It’s been 10 years since Mutaz Essa Barshim made his Diamond League debut in Doha in 2011.
The Qatari high jumper has come a long way since that third place, 2.31m effort. He has won two Olympic medals, won his first world title in 2017, endured a career-threatening injury while attempting a world record 2.46m jump, and then returned to become the only high jumper to retain his world title, when he won in front of a packed Khalifa International Stadium with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in presence.
Barshim and Javier Sotomayor’s 28-year-old 2.45m world record are frequently mentioned in the same breath, and while the 29-year-old has always maintained that it is a matter of when and not if, he does prioritise his health and competition goals higher.
“To be honest, I don’t know but I hope so,” said Barshim at a press conference on Thursday on the eve of Doha Diamond League Doha when asked if 2021 will be the year of the record. “Again, Tokyo is going to be the target. The only thing I now know is that you can’t put a time to it, you just have to do it. Major target for me is to stay healthy, because I know if I am healthy and fit, I can do good stuff.”
Later during the press conference when the moderator asks him if 2.45m is possible, his cool and calm reply was, “I think 2.47m is possible.” For theatricality, compatriot and men’s 400m hurdles contender Abderrahman Samba, audibly oohs in anticipation.
And Barshim, whose seasonal best is a 2.30m in Tokyo earlier this month, added, “If you manage to stay healthy.”
Today when Barshim takes to the Qatar Sports Club’s Suheim Bin Hamad Stadium, he will be joined by Olympic champion Derek Drouin for the first time in four years. The Canadian, also part of the 2.40m club, has been out of action since 2017.
World bronze medallist Ilya Ivanyuk, who cleared a world-leading 2.37m last weekend, also competes, as does European indoor champion Maksim Nedasekau and 2018 Diamond League winner Brandon Starc. Barshim will have the company of compatriot Hamdi Alamine in the competition too.
“It has been two years, and I am happy and excited to be back. Definitely home, and so there is that extra motivation. Two years for me, of course it is a long time, but I know how to manage that. I believe in my coach, and my team. Coach always gets me in good shape,” Barshim said.
Today, the Doha Diamond League is going to be a hotbed of track and field performance with 32 Doha 2019 Worlds medallists, including 12 champions, with almost 200 athletes taking to the Doha venue.
Samba, who was the first person after world record holder Kevin Young (46.78 in 1992) to dip under 47 seconds when he ran a 46.98 in Paris in 2018, will be up against American Rai Benjamin, who matched Samba’s time in Zurich the next year.
While Samba is yet to compete in a 400m hurdles this season, Benjamin ran a world lead 47.13 at USATF Golden Games earlier this month in California.
“When I was doing my best in 2018, the competition wasn’t as heated as it’s now. So this competitive spirit is definitely going to push the numbers quite high in the coming days,” Samba, who won bronze behind Karsten Warholm and Benjamin at the Doha Worlds after a injury prone comeback, said yesterday.
“It is always great to compete here in Doha, and I hope to have a wonderful outing on Friday. I am in better shape than in 2019, and I believe things are looking good. My training is going on well, and it is so far so good.”
Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Islands and Alison Dos Santos of Brazil, who recorded national records of 47.50 and 47.68 respectively when finishing behind Benjamin at Mt SAC, are also in the line-up.
Qatar’s Adam Ali Musab will once again line up in the men’s 1500m alongside the likes of Stewart McSweyn, the Australian national record holder, after grabbing a valuable point in the Diamond League series competition in the opener at Gateshead in England earlier this month.
Musab, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with the world lead time of 3:32.41 earlier this year in Doha, will be joined by compatriots Hamza Driouch, former world junior champion, and Mohamed al-Garni, the two-time Asian champion.
However, world 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot is sure to have a say in the matters. While the Kenyan has never won at the Doha meeting, he did win his world title two years ago across the town at Khalifa stadium. “I can’t wait to be on a start line again and have great memories of competing in Doha, especially winning gold at the 2019 World Championships,” he had said earlier.
World champion Yulimar Rojas will be looking to build on her world-leading 15.43m at the World Athletics Continental Tour meeting in Andujar last week. Her leap is the same distance as her world indoor record and just seven centimetres away from the long-standing world record.
The last time Rojas was in Doha, she won the world title with 15.37m. The Venezuelan will be reunited with the top five finishers from that occasion, including Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen, world silver medallist Shanieka Ricketts, Commonwealth champion Kimberly Williams, and 2011 world champion Olga Saladukha. USA’s Keturah Orji and Dominica’s Thea LaFond, both of whom have set national records this year, are also in the line-up.
The women’s steeplechase also features the top five finishers from the World Championships, led by a world champion and world record-holder.
Beatrice Chepkoech hasn’t contested a steeplechase so far this year, but the Kenyan has shown great form on flat events, clocking a world 5km record of 14:43 in February, followed three days later by an indoor 3000m PB of 8:31.72.
All-round sprinters Michael Norman and Fred Kerley will face off at their specialist distance over 400m.
Norman, the world leader in 2019 and 2018, is undefeated at 400m this year. World bronze medallist Kerley, meanwhile, has impressed with an indoor 400m best of 45.03.
The competition starts at 5:58pm today with the women’s pole vault.
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