Track & Field’s Opening Day In Doha Is Going to Be Incredible – Gatlin vs De Grasse, Loaded Women’s 800, Steeple, Men’s 3k
May 4, 2017
Big-time track & field is back, and it feels so good. LetsRun.com views the first Diamond League event of the year as track & field’s “Opening Day” — a celebration of the sport and the start of three months of competition before this summer’s World Championships in London. There’s plenty worth celebrating as the Diamond League kicks off in Doha on Friday, the first event in an action-packed weekend of running (Payton Jordan is later on Friday (preview here), with Nike’s sub-2:00 marathon attempt (preview here) and a bunch of NCAA conference championships to be held over the weekend).
Doha is where your competitive juices should be focused this weekend as the fields are stacked. Over the past two years, the two best 100-meter runners not named Bolt have been the U.S.’s Justin Gatlin and Canada’s Andre De Grasse, and they’ll square off in Doha for just the second time outside of a championship setting. And they aren’t the only big names in the race. Former world record holder Asafa Powell and Olympic finalists Akani Simbine and Ben Youssef Meite are also entered.
The women’s 800 is even better – it features all three medallists from Rio — led by Caster Semenya — taking on 1500 world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, running her first career 800. The women’s 200 should be super fast as Olympic champ Elaine Thompson battles World champ/Olympic silver medallist Dafne Schippers. Emma Coburn is one of four Americans running in the women’s steeple against world record holder Ruth Jebet, and the meet concludes with Americans Paul Chelimo and Ben True taking on a loaded field in the men’s 3,000 that also features a rare flat appearance from Olympic steeple champ Conseslus Kipruto. Plus U.S. stars Keni Harrison in the 100 hurdles, Christian Taylor in the triple jump, Michelle Carter in the shot put and Sandi Morris in the pole vault.
We give you the meet details below, explain the new changes in the Diamond League format and then preview the four mid-d/distance events. That’s a lot to preview, so let’s get started.
What: 2017 Doha Diamond League
Where: Suheim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, Qatar
When: Friday, May 5. DL track events (and the Universal HD broadcast) begin at 12:00 p.m. ET.
How to watch: This meet will air live in the United States on Universal HD from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET on Friday, with a replay at 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBC Sports Network. In Europe, it’s on Eurosport. For full TV/streaming details, see below.
The Diamond League has instituted some major changes for its eighth season. In the past, the Diamond League crowned champions in 32 events (16 men’s, 16 women’s) based on season-long standings, with double points awarded at the two Diamond League finals. The IAAF has scrapped that for 2017. Now, in order to win the Diamond League championship, you have to win at the Diamond League final. But to prevent athletes from skipping the first 12 meets, athletes must qualify for the final by earning points at the first 12 meets, with DL final field sizes ranging from 7 to 12 athletes depending on the event.
The scoring system has also changed, as the top eight places at each meet now score in a 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 format. Last year, only the top six places scored points.
Another big difference is that some events will only be contested five times, while others will be contested seven times (previously, all events were contested seven times). The 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 100/110 hurdles, high jump and pole vault will all be contested seven times, while the 3k/5k, steeplechase, 400 hurdles, long jump, triple jump, shot put, discus and javelin will all be contested five times. All 16 events will be contested at one of the two Diamond League finals.
The prize money structure at the DL finals has also changed. Previously, prize money was standardized across every event in every meet (including the DL finals), with the DL champion receiving a $40,000 bonus. The prize structure remains the same at the first 12 meets but with fewer events to award prize money in (remember, some events will only take place five times per year as opposed to seven), there is more money to award in the final. Now the DL champion receives $50,000 for winning the DL final, the runner-up receives $20,000 and third receives $10,000, with the payouts continuing down to eighth place. The result is that there is a lot more money in the DL finals in 2017, but the total prize money remains the same (see chart below).
