By Jonathan Gault
September 24, 2020
The 2020 Wanda Diamond League season draws to a close on Friday in the Qatari capital of Doha. And while the end of the Diamond League season isn’t the official end of the track season — we still have the World Athletics Continental Tour meet in Nairobi (October 3) and Joshua Cheptegei‘s 10,000-meter world record attempt in Valencia (October 7) to come — it’s a good time to reflect on a season like no other.
These days, it seems hard to remember anything from the PC (pre-COVID) era, but even back then, the 2020 Diamond League season was going to be different. After the 2019 campaign, the Diamond League axed four events (including the steeplechase), switched out the 5,000m for the 3,000m, and trimmed meets from two hours to 90 minutes. I thought it was a big deal when 2017 world champion Emma Coburn told me in January she didn’t plan on racing any Diamond Leagues in 2020 to protest the steeple getting cut. All of that panicking seems quaint in retrospect considering the havoc COVID-19 wracked on meets around the globe.
Some truly strange things happened this track season.
- The 2020 Diamond League was supposed to begin with its earliest start ever: April 17, in Doha. Instead, it didn’t hold it’s first meet with all of the competitors in the same stadium until August 14th and it’s ending with its latest finish ever: September 25…in Doha.
- As part of the new sponsorship deal with Wanda, the Diamond League added a second Chinese meet (to go with Shanghai) in 2020. This meet was announced, rescheduled, and ultimately cancelled…all without ever announcing a venue.
- The fastest man in the world, Christian Coleman, has been suspended for three months…yet it has largely been overlooked because so many American stars elected not to travel to Europe this year.
- After years of complaints, the Diamond League website no longer autoplays the Diamond League anthem (which was updated for 2020!).
- And the most exciting race at the most exciting Diamond League of the year came in an even, the men’s 5000, the Diamond League itself said it would eliminate in 2020.
In the words of the Grateful Dead, it’s been a long strange trip. What else does the 2020 track season have in store? Let’s take a look at the top events in Doha.
What: 2020 Doha Diamond League
Where: Suhaim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, Qatar
When: Friday, September 25
Men’s pole vault (11:18 a.m. ET): What can Mondo do for an encore?
For most of the summer, there was only one question in the men’s pole vault: when will Mondo Duplantis break the outdoor world record? After 14 unsuccessful attempts in 2020, Duplantis finally cleared 6.15 meters in Rome last week to take down Sergey Bubka‘s 26-year-old outdoor mark. And now the question — not just in Doha, but for the next decade in track & field — shifts to: what will Mondo Duplantis do next?
It is a genuinely fascinating query. When you’re already the highest vaulter in history (indoors and out) before your 21st birthday, what else is there to do? Obviously Mondo will chase global titles, but those only come around once a year. Will he embark upon some Edwin Moses-type win streak? (This would seem impossible, given the vicissitudes of the pole vault, but it’s worth noting Mondo has won all 15 of his competitions in 2020). Or will he aim to raise the world record into the stratosphere, centimeter by centimeter, as Bubka did in the ’80s and ’90s? Whatever Mondo elects to pursue, the athletics world will be watching.
It’s worth noting that Sam Kendricks is also in the field in Doha. Not only was Kendricks the last man to beat Duplantis (at Worlds last year, also in Doha), but he put up the best effort of any of Mondo’s competitors in 2020, clearing 6.02 to Duplantis’ 6.07 in Lausanne on September 2.
LRC Note: Jonathan, we like how are you thinking big picture and long term, but the most obvious thing for him to do is to win an Olympic title. Have you forgotten he didn’t even win NCAA outdoors or Worlds last year?
Men’s 1500 (12:21 p.m. ET): Kipruto debuts, McSweyn chases Aussie record
|Piers Copeland||Great Britain||3:35.69||3:35.69|
|Soufiane El Bakkali||Morocco||3:34.51||3:34.51|
|Adam Ali Mousab||Qatar||3:36.67|
|James West||Great Britain||3:34.56||3:34.56|
Is it too late to petition the meet director to change this to a steeplechase?
Seriously. We’ve got the three medalists from last year’s World Championships. There has been one legit men’s steeple (Monaco) all year. And most importantly, world champion Conseslus Kipruto is making his long-anticipated season debut. Kipruto had Monaco circled as a world record attempt but couldn’t compete there after testing positive for COVID. Now he’s finally ready to race, and there are no steeples. Kipruto’s manager Michel Boeting told LetsRun he asked half a dozen meets to add a steeple, but none could make it happen.
I’d also love to see what someone like Selemon Barega or Stewart McSweyn could run in a steeple with zero preparation (though the athletes themselves might not be as fond of my suggestion).
