Nine reigning or former Olympic champions including Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, USA's Christian Taylor and Valerie Adams of New Zealand will set this season’s IAAF Diamond League in motion at the Qatar Sports Club on Friday (8).
At 27, Fraser-Pryce has a dominance within women’s sprinting to match that of her compatriot Usain Bolt in the men’s events, and she doesn’t look like relinquishing her position any time soon.
Having won the 60m title at her first IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot two months ago, just seven months after winning 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay gold at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, the 2013 World Athlete of the Year is on a roll as she prepares for her first 100m of the outdoor season.
Fraser-Pryce earned the 100m and 200m double Diamond Race victory last year after getting her 2013 season underway with a 200m win in Doha.
She maintains she is concentrating on the longer distance in the Diamond League in a year when she also has ambitions in this summer’s Commonwealth Games, and she won her opening 200m in Kingston last Saturday in 22.53.
The amiable Jamaican – whose ever-changing hair colour is currently highlighted red – faces strong opposition in Blessing Okagbare, who took 200m bronze and long jump silver in Moscow last summer. The Nigerian won her 100m season opener on Fraser-Pryce’s home track in Kingston on Saturday in 11.19.
The USA will be represented over 100m by the 21-year-old national champion English Gardner, who finished fourth at the World Championships and has a 10.85 career best, along with Alexandria Anderson, another sub-11 sprinter.
The men’s sprinting in Doha, which will also be over 200m, features the silver and bronze medallists behind Usain Bolt at last year’s World Championships – respectively Jamaica’s Warren Weir and USA’s Curtis Mitchell.
Both men look in a strong position to improve their credentials as the men most likely to challenge the multiple world and Olympic champion Usain Bolt over the longer sprint in coming seasons. The field also includes 2012 European champion Churandy Martina.
High jumpers to hit the heights?
The men’s high jump, which has become increasingly competitive in the past couple of years, will feature home star and Asian record-holder Mutaz Essa Barshim, who won the world indoor title in Sopot and now wants to complete the logical sequence of his Doha results having followed third place with second last year.
Barshim faces a strong field which includes Russia’s Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov, Olympic silver medallist Erik Kynard and Canada’s Derek Drouin, one of the two jumpers who shared Olympic bronze in London with Barshim.
Drouin has already set the bar high this summer with 2.40m, achieved at the Drake Relays last month.
Ukhov has a 2.42m to his credit from indoors in February, a height only the world record-holder, Javier Sotomayor, has ever bettered.
It was a measure of the quality of the Doha meeting that when Kenya’s Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha was forced to drop out with a calf injury, he was swiftly replaced by the 20-year-old Ethiopian Mohammed Aman who has secured world outdoor and indoor titles in the space of the past year.
Aman faces a stringent test in his first race since taking the world indoor title in Sopot two months ago.
He lines up in a contest that is not a Diamond Race scoring event against a field which includes his talented contemporary Nijel Amos, of Botswana, who took silver behind Rudisha in London.
Aman broke into the world all-time top 10 with his national record of 1:42.37 at last year’s Diamond League final in Brussels but Amos has run even faster: his 1:41.73 in the Olympic final made him the third-fastest runner in history, along with Great Britain’s double Olympic champion Sebastian Coe.
Another London 2012 finalist, Britain’s Andrew Osagie, will also be in the mix having won a second successive world indoor bronze in Sopot.
Adams' shot streak
New Zealand’s Adams is a dominant figure in the shot with two Olympic gold medals, four outdoor and three indoor world titles.
She arrives in Doha with a winning streak of 46 finals and hasn’t lost a competition since August 2010.
Kiprop, who successfully defended his world 1500m title last year, will seek to extend Kenyan dominance over the distance in Doha, where 13 of the past 14 races since the meeting began have been won either by him or his compatriots.
He will be challenged by team-mates Nixon Chepseba and Silas Kiplagat, who won at this venue in 2011 and 2012 respectively, as well as Djibouti's world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman and the Olympic champion himself, Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, who has only raced five times since his surprise win in London and has recently changed coaches.
Kenyan dominance in the 3000m steeplechase also looks assured given the presence of the 2004 and 2012 Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi and his team-mate Brimin Kipruto, the 2008 Olympic champion.
USA's LaShawn Merritt who regained his world 400m title last summer, will face compatriot Tony McQuay, the silver medallist in Moscow 2013, and the Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos, the London 2012 silver medallist at just 18.
Also in the field is Czech Republic’s 23-year-old European champion Pavel Maslak, who won the world indoor title two months ago.
Price out to test Sum
The women’s 800m features a first meeting between last year’s surprise world champion Eunice Sum of Kenya and the US athlete who won the world indoor title two months ago, Chanelle Price. Also in the mix could be Kenya’s former world champion Janeth Jepkosgei.
Genzebe Dibaba, who broke the world indoor 1500m and 3000m records this year before taking the world indoor 3000m title in Sopot, will seek to maintain her stellar progress in a 3000m race – which she said on Thursday was her favourite distance – which includes Kenya’s world silver medallist Mercy Cherono.
The men’s 110m hurdles features all three medallists from last year’s World Championships, the US pair who took the gold and silver medals respectively, David Oliver and Ryan Wilson, and Russia’s bronze medallist Sergey Shubenkov.
Oliver has already run three times this season, with a best of 13.23. Also look out for France’s 22-year-old Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, the World Indoor Championships silver medallist.
Ignisious Gaisah, of the Netherlands, and Mexico’s up-and-coming Luis Alberto Rivera, the silver and bronze medallists in Moscow 2013, look the favourites in a men’s long jump but look out too for the USA’s 2012 Olympic triple jump champion, Christian Taylor.
Taylor is relaxing a little this year and spreading his talents between the long and triple jumps, as well as the 400m.
In the men’s discus, Estonia’s Gerd Kanter, the 2008 Olympic champion, will seek to improve his impressive Diamond League statistics of nine wins and 18 top-three finishes. Asian hopes rest with Iran’s Ehsan Hadadi, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist.
Four of the first five finishers at the World Championships will start in the women’s 400m hurdles, including US silver and bronze medallists respectively, Dalilah Muhammad and Lashinda Demus, the latter being the 2011 world champion.
Yarisley Silva, Cuba’s Olympic silver medallist and world indoor champion, looks the one to beat in the women’s pole vault. The women’s triple jump also has a Latin-American favourite as Colombia’s world champion Caterine Ibarguen will seek to maintain her dominance over a field which includes Ukraine’s former world champion, Olga Saladukha.
Australia’s Kimberly Mickle is a rising force in the women’s javelin, having won silver at last year’s World Championships, and this year she has raised her Oceanian record to 66.83m, the world-leading effort so far this season.
Her rivals include South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen, who set an African record of 69.35m in 2012, and Germany’s 2010 European champion and 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Linda Stahl.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF