The Stars Aren’t Avoiding Each Other In This One – #1 Kiprop vs. #2 Manang’oi in 1,500, #1 Birech vs. #2 Kipruto and #3 Kemboi in Steeple, 2015 #1 Sum vs. 2016 #1 Semenya in 800, and #1 Ayana vs. #1 Cheruiyot in 3,000
May 4, 2016
It’s May and that means one thing: the IAAF Diamond League is back. It’s all here — top athletes, 14 international cities (hello Rabat!) and the Diamond League anthem that seems to pop up (DUH-DUH-DUH DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH) whenever you open your computer.
The Doha Diamond League, which will be held on Friday, is track and field’s opening day, and few sports do it better. The fields are stacked and unlike North American sports like baseball, basketball and hockey, where opening day is about a million years from the championship series, it’s a relatively quick three-month journey from Doha to Rio (with a stop in the middle for the Olympic Trials).
Adding to the intrigue is that track and field’s top athletes don’t just dip their toes in the water during the DL opener; they dive in headfirst. Last year alone, Doha featured Mo Farah losing a track race, rabbit Virginia Nyambura winning the women’s steeplechase, Justin Gatlin running 9.74 in the men’s 100 and two triple jumpers surpassing 18 meters in the same meet for the first time in history.
Are you excited yet? Well if not, perhaps this year’s fields will do it for you. Kenyan studs Asbel Kiprop, Elijah Manangoi and Silas Kiplagat are all in the men’s 1500. Caster Semenya returns to DL action with her first DL race since June 2014 in the women’s 800 and faces 2013 world champ Eunice Sum. The men’s steeple is spectacular as it features two-time defending DL champ Jairus Birech and Kenyan rivals Ezekiel Kemboi (the GOAT) and Conseslus Kipruto (silver at Worlds in ’13 and ’15). Plus a stacked women’s 3000 pitting 2015 world champs Almaz Ayana (5000) and Vivian Cheruiyot (10,000) against each other.
The non-distance events are just as loaded. LaShawn Merritt, fresh off a 44.22 in crappy conditions at Drake, will look to crack 44 seconds in the 400. Tori Bowie squares off against 200 world champ Dafne Schippers in the 100 while world leader Omar McLeod and Aries Merritt, with his new kidney, lead a stacked men’s 110 hurdles. In the men’s 200, Walter Dix, whose 20.25 last month was his fastest since 2013, will run his first DL event in three years.
The field events are headlined by the men’s high jump, where local boy Mutaz Essa Barshim faces world champ Derek Drouin. In the triple jump, Christian Taylor will look to go over 18 meters here for the second year in a row, while World Indoor silver medallist Sandi Morris leads the way in the women’s pole vault.
Doha should be a great start to a tremendous Olympic year. For the full scoop on the meet, what’s new for the 2016 Diamond League season and mid-d/distance previews, keep reading.
What: 2016 Doha Diamond League
Where: Suheim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, Qatar
When: Friday, May 6. Meet program begins at 10:41 a.m. ET; DL track events (and the beIN Sports broadcast) begin at 12:00 p.m. ET.
How to watch: In the US, it’s live on beIN Sports from 12:00 p.m. ET to 2:00 p.m. ET. Don’t have BeINsports? Here is some info on how to sign up. In Europe, you can watch the meet live on Eurosport. You can also watch the pre-meet press conference live online on Thursday at 4:30 a.m. ET.
The IAAF has instituted some changes for the Diamond League’s seventh season. It’s subbed out the adidas Grand Prix in New York for the Meeting International Mohammed VI d’Atlétisme in Rabat, bringing the Diamond League to Africa for the first time. In the horizontal jumps and the throws, each athlete will only get three attempts (previously it was six), with only the top four after three rounds getting an additional three attempts. And the IAAF has also overhauled its scoring system.
Athletes will still compete for the $40,000 Diamond Race prize in the 32 Diamond Race disciplines, and each discipline will still be run seven times, culminating in the DL finals in Zurich (September 1) and Brussels (September 9). But instead of scoring just the top three places (four for first, two for second, one for third), as it had in the past, the IAAF will now award points to the top six as follows:
1st: 10 points
2nd: 6 points
3rd: 4 points
4th: 3 points
5th: 2 points
6th: 1 point
As in years past, the Diamond League final will be worth double points and, if healthy, an athlete must compete in the Diamond League final to be eligible for the $40,000 prize.