|Old system||New system||Total prize money|
|First 12 meets||$5.76 million||$4.8 million||$8 million|
|DL finals||$2.24 million||$3.2 million||$8 million|
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute; if everyone has to qualify for the final, what happens if the biggest stars don’t amass enough points and can’t compete?” Newsflash: this is already happening. Usain Bolt hasn’t competed in a Diamond League final since 2013. Mo Farah hasn’t competed in one since 2010, before he became “Mo Farah.” Wayde van Niekerk, Matthew Centrowitz, David Rudisha, Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Andre De Grasse all skipped the DL finals last year. Athletes for whom prize money is important — and that’s most of them — will still run the Diamond League meets and qualify for the Diamond League final. In effect, you are taking prize money from the events contested less frequently and redistributing it to the events contested more frequently. So athletes who make a living by grinding out prize money every week in an event like the discus or javelin take a hit. But for athletes who didn’t compete in all seven events anyway — think someone like Emma Coburn in the steeplechase — the restructuring could be a good thing as the individual meets still have the same prize money, only with a bigger reward in the DL final.
One final change: all athletes in the throws and horizontal jumps will now have six attempts. Last year, the IAAF changed the rule so that everyone got three attempts, with only the top four receiving an additional three. This move proved unpopular with athletes and coaches and the IAAF has changed back to the old system moving forward.
Men’s 1500 (12:14 p.m. ET): World Silver Medallist Elijah Manangoi Returns to Face Olympic Finalists Ayanleh Souleiman, Ben Blankenship & Ryan Gregson
|Jakub Holusa||Czech Republic||3:33.36|
For much of 2016, Elijah Manangoi looked like the world’s #2 1500 runner. Entering the Olympics, here were his Diamond League finishes: 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd. Yet after advancing to the semis in Rio, he had to withdraw with an injury, and though he returned for the Diamond League final in Brussels, he wasn’t the same runner, finishing 10th. The 24-year-old Manangoi raced three times this year indoors, to varying degrees of success, but hasn’t been in action since the second week of February. Already a sub-3:30 man and World Championship silver medallist, he’s a huge talent and with Asbel Kiprop absent, he has a chance to show the world on Friday.
He won’t have it easy, however. Ayanleh Souleiman stayed off the Diamond League circuit until after the Olympics last year (it didn’t help that his coach was arrested in a doping raid) but he still notched some impressive performances, breaking the world record for 1000 meters indoors (2:14.20), bettering that mark outdoors (2:13.49 in Lausanne) and missing an Olympic medal in the 1500 by .05. Souleiman has racked up nine Diamond League wins over the past four years and could add to that total if he’s fit.
And really, that’s the question with all these guys. For almost all of them, it’s the first race or first serious race of their outdoor seasons, so we can only judge them off what they ran a few months ago indoors or what they’ve done in previous years. Ben Blankenship and Ryan Gregson looked strong over the winter, as both ran 3:36 indoors in Birmingham in February and both claimed a national title (Blankenship in the mile indoors, Gregson in the 1500 outdoors in Australia). Both of them made the final in Rio last year and can handle themselves in any field.
Finally there’s Timothy Cheruiyot. Often overlooked because of Kenya’s deep middle-distance corps, he was one of the best in the world last year but finished 4th at the Kenyan Olympic Trials and didn’t get to go to Rio. But he won in Rabat, was second in London and beat a ton of studs to win the DL final in Brussels. Kiprop, Manangoi and Ronald Kwemoi — the three guys who beat him out for Olympic spots — aren’t going anywhere, but since Kenya has four spots at Worlds this year, Cheruiyot will have a better shot to make it to London in August.
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Women’s 800 (12:25 p.m. ET): A Mouthwatering Matchup Between Olympic Champion Caster Semenya and Genzebe Dibaba in Her 800 Debut
|Jennifer Meadows||Great Britain||1:57.93|
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||1:55.28||2:00.99|
This is an incredible match-up with the three Rio Olympic medallists taking on the 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba in her 800 debut.
Some of you might be rolling your eyes right now considering the main attraction of this race is a woman whom many feel should not be competing against women (Caster Semenya) vs. a woman whose coach was arrested last summer after performance-enhancing drugs were allegedly found at his hotel (Genzebe Dibaba). If you don’t mind the issues raised in the previous sentence (or even if you do), it’s a riveting matchup, even if the Olympic silver and bronze medallists weren’t also in the field. Semenya went undefeated over 800 meters last season and never looked close to losing, while Dibaba is the world record holder in the 1500 (3:50) and her coach Jama Aden believes she can run WELL under 2:00 in her first 800. Last year, Aden told Athletics Weekly that Dibaba has run 6 x 800 in practice averaging 2:02 with the last one in 1:58 (4 min recovery); he also said he thinks she can run 1:54. That’s a big ask (even Semenya has never run that fast), but considering Dibaba closed her 2015 1500 world title in 1:56.9 for the final 800, it may not be out of the realm of possibility.
Still, we’re going with Semenya in this one. She’s already 7-for-7 in 2017 races, including a second successive sweep of the 400 and 800 at the South African champs and she was invincible in this event last year. Heck, there’s a good chance Dibaba doesn’t even finish second. Remember, Semenya was the only woman to defeat Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba last year. And Semenya and Niyonsaba were the only women to defeat Olympic bronze medallist Margaret Wambui. Another 1-2-3 finish for that trio would not be much of a surprise.
Poland’s Joanna Jozwik was a beast indoors, going undefeated with an SB of 1:59.29, and would be getting more attention for fifth-place 1:57.37 in Rio last year were the top three not so dominant. New American star Charlene Lipsey also has a chance to run really fast on a big stage. She was brilliant indoors, lowering her PR from 2:00.60 to 1:58.64, and she’s been solid in her two outdoor races, helping the U.S. to 4×800 gold at the World Relays and taking 5th behind some of the U.S.’s top 1500 specialists in a cold, wet Drake Relays last week. Her 1500 really impressed us here at LetsRun.com. With the women up front, Lipsey has a chance to be dragged to a really fast time on Friday. Could she break 1:58?
LRC Prediction: Semenya for the win and we’ll go crazy – Lipsey runs 1:57.
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Women’s 3000 steeplechase (1:05 p.m.): A Stacked Field Featuring 8 of the Top 9 from Rio
|Gesa Felicitas Krause||Germany||9:18.41|
Anyone who’s anyone in global steepling is in this race. It’s got the top six finishers from Rio, the top five from the 2015 Worlds, the last two Olympic champions and the entire U.S. Olympic team. Based on 2016, world record holder/Olympic champ Ruth Jebet should have her way with this field, but the one constant with the women’s steeplechase in recent years is that there has been no constant at the very top of the event. Milcah Chemos was the queen in 2013, only to fall off and be replaced by Hiwot Ayalew in 2014. In 2015, it was Hyvin Kiyeng‘s turn, before she gave way to Jebet last year.
The 20-year-old Jebet appears here to stay, however. Her 8:52 world record is six seconds better than anyone else in history and eight ticks ahead of anyone else in this field. Jebet showed her fitness at World XC in March (she was the top non-Kenyan in 7th) and is the odds-on favorite to win here, though it is worth pointing out that her only defeat last year came in her first steeple of the year in Shanghai.
You’re not going to find a better field outside of the Olympics or World Championships, so this one could go fast if Jebet decides to lead it out as usual. The only potential problem: the high in Doha on Friday is 103 degrees Fahrenheit. By race time (8:05 p.m. local), the sun will have set, but it will still be in the high-80s. That’s not ideal, but last year’s Olympic final was run in the high-70s (and in broad daylight) and times were flying there. We’ve always believed that it’s way easier to run a fast steeple in warm conditions than a 5k. Obviously we don’t expect these women to be in peak shape yet, but if you think back to the past few U.S. championships, women’s steeplers have been able to run fast in the heat.
