It’s that time of the year again, as it has been for the last six years.
The opening leg of the IAAF Diamond League, a one-day athletics competition featuring some of the world’s top athletes, will enter its seventh year when Doha kicks off the 14-meeting series’ traditional curtain-raiser for the seventh successive year at the Qatar Sports Club today.
As many as 11 reigning world champions lead a field of 38 past and current global champions and 80 global medallists who will embark on the road to achieve their 2016 Olympic aspirations, starting with the Diamond League meeting leading up to Rio.
It will also be a big day for Qatar’s medal hopefuls, with the country planning to send its biggest-ever contingent of 34 athletes to Rio, who will compete in swimming, shooting, handball, equestrian and table tennis besides track and field, where they have a realistic chance of landing medals.
This year’s Diamond League carries added significance, as it is also the Olympic year, and for the athletes, the series is the perfect platform to gauge their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the big event.
IAAF president Sebastian Coe, who took over the top job last year, stressed as much while addressing the media yesterday. “Doha hosted the first ever Diamond League meeting in 2010 and has since been hosting the curtain-raiser of the series with great success,” said the Englishman, who is a former decorated middle distance runner himself.
“There’s a unique expectation and excitement for this year’s meeting because, as the athletes know all too well, the denouement of the season is the Olympic Games.
Qatar has been a trusted partner of the IAAF for many years, they have the know-how and expertise of hosting big events, and I am sure this year’s meeting will be no different,” Coe added.
Qatar Athletics Federation president Dahlan al-Hamad echoed Coe’s sentiments: “We have set high standards in organising important and prestigious sporting events in previous years and we aim to continue at the highest possible level. As this is the Olympic year, we are confident the Doha meeting will offer the athletes an ideal start to what is going to be a really hectic season,” the QAF chief, who is also one of the vice-presidents of the IAAF, said.
Among the big names who would be kicking off their outdoor seasons in Doha are reigning Olympic champions Christian Taylor, Aries Merritt and Ezekiel Kemboi.
Taylor has been a familiar face in the Qatar capital. “I love competing, I love getting points, I love being on top of podiums, so I try to do what I need to do to put me in that place. Doha has always been a happy place for me, I like the crowd, I like the atmosphere, and I like the weather. My first jump beyond 18 metres happened here in Doha, so it will always remain special. But it’s both a blessing and curse. Now the bar is set really high,” said the American triple-jumper, a two-time world champion who’ll be targeting a second successive Olympic title in Rio.
Taylor notched his second world title last year with an 18.21m leap that elevated him to the No. 2 position all-time. This year Taylor will take on Teddy Tamgho of France, another member of the event’s exclusive 18-metre club.
Merritt, the world record holder in 110m hurdles, continues his comeback after undergoing a kidney transplant surgery last year just four days after taking bronze at the World Championships. He’ll face a strong challenge from Jamaican Omar McLeod (12.97 personal best), the hottest hurdler in the world at the moment, who won the World Indoor title in March and is the year’s fastest at 13.08. After clocking 9.99 in the 100m last month, the 22-year-old earned the distinction of being the only man to run under 10 seconds in the 100m and under 13 in the 110m hurdles.
The field also includes David Oliver of the US, a former world champion and meeting record holder (12.95) who’ll be chasing a fourth Doha victory.
Meanwhile, Kemboi, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and four-time world champion in the 3,000m steeplechase, leads a traditionally strong field which includes his Kenyan compatriot Jairus Birech.
Qatari hopes are high in several events. After equalling his own 9.91 Asian record in the 100m last month in Florida, the fastest timing in 100m this year, Femi Ogunode will be among the favourites in the men’s 200m. He is also the Asian record holder in the 200 at 19.97. “I’m calm,” Ogunode said. “I’m not anxious about competing here. I’m in my home country. I trust in myself and believe in myself, so there is no pressure.”
His main challenge will come from Panama’s Alonso Edward, Walter Dix of the US, and Ameer Webb, another rising US star who clocked 19.91 last month.
In the 400m, all eyes will be on Qatar’s latest hot prospect, the 19-year-old Abdalelah Haroun who took silver at the World Indoor Championships in March. A prodigious talent, Haroun set an Asian U20 record last year clocking 44.29, the eighth fastest performance of the year.
He’ll face a daunting line-up in his first Doha main stage debut lead by LaShawn Merritt, a former Olympic and two-time world champion. Merritt, last year’s World Championships silver medallist, illustrated impressive early season form with a 19.78 career best and world leading time in the 200m in Nassau last month.
In the high jump, local hero Mutaz Barshim, the 2014 World Indoor champion, will command the spotlight in a field that includes world champion Derek Drouin of Canada, China’s world silver medallist Zhang Guowei and Erik Kynard of the US, the Olympic silver medallist.
In the 800m race, two-time Asian champion Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla will be looking to kick off his outdoor campaign with a fast time to make amends for his unfortunate race at the World Indoor Championships final. He’ll face former World Indoor champion Abubaker Kaki of Sudan.
The women’s 100m includes the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers, who recently took the 60m silver at the World Indoors and is also the 200m world champion, and Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown, the 200m Olympic gold medallist in Beijing.
Schippers will be competing in Doha for the first time, an appearance she’s eagerly anticipating. “I’ve heard that it’s a very nice track, and it’s very nice to be able to compete against these very fast women,” Schippers said.
One of those “fast women” she’ll be lining up against in the 100m is Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown, a two-time Olympic 200m champion who has been among the world’s top sprinters since 2001.
It will be a new challenge for Schippers though, who took the bronze in heptathlon at the 2013 World Championships, before shifting her focus to the sprints. “That’s a nice new world for me, a new challenge, but I am enjoying it,” said the Dutch athlete, who said she might think of trying it out in long jump sometime in the coming years.
The series will introduce a modification to its scoring system this year, extending to six from three the number of athletes who can earn points at each meeting. Additionally, in the throws and horizontal jumps, only the top four athletes after three rounds will earn three additional attempts.
Women's Pole Vault (17:45)
Women's Shot Put (17:45)
Women's Triple (18:10)
Men's Discus Throw (18:30)
Men's High Jump (18:45)
Men's 400m (19:04)
Women's 100m (19:15)
Men's 1500m (19:25)
Women's 400m Hurdles (19:39)
Men's 3000m Steeplechase (19:50)
Men's Triple Jump (19:50)
Women's Javelin Throw (19:55)
Men's 200m (20:09)
Women's 800m (20:21)
Men's 110m Hurdles (20:34)
Women's 3000m (20:45)
*Men's 800m (Regional) 18:33
*Men's 4x400m Relay (21:05)
(*Not part of Diamond Race)
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