It’s Opening Day! 2018 Diamond League Kicks Off With Some Big Showdowns, Including Obiri vs. Simpson & Murphy vs. Kszczot vs. Korir
May 2, 2018
The first Diamond League meet is one of LetsRun.com’s favorite days of the year. We view Opening Day of the Diamond League season in the same way that baseball fans view Major League Baseball’s Opening Day: an end to winter, a reason for renewed optimism, and a chance to see your favorite athletes competing against each other once again. It’s a celebration of the sport, and wherever you are in the world, we hope you can find the time to catch a few races, jumps, or throws of Friday’s Doha Diamond League.
Opening Day is not the only reason to be excited, however, as there’s a big weekend of running ahead. It begins on Thursday with the always-fast Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford (preview will be published here), and continues on Sunday with the USATF Half Marathon Championships in Pittsburgh and Galen Rupp chasing a big PR (and the American record?) at the Prague Marathon. Plus there are a handful of NCAA conference championships, including the meet near and dear to LetsRun.com’s heart, the Heps (Ivy League), in Philadelphia where LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson will be broadcasting on ESPN3. We’ll have it all covered on LetsRun.com.
This article focuses on Doha, where there are a ton of great races on the track. Remember, Doha will host Worlds in 2019 so a lot of stars may be heading to Doha this year so they are familiar with things before they race there with more on the line next year.
In the distances, the men’s 800 and women’s 3000 are the top events. In the men’s 800, American Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy will take on World Indoor champ Adam Kszczot, 1500 world champ Elijah Manangoi, and 2017 world leader Emmanuel Korir. In the women’s 30000, Jenny Simpson will battle world 5,000 champ Hellen Obiri and possibly Mary Decker‘s 33-year-old American record of 8:25.83. Double Olympic 800 champion Caster Semenya is also in action in the women’s 1500.
The sprints should also be terrific in Doha. On the men’s side, the highlight is a stacked 200 featuring Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse, world champ Ramil Guliyev, Diamond League champ Noah Lyles, world bronze medalist Jereem Richards, and Olympic 110 hurdles champ Omar McLeod. The women’s 100 is filled with stars — World Indoor champ Murielle Ahoure, world 200 champ Dafne Schippers, world 100/200 silver medalist Marie-Josée Ta Lou, and Olympic 100/200 champ Elaine Thompson — while the women’s 100 hurdles pits Olympic champ Brianna McNeal against world record holder Keni Harrison.
In the field events, Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris renew their pole vault rivalry, Olympic champ Thomas Rohler faces world champ Johannes Vetter in the javelin, Christian Taylor goes in the triple jump, and world champ Mutaz Essa Barshim will put on a show for the home fans in the high jump.
We give you the meet details and preview the top events plus all of the distance races below.
What: 2018 Doha Diamond League
Where: Suheim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, Qatar
When: Friday, May 4. DL track events (and the Olympic Channel broadcast) begin at 12:00 p.m. ET.
How to watch: This meet will air live in the United States on the Olympic Channel from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET on Friday. In Europe, it’s on Eurosport. For full TV/streaming details, see below.
Women’s 1500 (12:13 p.m. ET): Caster Semenya is doubling down
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||4:00.71||4:00.71|
With the IAAF’s new eligibility criteria for female athletes set to come into effect in November, Caster Semenya may only have one season left to take advantage of her current capabilities in the middle distance events. And with double Commonwealth gold already in her back pocket and no global championships in 2018, Semenya has no reason to hold back on the circuit. Already a prolific racer in the 800 (she won all 10 DL 800s she contested in 2016 and 2017), her entry in the first DL 1500 of the year in Doha suggests that we may see the 27-year-old Semenya in the longer event several times this year as well.
It makes sense. If you’re Semenya, and you know that your livelihood is in jeopardy (though it is entirely possible that the IAAF’s new eligibility requirements could be struck down by CAS by the time the 2019 season starts), why wouldn’t you race as much as you can this year? It’s $10,000 a pop for Diamond League wins, and with World/Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon taking the year off to have a baby, there’s an opening at the top of the global 1500 ranks.
The women’s 1500 remains a stacked event — Genzebe Dibaba, Laura Muir, and Sifan Hassan are all still in their primes — but none of them are in Doha. World champs silver medalist Jenny Simpson is, but she’s running the 3k. That leaves Semenya, who ran a PR of 4:00.71 to set a Commonwealth Games record last month, as the woman to beat in the 1500 here.
Semenya isn’t the only 800 specialist to be stepping up as 2013 world champ Eunice Sum is entered, as is her Kenyan countrywoman Emily Tuei, who ran 1:58.25 in February (but was only 7th at the Commonwealth Games).