Speaking of Americans, this is Olympic bronze medallist Emma Coburn‘s season opener, and the running world will be watching carefully after she made the surprising decision to ditch Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs to train under fiance Joe Bosshard (Aisha Praught also trains with her). Coburn has been one of the best, most consistent American athletes in any event over the past three years, so it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact the coaching switch has on her performance. Bowerman Track Club teammates Colleen Quigley (who managed to finish 8th in the Olympic final after missing the entire spring with injury) and Courtney Frerichs enter this race after productive winters: Quigley ran a mile PR of 4:24 and finished second at USA Indoors, while Frerichs finished 4th at USA XC. Stephanie Garcia, 5th at the Olympic Trials last year, is the fourth American in the field.
The U.S. all-time list in this event has been continually rewritten over the last few years and with all of the top Americans (including Leah O’Connor, not racing here) still in their primes (Garcia, who turned 29 on Wednesday, is the oldest), we expect that trend to continue in 2017. Perhaps that could begin in Doha.
LRC Prediction: Jebet FTW in sub-9 but we’ll be closely looking at Coburn to see if she can remain as one of the world’s best and dominant in the US after her coaching change.
Men’s 3000 (1:45 p.m. ET): Americans Paul Chelimo & Ben True Take on Ethiopian Studs Yomif Kejelcha & Muktar Edris Plus Olympic Steeple Champ Conseslus Kipruto
|Tariq Ahmed Al Amri||Saudi Arabia|
|Andrew Butchart||Great Britain||7:42.97|
If there’s such a thing as a 3k specialist, Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha is it. His first major win, at the World Youth Champs in 2013, came at this distance, and he ruffled feathers at this meet two years ago when he was bold enough to challenge Mo Farah in the 3k (he paid for his aggressiveness and faded to 5th). Then last year, he won his first senior world title in the indoor 3k and ran 7:28.19 in Paris — the world’s fastest time in five years. Kejelcha hasn’t raced since last year, but this distance is right in his wheelhouse.
This time last year, Paul Chelimo was an American on the rise, but after his Olympic silver in Rio, he’s firmly ensconced in the top tier of global distance runners. In January, he pledged to go undefeated in 2017, and while he’s suffered a couple of defeats on the roads this year, he was perfect on the track indoors — including a world-leading 7:42 3k and a laughably dominant victory in the 2 mile at USA Indoors. He’s the best bet to challenge Kejelcha.
This field is full of studs, however, even if Chelimo’s fellow Olympic medallists (Farah and Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet) are absent. Muktar Edris won two DL events in 2016 and crossed the line 4th in the 5k final in Rio before being DQ’d. More recently, he was 6th at World XC in Uganda. Brit Andrew Butchart was 6th in Rio and impressed indoors, running PRs of 3:54 (mile), 7:42 (3k) and 8:12 (2 mile). Ronald Kwemoi, a 3:28 1500 guy, is a total stud whom coach Renato Canova believes is the next Olympic champion in the 5k. Ben True just ran a U.S. record of 13:20 for 5k on the roads and won a stacked 2 mile at Millrose in February. Caleb Ndiku is the 2014 World Indoor champ.
Finally, there’s Olympic steeple champ Conseslus Kipruto. Kipruto has run 8:00 over barriers but hasn’t attempted a flat 3k outdoors since 2012, when he ran 7:44 as a 17-year-old. Kipruto is a much better runner than he was five years ago, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him contend for the win in Doha. He’s that talented.
Again, the hot weather will be a consideration here, but it hasn’t impacted the top times much in the past. Since 2008, the three fastest 3k’s in the world on the men’s side have all been run in Doha. And it’s not just one fluke race — the two fastest women’s 3k’s ever run outdoors (outside of the doped Chinese times from September 1993) both came in Doha in 2014. All of those times were run in conditions exactly like what’s in the forecast for Friday.
LRC Prediction: This race is a dream. We know Chelimo is the Olympic silver medallist but Kejelcha is the man to beat, but it wouldn’t shock us if Kwemoi won. We think Kwemoi or Kejelecha wins and Kejelcha is the safe pick.
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Want to know about the other events including Andre De Grasse vs Justin Gatlin? Check out the IAAF preview: IAAF Preview of Doha: 16 World and Olympic champs will compete.