthias De Zordo and Finland’s former World champion Tero Pitkamaki, as well as London 2012 bronze medallist Antti Ruuskanen and European champion Vitezslav Vesely of the Czech Republic.
Exciting 3000m expected once more
The men’s 3000m, the closing event of the night, will see the past two Doha winners, Yenew Alamirew of Ethiopia and 2012 victor Augustine Choge of Kenya, battling it out. These two countries have provided the 3000m winners in every one of the 13 previous editions of this meeting.
The women’s 100m Hurdles brings together six leading US racers including Dawn Harper, Olympic champion in 2008 and runner-up to Australia’s Sally Pearson last year, and former World indoor champion Lolo Jones, whom Harper beat by just 0.05 at the Drake Relays in April.
Jones leads in their head-to-head, 14-13. The race also features Olympic bronze medallist Kellie Wells and Britain’s Tiffany Porter.
The women’s 3000m Steeplechase will – surprise, surprise – involve an east African rivalry as the 2011 winner here, Kenya’s Milcah Chemos, takes on the Ethiopian pair of Hiwot Ayalew and Sofia Assefa, who beat Chemos to the Olympic bronze medal last year. Tunisia’s Olympic silver medallist Habiba Ghribi will also fancy her chances of a win.
Sweden’s Ethiopian-born Abeba Aregawi, who delighted the home crowd in Gothenburg earlier this year with a devastating victory over 1500m at the European Indoors in 4:04.47, is a clear favourite here, but she will be strongly challenged by her former compatriot Genzebe Dibaba, who missed out on the London 2012 final through injury but has a devastating finish.
Kenya’s Viola Kibiwot and Ibtissam Lakhouad of Morocco could also figure given their sub-four-minute PBs. Kenya’s former 800m World champion and Olympic silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei will step up to the 1500m on the night, while her fellow Kenyan, Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon, the World junior champion, will seek to start her track season strongly having won the World junior cross-country title earlier in the year.
Quality quartet of German vaulters
The men’s Pole Vault includes three of the top four athletes from the London 2012 Games – all of them German. London silver medallist Bjorn Otto, who has managed 5.70m this season, will take on bronze medallist Raphael Holzdeppe and compatriot Malte Mohr, last year’s winner in Doha.
Meeting record-holder in the men’s 400m Hurdles, LJ van Zyl, will seek to add to his victories here in 2008 and 2011, although the favourite is Michael Tinsley of the United States, who has a season’s best of 48.55. Four-time World champion Bershawn Jackson, who recently clocked 49.11, should also have a major say, along with van Zyl’s rising South African compatriot Cornel Fredericks. Britain’s Jack Green will be seeking to put his London disappointment behind him.
Double Olympic Shot Put champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland does not seem to have the knack of winning in Doha – he hasn’t done so in four attempts. This year no doubt he will seek to end that unsuccessful run, although he will first have to defeat the London 2012 silver medallist Reese Hoffa, who has won four times here and has a season’s best of 21.71m.
Ryan Whiting, who leads this year’s lists following his 21.74m effort in Kingston, could possibly upset both the experienced campaigners.
Former Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin, with a PB of 9.79 and a season’s best of 10.06, will be expected to win here but cannot afford any slips against the likes of Jamaica’s Nesta Carter – second recently in Kingston in 10.03 – and fellow American Michael Rodgers.
Kim Collins of St Kitts & Nevis, the 2003 World champion, will be seeking to revivify his career at the age of 37 after missing out on competing at the Olympics. Meanwhile two more up-and-coming Jamaican sprinters will be on show – 24-year-old Jacques Harvey and 22-year-old Jason Young.
Croatia’s Olympic Discus champion Sandra Perkovic will have the stadium record of 66.42m in her sights, but Lithuania’s Zinaida Sendriute, an Olympic finalist, could distract her.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF