May 2, 2019
Track and field’s opening day is tomorrow – yes, tomorrow (Friday, May 3).
It is somewhat crazy that in a year where the World Championships begin later than ever before (September 27), the Diamond League season begins earlier than ever before. Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, is where the season will begin and end, as it hosts the traditional Diamond League curtain raiser on Friday and will also host Worlds for the first time in 2019.
Worlds may seem a long way away — we’ll already be four weeks into the NFL season at that point — but there are are several reasons to be excited right now. For one, it’s Opening Day! The Diamond League is our sport’s version of the NFL, MLB, or the Champions League, and we view the first DL meet of the season as a de facto international holiday. For another, there are some Grade-A matchups on the table: Emmanuel Korir, Nijel Amos, Adam Kszczot, and Donavan Brazier in the 800, Timothy Cheruiyot vs. George and Elijah Manangoi in the 1500, Hellen Obiri vs. Genzebe Dibaba vs. Beatrice Chepkoech in the 3000, and Ryan Crouser vs. Tom Walsh in the shot put.
But no event is more interesting than the women’s 800. On Wednesday, CAS ruled in favor of IAAF in its case against Caster Semenya, meaning that Semenya and other XY women affected by the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism rules will have to begin undergoing treatment to lower their testosterone in order to compete in events from the 400 through the mile.
Crucially, those athletes can still compete in Doha on Friday without undergoing any treatment (they must begin treatment by May 8 if they wish to compete in 400, 800, or 1500 at Worlds this year). Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui, whom are both believed to be subject to the ruling, were both already entered. And immediately after losing her case against the IAAF, Semenya decided to get on a plane to Doha and join them; on Thursday, she was added to the field, which also includes American Ajee’ Wilson. It will be her final chance to compete in her best event without being forced to lower her testosterone, so expect something fast. Like, world record attempt fast.
So duck out of work a little early on Friday (or at the very least pull up NBC Sports Gold on your lunch break), crack open a cold one, and enjoy. Track is back.
We give you the meet details and preview the top events plus all of the distance races below. We preview them in the order that they take place so you can print this up and use it as a program.
What: 2019 Doha Diamond League
Where: Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar
When: Friday, May 3. 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. For full TV/streaming details, see below.
Men’s 800 (12:15 p.m. ET): What a race
|Abubaker Haydar Abdalla||Qatar||1:44.33||1:44.33|
|Alvaro de Arriba||Spain||1:44.99|
|Abdirahman Saeed Hassan||Qatar||1:46.67||1:46.67|
|Rabi Mohamoud Mubarak||Qatar||1:49.83|
This is how you kick off a season! The first men’s Diamond League race of 2019 will feature last year’s World #1 (Emmanuel Korir), the 2017 World #1 (Nijel Amos), the World Indoor champ (Adam Kszczot), and Donavan Brazier, who set American and world records this past indoor season. For good measure, we’ve also got the 2019 world leader, Abubaker Haydar Abdalla of Qatar (1:44.33), and there’s a good chance that mark goes down on Friday.
None of the big four have raced an 800 outdoors this year (Brazier is the only one who has raced any 800s at all), so we’re in the dark as to who is fit and who isn’t. But considering Brazier went from not running workouts to an American record in just over a month indoors, he could be in terrific shape assuming he hasn’t had any setbacks since indoors. Kszczot excels tactically but hasn’t broken 1:44 since 2016; if this race goes fast (and with Korir, that’s a good bet), he may get run out of it.
As good as Brazier was indoors, however, we have to go with Korir here. He doesn’t have a world or Olympic medal, which is why it can be easy to overlook just how dominant he’s been over the past two years. Since arriving in the US as a freshman at UTEP in 2017, he’s lost just one of his 16 800-meter finals, and that was at the African champs last year, where there was a problem with the start and he wound up reacting late to the gun (he still snagged the silver). He also failed to make the final at Worlds in 2017, but he wasn’t 100% healthy at that meet.
Aside from that, it’s win after win, including two of the three sub-1:43s run in the world last year. The fastest of them, Korir’s 1:42.05 from London in July, was the fastest time since David Rudisha‘s 1:40.91 world record in 2012. The way the 23-year-old Korir is going, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him challenge that record, perhaps as soon as this year.
One more thing: this race has 14 starters, which is ridiculous and borderline dangerous for a Diamond League meet (the Doha track has nine lanes, so 10 of the 14 men will have to share a lane). One of the reasons for that is that Qatar was granted four entrants. The Sudanese-born Abdalla, as the world leader thanks to his 1:44 win at the Asian Games, is a worthy inclusion, and we’re excited to see what he can do against the big boys. But the other three, particularly 1:49 man Rabi Mohamoud Mubarak, shouldn’t be in this field and we could see some carnage if this field doesn’t string out early but with a rabbit, we’re sure it will.
LRC prediction: Until someone proves they can beat Korir, we’re not betting against him. And if he makes it fast up front, Brazier could have a chance to lower his 1:43.55 pb, which has stood since 2016 and is due for a revision.
Men’s 3000 steeplechase (12:37 p.m. ET): No Jager, no Kipruto leaves room for others to shine
|Yaser Salem Bagharab||Qatar||8:28.21||8:45.80|
|Soufiane El Bakkali||Morocco||7:58.15|
Another massive field that should hopefully string out early to avoid traffic at the barriers. With no Conseslus Kipruto (foot injury) and no Evan Jager (who hasn’t raced since suffering an ankle injury at last year’s DL final), there’s less intrigue than normal in this field, though Benjamin Kigen and Soufiane El Bakkali — who combined for three DL wins last year — are both entered. This could also be an opportunity for some new athletes, such as Chala Beyo (the winner in Doha last year) or Commonwealth silver medalist Abraham Kibiwot to emerge.
Plus Americans Andy Bayer and Hillary Bor, who will be battling it out for a spot on Team USA in July, will both run their first steeples of 2019.
LRC prediction: El Bakkali has been the best steepler in the world not named Conseslus Kipruto over the past two years. He’s our pick for the win. Watch out for Kigen’s kick if he’s there at the end, though.
Men’s 200 (12:56 p.m. ET)
|Jaber Hilal Al Mamari||Qatar||21.74||21.90|
|Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake||Great Britain||19.95|
|Jereem Richards||Trinidad & Tobago||19.97||20.45|
This isn’t really one of our races to watch; the 200 has a tendency to get watered down at Diamond League meets, and even though this race pits the gold and bronze medalists from the last World Championship, we bet that some of you can’t even tell us who those two men are (Ramil Guliyev and Jereem Richards, in case you forgot). No, we’re mentioning it to point out that there are two guys from Qatar with slower pbs than Dafne Schippers (21.63) that somehow got into this race. We get that it’s good to have an athlete from the home nation in the meet, but two is unnecessary, especially in an event like the 200 where there is a finite number of lanes.
Men’s shot put (1:00 p.m. ET): Crouser & Walsh square off for first time in 2019
|Tomas Stanek||Czech Republic||22.01|
|Meshari Saad Suroor||Kuwait||19.54||19.08|
|Tom Walsh||New Zealand||22.67||21.91|
Between them, Olympic champ Ryan Crouser of the US and world indoor/outdoor champ Tom Walsh of New Zealand hold all of the major global shot put titles. The also hold what many in the throws community consider to be the five longest clean throws of all time:
Ryan Crouser & Tom Walsh’s top throws
|April 20, 2019||Long Beach||Crouser||22.74m|
|April 20, 2019||Long Beach||Crouser||22.73m|
|March 25, 2018||Auckland||Walsh||22.67m|
|June 25, 2017||Sacramento||Crouser||22.65m|
|August 30, 2018||Zurich||Walsh||22.60m|
Last year, they faced each other nine times, with Crouser winning five to Walsh’s four (one of which was the DL final). It’s a rivalry in which each man is pushing the other toward the 23.12 world record of doper Randy Barnes.
“I would say just among all the shot putters, everybody would just like to see that [record broken],” Crouser told NBC Sports Olympic Talk. “I’d love to get that record off the books, I guess, in a sense. It makes me have to train smarter, chasing the 23.12, instead of saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got the clean world record.’”
Friday marks the first Crouser-Walsh showdown of 2019, and Crouser will be favored, having exploded out to a pb of 22.73, the longest throw in the world since 1990, in the fourth round of the Beach Invitational on April 20, only to go one centimeter farther in his very next attempt. He’s won all four of his meets this year, including Drake last week. Walsh has won five of his six competitions in 2019, recording his best throw of 21.91 in his most recent outing in Sydney on April 7.
LRC prediction: Crouser threw a pb two weeks ago, so he’s our pick, but Walsh, who hasn’t competed in almost a month, will be fresher than Crouser, who will be competing for the third straight week.
Women’s 800 (1:07 p.m. ET): Semenya’s last ride
|Caster Semenya||South Africa||1:54.25|
|Lynsey Sharp||Great Britain||1:57.69|
Regardless of whether you think Caster Semenya should be allowed to compete or not, there is no doubting her courage or the grace with which she has handled herself through her decade-long ordeal. And she is showing that courage once more by getting on a plane to Doha to demonstrate her dominance in the 800 for the last time.
While there is $10,000 on the line for the win, we imagine the main reason Semenya has decided to run in Doha is to take one last crack at running as fast as she possibly can over two laps, at least in a women’s only race (she’s free to compete without restrictions in mixed or men’s races). For all her dominance — three world and two Olympic titles — the WR has eluded her. In fact, she hasn’t come particularly close. Even when she started seriously attacking the mark last summer, her fastest time was 1:54.25, which still leaves her almost a second off Jarmila Kratochvílová‘s 1:53.28 world record.
But even those who don’t believe Semenya should be able to compete may be rooting for her to break the WR here. Kratochvílová’s world record was set in 1983, which makes it the oldest track & field world record on the books. It was also widely assumed to have been achieved through the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. No one suspects Semenya of using PEDs, and if she doesn’t break it, it’s possible that no clean athlete ever will. Better to see the name of a clean athlete next to the WR than Kratochvílová’s.
Of course, we don’t know if Semenya is in close to WR shape (we doubt it). She will go off as the favorite, but she’s been experimenting with the 5,000 and Worlds are five months away. And she was a last-minute addition to the field, which could affect her race preparation. So who knows how fast she will go?
We should also note that Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui are also in this field, with both likely in the same situation as Semenya (though neither are realistic bets to challenge the WR). And for American Ajee’ Wilson and the rest of the field, this is their last chance to beat this version Semenya in an 800. There’s a lot at stake for a Diamond League opener. This race will probably be tougher to win than the World Championship final that will be held here five months from now.
LRC prediction: Semenya wins it, but if she couldn’t get the WR last summer, we don’t see why she’d get it here when she had to scramble to get in the field.
Will Semenya get the WR? Discuss on the LetsRun messageboard:
Men’s 1500 (1:19 p.m. ET): The Cheruiyot & Manangoi show is back
|Muhand Khamis Saifeldin||Qatar||3:43.92||3:43.92|
|Idriss Moussa Youssouf||Qatar||3:40.88|
Training partners Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot have dominated the 1500 for the past two years. In 2017, they went 1-2 at Worlds; last year, they went 1-2 at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. They’ve also combined to win 10 Diamond League points races over the past two years, with Cheruiyot going a perfect five-for-five last year (plus a win in the non-DL Bowerman Mile).
So the expectation is that those two will once again be the men to beat in Doha (from what we’ve heard, Manangoi is a little ahead of Cheruiyot right now in terms of fitness, so he may have the slight edge). But there are other men worth watching here as well. One is George Manangoi, Elijah’s younger brother who won the world junior title last year. George ran 3:35 in this meet last year but never ran faster all year and struggled against the older, more experienced competition in Rome (14th), Berlin (10th), and Zagreb (12th). One year later, is he more prepared to take on the big boys?
There’s also the return of another Kenyan, Ronald Kwemoi. In 2014, Kwemoi burst on to the scene by running 3:28 in Monaco as an 18 year old. At the end of 2016, coach Renato Canova boldly said there was 100% chance the Kwemoi would be the 2020 Olympic 5000 champ. In 2017, he was one of the top runners in the world early in the year, running a scorching 7:28 in Doha to beat Paul Chelimo and Yomif Kejelcha in the 3000, beating Manangoi and Cheruiyot to win the Bowerman Mile, and running 3:30 at altitude in Nairobi to win the Kenyan Trials in June. But he got hurt that summer, which caused him to exit Worlds in the semifinals, and he didn’t race at all last summer, only returning to the track in September for a 13:34 5k in Japan. If Kwemoi can get back his best, he’ll be a medal contender in Doha this year. Friday, his first DL 1500 since July 2017, will be a good test.
LRC prediction: No one has beaten both Elijah Manangoi and Cheruiyot in the same DL 1500/mile since the 2017 Pre Classic almost two years ago. One of those is our pick, and since we’ve heard Manangoi has been a bit better in workouts recently, we’re going with him.
Women’s 3000 (1:46 p.m. ET): Obiri vs. Chepkoech vs. Dibaba in a heavyweight showdown
A great meet wraps up with another great battle, with the world champ in the 5,000 and cross country (Hellen Obiri) taking on the three-time defending world indoor 3000 champ (Genzebe Dibaba) and the steeplechase world record holder (Beatrice Chepkoech). All three women showed they were fit over the winter, with Obiri winning World XC, Chepkoech taking 7th in the same race, and Dibaba running 3:59 indoors.
The 3000 should serve as a great crossover distance. Obiri has the fastest non-Chinese (read: clean) time ever outdoors, her 8:20 from this meet five years ago. Dibaba is the indoor WR holder at 8:16, while Chepkoech, who has run 8:28 herself, is no slouch with the barriers removed. Given that Chepkoech ran that time when her steeple PR was 9:00 as opposed to 8:44, she could be capable of running even faster in Doha.
We also don’t want to forget Caroline Kipkirui (she’s listed as competing for Kenya in the entries but now represents Kazakhstan). Kipkirui is a terrific road runner — she just ran 65:44 to win the Prague Half Marathon on April 6 — but she’s also got some big-time wheels. Remember, last year she finished second in Prague in 66:09 and then won this meet in 8:29.
LRC prediction: Obiri looked terrific at World XC and is the reigning world/Diamond League champ outdoors. She’s our pick, assuming she avoids a repeat of last year’s Doha disaster when she showed up and finished 14th.
Talk about the meet on our messageboard. MB: Official 2019 Doha Diamond League Discussion Thread: Track and Field’s Opening Day Looks Sensational.