ATHLETICS Preview: Diamond League season opens at the site of the World Champs in Doha

Shot Put superstar Ryan Crouser (USA)

The IAAF outdoor season starts in earnest on Friday with the Diamond League opener in Doha (QAT) in the Khalifa International Stadium that will host the World Championships in September.

That makes this meet a little more interesting, not to mention the follow-up on the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to allow the IAAF’s female eligibility regulations to go forward.

The meet itself should be pretty good, as early-season marks have been excellent in many events so far. Some of the highlighted events:

Men/800 m: World leader (and Asian Champion) Abubaker Abdalla (QAT) will have the home crowd screaming for him, but he will be challenged by American Donavan Brazier (1:44.41 indoors), London Olympic silver medalist Nigel Amos (BOT), Kenyans Jonathan Kitilit and Ferguson Rotich and Poland’s two-time Worlds silver winner Adam Kszczot.

Men/1,500 m: There are 14 runners in this race, with nine from Kenya. The focus will be on two of them: last year’s almost-unbeatable Tim Cheruiyot (3:28.41 world leader) and 2017 World Champion Elijah Manangoi (3:28.80 ‘17). There are plenty of other capable winners, but who’s in shape now?

Men/Steeplechase: With Kenyan star Conseslus Kipruto and American Evan Jager not here, the headliner is Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali, last year’s world leader at 7:58.15. If he’s in shape, he’ll win. If not, it will be one of the 10 Kenyans in this 19-runner race.

Men/Pole Vault: World Champion Sam Kendricks (USA) will be facing old friends in Rio 2016 champ Thiago Braz da Silva (BRA) and Poland’s Piotr Lisek. Both Kendricks and Lisek cleared 5.93 m (19-5 1/2) indoors and will challenge the 5.94 m (19-5 3/4) outdoor world leader by Mondo Duplantis (SWE). American Andrew Irwin is the wild card, having cleared 5,88 m (19-3 1/2) indoors this year.

Men/Shot Put: It’s still early in the season, but Rio 2016 champ Ryan Crouser is on fire. He’s already thrown 22.74 m (74-7 1/4), the furthest throw since 1990 and already has three meets and four throws beyond the 22 m (72-2 1/4) mark … and it’s May 1! This will not be a walkover, though, with New Zealand’s Tom Walsh (already 21.91 m/71-10 3/4), Brazil’s Darlan Romani (21.83 m/71-7 1/2) and 2015 World Champion Joe Kovacs (USA) in the field.

Men/Discus: Norway’s Ola Stunes Isene is the world leader at 67.78 m (222-4), with Iran’s Ehsan Hadadi – the Asian Champion – third at 67.19 m (220-5) and American Mason Finley (67.13 m/220-3) fifth. Sweden’s Daniel Stahl, the world leader for the last three seasons, will open up in Doha.

Women/800 m: This is where all the attention will be, thanks to the decision in the IAAF female regulations case. Caster Semenya is not entered, but the silver-bronze winners from Rio who will both be subject to the new regulations – Francine Niyonsaba (BDI) and Margaret Wambui (KEN) – are listed. No one will be surprised if they pull out, but they will have their hands full in any case with American Ajee Wilson (1:55.61 PR in 2017), Natalya Goule (JAM: 1:56.15 ‘18) and Habitam Alemu (ETH: 1:56.71 ‘18).

Women/3,000 m: We’re in the new era of races limited to 3,000 m being shown on television, so that’s what we’re running in Doha. Reigning World 5,000 m Champion and World Cross Country Champion Hellen Obiri is in this race and is the clear favorite. If she’s not in shape, other possible winners include Ethiopia’s Ginzebe Dibaba and Gudaf Tsegay and Steeplechase world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech. Note this: Chepkoech’s record in the Steeple is 8:44.32 and her best flat 3,000 m is only 8:28.66; she can go a lot faster!

Women/100 m Hurdles: The world lead of 12.57 by Janeek Brown (JAM) is in jeopardy from 2016 Olympic champ Brianna McNeal, Sharika Nelvis and Christina Clemons (nee Manning) of the U.S.. Last week, Clemons ran 12.59w at the Tom Jones Memorial in Gainesville, Florida and won easily, so this race could be fast.

Women/400 m Hurdles: Rio champ Dalilah Muhammad hasn’t run over hurdles yet, but won the Mt. SAC Relays 400 m in a good 51.62, a lifetime best by a full second! So she’s ready. Rio bronze winner Ashley Spencer (USA) was third at the Drake Relays (57.02) and Jamaica’s Janieve Russell will also make her 2019 hurdles debut.

Women/Long Jump: Rio champ Tianna Bartoletta has had a roller-coaster of a life and a career, but tweeted that she is ready to go for 2019. At 33, she is the two-time World Champion in this event for 2005 and 2015, but had a rough 2018. She’d rather be jumping around 7 m, as she did in 2014-15-16-17. Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen, who won the Continental Cup long jump as well as the triple jump last year, is the likely favorite, but there are multiple possible winners, including Lorraine Ugen (GBR), Christabel Nettey (CAN) and Brooke Stratton (AUS).

There are other events with lesser fields; the complete entry lists are here. There is prize money in all events of $10,000-6,000-4,000-3,000-2,500-2,000-1,500-1,000 for the top eight and $500 for places 9-12 in the races of 1,500 m and longer.

NBC’s Olympic Channel has coverage from Doha beginning at noon Eastern time on Friday. Look for results here.

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