Semenya should roll in this race. While both Winny Chebet and Gudaf Tsegay have faster PRs, Semenya is clearly capable of faster than 4:00. Meanwhile, Chebet didn’t even make it out of the rounds at the Commonwealth Games, and Tsegay did not make the final at Worlds last year. Morocco’s Rababe Arafi made the final at both World Outdoors last year (8th) and World Indoors this year (8th), but that kind of effort won’t be enough to challenge Semenya on Friday.
LRC prediction: In order to beat Semenya, the best strategy is probably to throw her a tactical curveball, such as a hard early surge, as she’s still learning the 1500. But Semenya is strong enough that she should be able to hang with every move and still have something left to kick at the end. Semenya FTW.
Women’s 100 (12:26 p.m. ET): A marquee sprint showdown with no clear favorite
|Murielle Ahoure||Ivory Coast||10.78|
|Carina Horn||South Africa||11.03||11.03|
|Marie-Josee Ta Lou||Ivory Coast||10.86|
This is the single best women’s event in Doha. You’ve got the World Indoor 60 champ (Murielle Ahoure), the world silver medalist at 60, 100, and 200 meters (Marie-Josée Ta Lou), the Olympic 100/200 champ (Elaine Thompson), the two-time defending world 200 champ (Dafne Schippers), and the fastest woman of 2018 (Blessing Okagbare, who clocked 10.72 with a 2.7 m/s tailwind at the Texas Relays).
So who is the favorite? Ahoure, who was undefeated indoors and clocked 6.97 at Worlds, the fastest time in the world in eight years? Ta Lou, the top returner from Worlds last year? Thompson, who lost just once in the 100 last year? Okagbare, whose 10.72 at the Texas Relays is worth 10.87 in still conditions (she’s also the 200 world leader at 22.04)?
LRC prediction: Though Okagbare is the least-decorated among the main contenders, with only a single global sprint medal (200 bronze in 2013), she’s been in the best form so far outdoors in 2018 so we’ll give her the slight edge. But she could very easily finish fifth, such is the talent in this field.
Men’s 3000 steeplechase (12:35 p.m. ET): With the World Champs medalists absent, who will step up?
|Muhand Khamis Saifeldin||Qatar||9:08.82||9:13.16|
|Hashim Mohamed Salah||Qatar||8:33.25||9:26.06|
The first official Diamond League steeple is not until May 26 at the Pre Classic, and as a result the Big Three of the event from last year — Conseslus Kipruto, Soufiane El Bakkali, and Evan Jager — will not be making the trip to the Middle East for this one.
In fact, no one from the top six at Worlds last year is in this race. Neither is anyone from the top 12 on last year’s world list of fastest runners. The top finisher from last year’s Worlds is Ethiopian Tesfaye Diriba (7th), while the fastest man from last year is his countryman Tafese Soboka (8:13.22; also 8th at Worlds). One of those guys is your tentative favorite here, but you’ll have to wait three more weeks to see the big dogs in action (Kipruto, El Bakkali, and Jager are all running at Pre).
Men’s 1500 (1:02 p.m. ET): World U18 champ George Manangoi makes his Diamond League debut
|Fouad El Kaam||Morocco||3:33.71|
|Adam Ali Mousab||Qatar||3:36.67||3:46.50|
Like the men’s steeple, this event won’t count for DL scoring purposes, but it offers more intrigue as there are some familiar names. Though Kenya’s biggest stars (Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot, Ronald Kwemoi, Asbel Kiprop) aren’t running, no country is stronger in the 1500 thank Kenya and this race shows why. Even without those guys, Kenya still has five guys entered with sub-3:33 PRs. And that doesn’t even count the biggest talent of all of them: 2017 World U18 champ George Manangoi, younger brother of senior world champ Elijah. George Manangoi, now 17, ran 3:36 in February at the Commonwealth Games trials to just miss a spot on the Kenyan team and will make his Diamond League debut in Doha.
Will his potential win out? Or will Charles Simotwo (#8 in our 2017 world rankings) or Vincent Kibet (4th here last year in 3:32) come through?
We should also note that Abdelaati Iguider is the fastest and most accomplished man in the field by far (even including the Kenyans). Though he’s now 31 years old, Iguider earned World Indoor bronze in March (his sixth global medal at 1500) and is the man to beat.
LRC prediction: We’ll take Iguider and his experience FTW, but Manangoi has the makings of a potential star. If he wins here, watch out.
Women’s 100 hurdles (1:15 p.m. ET): WR holder Keni Harrison faces Olympic champ Brianna McNeal
On July 22, 2016, Keni Harrison defeated Brianna Rollins, 12.20 to 12.57, to win at the Müller Anniversary Games in London and break the 100-meter hurdles world record. Since then, the following has happened:
- Rollins led a U.S. 1-2-3 sweep by winning Olympic gold in Rio.
- Rollins was banned for the entire 2017 season following three missed drug tests.
- Harrison rolled through the 2017 season, only to come up short on the big stage (again) by finishing 4th at Worlds in London.
- Rollins married boyfriend Bryce McNeal and changed her name to Brianna McNeal.
- Harrison claimed her first global title (and tied the American record) by running 7.70 in the 60 hurdles at World Indoors in Birmingham in March.
- McNeal (nee Rollins) returned to competition on March 30, running a world-leading 12.62 at Stanford. She ran another world leader of 12.43 two weeks ago at the Mt. SAC Relays.
- Harrison went 12.40 (+3.1) and 12.37 (+2.5) in her two hurdles races so far outdoors, both faster than McNeal’s world leader but both with illegal tailwinds.
So many things have changed since Harrison and McNeal’s last meeting almost two years ago, but one has not: with apologies to the injured Sally Pearson, they remain the two best high hurdlers in the world. This is the first of what figures to be many battles between the two in 2018, and for track fans, it’s a real treat. The Harrison-McNeal rivalry has a chance to be one of the best in the sport his year and could result in both women scaring Harrison’s WR.
The rest of this field is strong as well — Sharika Nelvis beat Harrison at USA indoors to set the American record in the 60 hurdles, while 2008 Olympic champ Dawn Harper-Nelson earned silver at Worlds last year at age 33.
LRC prediction: As great as McNeal has looked so far — she missed an entire season of competition and still managed to run 12.43 in her second hurdle final of the year (.05 faster than her winning time in Rio) — Harrison has shown the ability to reach an even higher level, and given how strong she looked indoors and her two fast times outdoors, she has to be the favorite here. Harrison FTW.
Men’s 800 (1:25 p.m. ET): Clayton Murphy returns to the Diamond League to face World Indoor champ Adam Kszczot, 2017 world leader Emmanuel Korir, & 1500 world champ Elijah Manangoi
Emmanuel Korir vs. Adam Kszczot vs. Donavan Brazier was one of the most-anticipated matchups of this year’s World Indoor Championships, and while it did not ultimately come to pass — Korir missed the meet with visa issues, while Brazier failed to make the final — we’ll get to see 2/3rds of that matchup here, with 2016 U.S. champ Clayton Murphy subbing in for his successor, 2017 U.S. champ Brazier.
Who you like in this matchup comes down to what you value. Korir, with 44.53/1:43.10 PRs, has the best pure speed, which was on display in his only indoor race this year when he ran 1:44.21 at Millrose — the fastest time indoors in 17 years. Kszczot, meanwhile, continued to demonstrate his superb racing chops as he went a perfect 7-for-7 indoors, culminating with his first world title, to make it 17 wins from his last 18 indoor races. Kszczot, in case you forgot, can also race outdoors as he has claimed the last two World Champs silvers, the last two Euro Champs golds, and the 2016 Diamond League title.
One of those two men will be favored to win in Doha, but this is a strong field with World Champs bronze medalist Kipyegon Bett and 1500 world champ Elijah Manangoi also in the mix.
Then there’s Murphy. After a dream 2016 season that culminated with Olympic bronze in Rio, the 23-year-old has experienced a multitude of ups and downs. He began 2017 in incredible form, winning USA Indoors in the 1000 and running 1:43.60 at Mt. SAC, but bit off more than he could chew at USAs where he tried the 800/1500 double and wound up missing out on Worlds entirely. He then joined the Nike Oregon Project, and after failing to break 1:50 in his first two races, ran a strong 1:46.61 at Millrose. But at USA Indoors, Murphy faced a tough heat draw against eventual World Indoor silver medalist Drew Windle and wound up failing to advance to the final by .05.
Murphy has run two outdoor races so far. The first was a 1:47.22 for 2nd to Mexico’s Jesus Lopez at Mt. SAC. Though Lopez is a runner to watch — he ran 1:45.51 at age 19 last year to set the Mexican national record — he’s definitely someone Murphy should be beating beating. But considering Murphy split 53.46 for his first 400 in that race, 1:47.22 is a solid time. More recently, Murphy ran 47.97 for 400 last week in Corvallis, and though that time won’t impress his sprint-oriented competitors (nor a slew of messageboard detractors), it’s not awful for an 800-1500 guy.
Doha isn’t the be-all, end-all for Murphy as he has several months of racing ahead of him this summer, but it will be a good opportunity for him to check his progress against some of the best in the world.
LRC prediction: Korir was super fit indoors and a DL race suits him more than Kszczot. Korir FTW.
Men’s 200 (1:36 p.m. ET): De Grasse vs. Lyles headlines a strong field
|Andre De Grasse||Canada||19.80|
|Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake||Great Britain||19.95|
|Jereem Richards||Trinidad & Tobago||19.97||20.12|
The entire track world will miss Usain Bolt. But one of the silver linings of the big man’s absence is that we may actually get to see the world’s very best sprinters race each other more than once a season. Bolt, particularly during the latter stages of his career, was famous for running a notoriously short regular season, electing not to face his top competition until Worlds or the Olympics. And while part of that was driven by Bolt’s persistent injuries, it was also driven by Bolt’s need to maintain his winning streak. The result was that most of the men’s 100s and 200s on the Diamond League felt underwhelming, with the fans left wanting more.
Now that Bolt is gone, no one figure towers over the men’s sprints, which means meet directors won’t feel as much pressure to cater to one individual star when assembling their fields. This status quo may not hold for long (if Christian Coleman keeps developing, it could reach the point where he soon has the power to start dictating fields) but for now, the result is that we’ve already got several races on tap where the world’s best sprinters are set to face one another, beginning on Friday in Doha.
In this race alone, we’ve got the world champ (Ramil Guliyev), the DL champ (Noah Lyles), the Olympic silver medalist (Andre De Grasse), the world bronze medalist (Jereem Richards) and the Olympic 110 hurdles champ (Omar McLeod).
Richards has the fastest time so far at 20.12, which he ran to win the Commonwealth Games. De Grasse clocked 10.15 to finish 4th at Drake last weekend in his first race since July 2017. McLeod ran a PR of 20.49 in March at the Florida Relays, but a win against this field is a lot to ask.
LRC prediction: We think this comes down Richards (the hot hand) vs. Lyles, and we like Lyles. Remember, Lyles has won both of his two career DL races. He ran 19.90 at age 19 last year to win the DL opener in Shanghai (becoming just the fourth teenager under 20 seconds) and returned from injury to win the DL final in Brussels in September 10 weeks later. The dude is a monster talent, and the 200 looks like his best event.
Even scarier, Lyles appears to have gotten even faster since last year as he lowered his 6.63 60 pb to 6.57 indoors and clocked a windy 9.86 (+4.1) in the 100 on April 13. Take 2017 Lyles and give him a better start and 19.6 or 19.7 is on the table this year.
Women’s 3000 (1:45 p.m. ET): Can Jenny Simpson claim another American record against Hellen Obiri?
|Eilish McColgan||Great Britain||8:31.00|
|Lilian Kasait Rengeruk||Kenya||8:32.73|
American Jenny Simpson looked strong in her 2018 outdoor opener at last weekend’s Drake Relays, running an American record of 9:16.78 for two miles. Simpson’s time is worth around 8:35 for 3k, but if you take away the wind and add some women for Simpson to chase (she had to run the majority of the race alone), Simpson may be able to challenge Mary Decker‘s 3k AR of 8:25.83 in Doha. You’ve got to think that Simpson has that mark in the forefront of her mind. Why else travel all the way to Doha for this race other than maybe to get the lay of the land for Worlds?
“We’ve been training to run well in the 3k earlier in the season than ever before,” Simpson told reporters after winning at Drake. “I’ve been so disciplined and training so hard, probably more disciplined than ever this early in the season.”
Conditions won’t be ideal — the high in Doha on Friday is 100, the low 80 so race temps will likely still be in the high 80s — but this race has produced fast times in the past, with Hellen Obiri (also in this year’s field) leading seven women under 8:30 in 2014. On the men’s side, Ronald Kwemoi blazed a 7:28 here last year, which held up as the world leader.
Obiri, the reigning world champ at 5,000, wasn’t at her best indoors (a distant 4th at World Indoors, closer to 5th-place Shelby Houlihan than bronze medalist Laura Muir), but looked good in winning the 5,000 at the Commonwealth Games and will be the woman to beat here. Letesenbet Gidey (14:33 5k), Lilian Rengeruk (8:32/14:36), and Caroline Kipkirui (14:27 5k) also figure to be in the lead pack, and if Simpson can attach herself to that group, she’ll have a shot to lower her 8:29.58 pb and challenge the AR. Really, the best way for the record to fall is for the race to go out quick. That way, Simpson can just focus on what she does best — racing — and, ideally, the time should follow.
LRC prediction: Obiri was the world’s dominant force over 5,000 last year, and with her 3:57 1500 speed, the 3,000 is, theoretically, a great distance for her. But she looked shaky at World Indoors and could be vulnerable to an upset here. Still, given her credentials, we’ll pick her FTW and say Simpson races well but does not get the AR.
Talk about the meet on our fan forum / messageboard: MB: Track and field’s opening day is Friday – Official 2018 Doha DL Discussion Thread