So will this new scoring system actually change anything? Let’s compare the 2015 Diamond Race winners in the distance events under the old scoring system vs. the new one.
|2015 champ (old scoring)||2015 champ (new scoring)|
|Men’s 800||Nijel Amos, 16 points||Nijel Amos, 44 points|
|Men’s 1500||Asbel Kiprop, 17 points||Asbel Kiprop, 44 points|
|Men’s 3k/5k||Yomif Kejelcha, 14 points||Yomif Kejelcha, 38 points|
|Men’s steeple||Jairus Birech, 20 points||Jairus Birech, 54 points|
|Women’s 800||Eunice Sum, 24 points||Eunice Sum, 60 points|
|Women’s 1500||Sifan Hassan, 18 points||Sifan Hassan, 50 points|
|Women’s 3k/5k||Genzebe Dibaba, 16 points||Genzebe Dibaba, 42 points|
|Women’s steeple||Virginia Nyambura, 15 points||Virginia Nyambura, 42 points|
As you can see, there would have been no changes when it came to crowning last year’s DL champs. Granted this is a look at just eight events in only one year, but because the relative values of 1st and 2nd is almost the same (10-6 vs. 4-2) and the DL finals are still worth double, the winner will usually be the same as under the old scoring. The order of the other places will definitely be different under the new scoring but since only the winner gets a prize ($40,000 and a bye into the 2017 World Champs), that doesn’t make a difference.
If the IAAF really wants to shake up its scoring, it might make sense to make the DL finals worth less. The current structure is great for attracting talent to the DL finals — and in the end, that’s what the DL finals should probably be about — but because most athletes don’t run all seven events anyway, it places a massive emphasis on the final vs. season-long excellence.
Men’s 1500 (12:25 p.m. ET): World champ Asbel Kiprop faces World silver medallist Elijah Manangoi for the first time in 2016
|Dumisane Hlaselo||South Africa||3:36.36||3:38.09|
|Adam Ali Mousab||Qatar||3:42.23|
While this field contains the men who went 5-6-7 at World Indoors in March (Dawit Wolde, Aman Wote and Vincent Kibet), the headliners are the three Kenyans who went 1-2-5 at World Outdoors last August: Asbel Kiprop, Elijah Manangoi and Silas Kiplagat. With a combined 33 Diamond League victories, Kiprop and Kiplagat have dominated the circuit since its inception in 2010 and Kiprop is at the peak of his powers. In 2015, Kiprop lost just one 1500/mile all year: the Bowerman Mile at the Pre Classic, where he left himself with too much work to do late and wound up third to Ayanleh Souleiman and Matthew Centrowitz. Included in his victories were his ridiculous 3:26.62 in Monaco in July and a third straight world title in Beijing in August.
Kiprop has come out firing in 2016. Last month in Eldoret he ran 1:45.2 and 1:44.6 for 800 in consecutive days, winning both races handily. A week later, he toyed with the field to claim the 1500 title at the Kenyan Police Champs. Now he heads to Doha to open his international season. This will be the eighth straight year Kiprop has competed in the Qatari capital, and he’s built up quite a track record in that time. Check it out:
Asbel Kiprop in Doha
With the exception of last year, Kiprop has simply crushed it in Doha and his form so far in 2016 suggests another fast clocking is in the cards on Friday.
While Kiprop may be the favorite, he’s certainly not a lock. Kiplagat has won his share of battles against Kiprop in Doha, and handed him his only 1500 loss here in 2012. His 2016 performances don’t blow you away (14:18 5k for 5th in Nakuru on March 18; 1:47.4 800 win in Eldoret on April 14) but the latter is a solid performance; he should be ready to roll in Doha.
The really interesting man to watch, however, is Manangoi. Officially 23 years old (he told our Andy Arnold that he’s actually 25), Manangoi, a former 400 runner who emerged to take silver at Worlds last year, has devastating closing speed and has looked almost as good as Kiprop so far this year (though the two have not raced yet head-to-head). In February, he ran 3:39 indoors to win in Dusseldorf (beating eventual World Indoor silver medallist Jakub Holusa in the process), then ran 2:17 two weeks later. So far outdoors, he’s run 1:47.3 and 1:46.9 in Eldoret on consecutive days in April and 1:47 and 1:44 on consecutive days at the Kenyan Police Champs in Nairobi two weeks ago. The latter effort, which Arnold clocked at 1:44.1, came with Manangoi messing around over the final 200, motioning for a teammate to run with him on the final turn before Manangoi blew his doors off in the home straight. Of all the men in the world, Manangoi might have the best potential to knock off Kiprop in Rio this year. His effort on Friday will tell us how feasible that really is.
Men’s 3000 Steeplechase (12:50 p.m. ET): Two-Time Defending DL Champ Jairus Birech Takes on the GOAT, Ezekiel Kemboi, and Conseslus Kipruto
|Mohamed Ismail Ibrahim||Djibouti||8:24.58||8:36.20|
Though there aren’t any Americans in this field, most of the top Kenyans are here (only 2015 WC bronze medallist Brimin Kipruto is missing). Based on 2015 form, there are three men who could win this race: Jairus Birech, who has won 9 of his last 12 DL steeples; Conseslus Kipruto, the silver medallist at Worlds last year; and Ezekiel Kemboi, who has won the last five global titles.
All three have run well so far in Kenya this year. The strength-oriented Birech, who loves to push the pace, has already run 28:51 and 28:35 (pb) at altitude this year, both winning efforts. That last performance, Birech’s fourth race in three days in Eldoret three weeks ago, converts to a stunning 27:03 using the NCAA’s altitude conversion. The 23-year-old is stronger than he’s ever been. (For a look at Birech’s training this spring, check out this article where Andy Arnold sits in on Birech running 2 x 1600 in 4:20 over barriers).
Kipruto and Kemboi have gone undefeated this spring in Kenya, though they’ve combined to race just three times (Kipruto ran a 13:46-29:24 double in the span of three days in Eldoret in mid-April; Kemboi cruised to 3:47 1500 win at that same meet). The strength of both runners is their kick; Kemboi’s is legendary, the best in history, while Kipruto’s is extremely good and propelled him past Birech in London last year.
Given Birech’s feats over 10,000 this spring and his track record of Diamond League success, we’re picking him to win on Friday. He figured out in 2014 that his best strategy is to take it out hard around 8:00 pace and dare the rest of the field to go with him and it usually works. However, two of the three men to have beaten Birech in DL competition since June 2014 are in this race. What this comes down to is whether Kipruto or Kemboi have the strength to hang with Birech until the final 200; if they’re around late in the race, expect their kick to prevail. If not, we think Birech wins by 5+ seconds.
Kemboi has been famously inconsistent on the DL circuit the last two years. His average DL finish in that span is seventh — and that doesn’t include a DNF in Rome in 2014. Yet he won his first steeple of the year in both 2014 and 2015 and guess what: Doha is his first steeple of 2016. Last year, Kemboi said he wanted to put down a fast time early before putting all his efforts into peaking for Worlds. If he follows a similar approach, we could get a repeat of his thrilling duel with Birech at Pre last year.
We should also mention 34-year-old Kenyan Paul Koech, who ran 7:45 three times indoors and won last year’s DL final in Zurich. He’s been cranking out fast times since 2003 (when he first broke 8:00 at age 21) and was 2nd, 5th, 3rd, 6th, 3rd and 1st in his six Diamond League appearances last year.
Women’s 800 (1:21 p.m. ET): Caster Semenya Makes Her First Diamond League Appearance Since June 2014
|Shelayna Oskan-Clarke||Great Britain||1:58.86|
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||1:55.45||1:58.45|
|Adelle Tracey||Great Britain||2:01.10|
In a way, every event in Doha sets the tone for the rest of the season, but none may be as important as the women’s 800. In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism regulations and with Caster Semenya no longer required to keep her natural testosterone below a legal limit, she has taken full advantage. Her 2:00.23 on March 22 signaled that she could be on her way to the form that saw her win Worlds in 2009 and take silver at Worlds and the Olympics in 2011 and 2012. And her ridiculous one-day triple of 50.74-1:58.45-4:10.91 (all wins) at last month’s South African Champs confirmed that Semenya is in monster shape.
The next step comes on Friday, where she’ll go up against Eunice Sum, the world’s best 800 runner over the past three years. Sum has won the past three Diamond Race titles, won Worlds in 2013 (she took bronze last year) and is the only woman in the past two years to have broken 1:57. Sum has won all four of her races so far this year and has been nearly impossible to beat in recent seasons: since the start of 2013, she’s won 25 of her 30 800s and on the rare occasions she’s lost, it’s normally taken a magnificent effort.
All of which is to say if Semenya blows Sum out of the water in Doha, you might as well, barring a court order, hand her the Olympic gold now (though World Indoor champ Francine Niyonsaba who also has been impacted by the ruling might have a shot too). Sum did start fast last year, running 1:57.82 in May at the Pre Classic, but considering Semenya’s 1:58 three weeks ago was a solo run less than an hour after she ran 50.74, we’d expect her to be capable of 1:56 or better right now in Doha. It’s going to be very tough for Sum to match that; the most likely scenario is that Semenya smokes the field, something you may have to get used to in 2016.
There are other runners in the field apart from Semenya and Sum, including two familiar faces in Molly Ludlow and Chanelle Price — the only Americans in the distance events here. Ludlow is coming off a career year in 2015 that saw her break 1:59 for the first time and compete at her first World Championships. She opened up her season with a nice 2:02.04 win in LA on April 9, but was just seventh at Mt. SAC a week later in 2:05; hopefully, that was just a hiccup and not a warning sign.
Price, likewise, is coming off her most complete season as a pro. Though she won World Indoors in 2014, she was way more consistent in 2015 (running six of the seven fastest times of her career, including five sub-2:00), in large part because she was healthy (injury caused her to miss most of the summer of 2014). Price decided to not defend her World Indoor crown this year to focus on outdoors and she has looked good so far this year, clocking a 2:01.72 at the Florida Relays on April 1 and running a 4:36 mile at Penn last week. Sub-2:00 at Doha isn’t out of the question and she’ll have fond memories of this track as this is where she broke 2:00 for the first time two years ago.
With the women’s 800 at the Olympic Trials figuring to be even more competitive than last year, Price and Ludlow will have to top their impressive 2015’s for a shot at Rio this summer.
Women’s 3000 (1:45 p.m.): A Battle Between World Champs Almaz Ayana and Vivian Cheruiyot
|Etenesh Diro Neda||Ethiopia||9:00.39|
|Eilish McColgan||Great Britain||8:47.79|
Two years ago, Doha produced the greatest women’s 3000 the world has ever seen (sorry, we’re not counting anything run in Beijing in September 1993 as a) many have questions to its legitimacy and b) the world didn’t see it on tv).
How absurd was that race? Well Genzebe Dibaba, fresh off a world indoor record of 8:16 and World Indoor title, could only manage sixth in 8:26! A stunning seven women broke 8:30, with an eighth at 8:30.00, and four of those eight are back this year.
The depth of this year’s race can’t rival 2014’s, but the quality at the top is just as good, if not better. Mercy Cherono, who was fifth at Worlds last year in the 5000 and has won six DL 3ks/2 miles since 2014, is the top returner from two years ago. But the headliners are 2015 world champs Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya. Ayana, making her 2016 debut, is the favorite here. Though Dibaba got most of the attention, in Ayana’s 2015 season was almost as ridiculous. She lost just once (to Dibaba), ran 8:22 twice and 14:14 and destroyed Dibaba at Worlds in arguably the greatest 5,000 performance of all time. Though 8:22 is her official PR, she closed her world title in Beijing in 8:19 and assuming she’s fit here, a sub-8:20 could be in the cards in Doha. That would be ridiculous (no one has ever broken 8:20 outdoors aside from the suspicious Chinese women in September 1993) and given that we know nothing about Ayana’s current shape, would be a bit presumptuous. But she PR’d in her outdoor opener here two years ago (she was fifth in that epic 3000) and ran 14:14 — #3 all-time — in her 2015 opener.
Ayana is clearly the woman to beat, and Cherono and Viola Kibiwot (fourth at Worlds in the 5000 last year) will be worth watching too. But apart from Ayana, we’re most excited to see Kenya’s 10,000 world champ Vivian Cheruiyot. After going a staggering 30 months without racing (she took time off to have a baby in between), Cheruiyot returned with a terrific 2015 season, capping it off with her fourth world title in Beijing (she now has two at 5,000 and two at 10,000).
The one honor that has eluded the 4-time track World Champ Cheruiyot is an Olympic gold (she has a silver and bronze from 2012) and at 32, this is her last chance to earn one. The 10,000 is her best bet since she no longer has the speed to contend with the Ayanas and Dibabas of the world over 5,000. So don’t expect her to win, or even come that close to challenging Ayana here (Ayana beat her by 16 seconds when they raced over 3k in Zurich in September). But with World Indoor 3k silver medallist Meseret Defar announcing her intention to run the 10,000 in Rio (plus the potential threat of both Dibaba sisters and/or Ayana) Cheruiyot will have to be on the top of her game in 2016, and that starts in Doha.
The non-distance action is also going to be great. Want more info on this great meet? Go to our homepage. We’re also going to do a pre-meet podcast on Thursday at 12 noon ET – 24 hours before meet. You can also watch the pre-meet press conference live online on Thursday at 4:30 a.m. ET. *Schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information.