Instead, we’ve got a 1500. It should still be pretty fun. Kipruto, who hasn’t raced one of these in five years, should be in line for a big pb (his best is just 3:39). McSweyn will be hunting his second Aussie record in nine days after narrowly missing Ryan Gregson‘s 3:31.06 NR in Stockholm and Zagreb. Barega is stepping down for a rare 1500 (though he did run a 3:36 pb in Bellinzona on September 15). With 10 of the 16 starters having run their personal best in 2020, there are a bunch of fit guys ready to run fast. Like I said, it should be fun.
Women’s 800 (12:43 p.m. ET): Kipyegon steps down, Edwards chases sub-2:00
|Shelayna Oskan-Clarke||Great Britain||1:58.86||2:02.73|
|Adelle Tracey||Great Britain||1:59.86||2:00.99|
Of the four distance races in Doha, this is the least appealing, but it’s still a fascinating event:
-How fast will Olympic 1500 champ Faith Kipyegon run, and can she keep her perfect 2020 season alive? So far the Kenyan has won all three of her races — 1000’s in Monaco and Brussels, and a 1500 in Ostrava. She hasn’t raced an 800 since 2015. And what happens if she crushes the field here and runs a world leader? Might she try the 800/1500 double in 2021?
-Can Kaela Edwards become the first American to break 2:00 this year outdoors? Cory McGee‘s 2:00.16 is the best by an American outdoors in 2020 (Ajee’ Wilson ran an American record of 1:58.29 indoors). Edwards ran 2:00.79 last week in Rome, but that was in a slow race (Edwards ran a negative-split 60.7-60.1). With a hotter pace up front, she could end the US sub-2:00 drought in Doha.
Men’s 800 (1:07 p.m. ET): Cheruiyot vs Hoppel
|Alvaro De Arriba||Spain||1:44.99||1:45.60|
|Elliot Giles||Great Britain||1:44.68||1:44.68|
|Guy Learmonth||Great Britain||1:44.73||1:45.57|
|Wesley Vazquez||Puerto Rico||1:43.83||1:45.18|
Apparently tired of kicking everyone’s ass in the 1500, Timothy Cheruiyot is stepping down to the 800 here. It’s a welcome development — we all know Cheruiyot would paste the 1500 field in Doha, but he should face a good challenge in the 800, particularly in the form of World Championship bronze medalist Ferguson Rotich (who has won his last four races after two so-so DL races to begin 2020) and American Bryce Hoppel, who ran a world #2 of 1:43.23 in Monaco last month. Hoppel didn’t shine quite so brightly his last time out (1:44.95 for 4th in Zagreb on September 15) and will have the opportunity to close his season out on a high note in Doha.
Cheruiyot, however, has to be the favorite. He’s looked fantastic in his two 1500s this year (wins in 3:28 and 3:30) and his 1:43.11 pb is #2 in the field behind Rotich. Considering Cheruiyot ran that pb in the Kenyan champs final last year — his third race in three days — it’s not a stretch to think he could go faster, but that may require Donavan Brazier in the field to really push him. Should Cheruiyot run a pb, he could become just the fifth member of the sub-1:43/sub-3:30 club.
The Sub-1:43/3:30 Club
|Athlete||Country||800 pb||1500 pb|
|Sebastian Coe||Great Britain||1:41.73||3:29.77|
|Steve Cram||Great Britain||1:42.88||3:29.67|
Women’s 3,000 (1:18 p.m. ET): Medalists galore
|Melissa Courtney-Bryant||Great Britain||8:39.20|
|Eilish McColgan||Great Britain||8:31.00|
|Laura Weightman||Great Britain||8:26.07|
I could spend a few paragraphs listing the credentials of this field. Or I could just post this tweet:
That 3000m field….
WC 🥇 Obiri
WC 🥇 Chepkoech
WC 🥈 Kipkemboi
WC 🥉 Tsegay
WC 🥉 Tirop
OG 🥈 Kiyeng
WU20 🥇 Chebet
WU18 🥇 Hailu
AC 🥇 Chebet
AG 🥇 Gemechu
AG 🥇 Kiprop
EC 🥈 McColgan
EC 🥉 Weightman
EIC 🥉 Courtney-Bryant
— Jon Mulkeen (@Statman_Jon) September 23, 2020
That’s a lot of medals! In all, five medalists from last year’s Worlds (representing four different disciplines) are in the field, led by world champs Hellen Obiri (5,000) and Beatrice Chepkoech (steeple). Obiri, with the fastest pb in the field and a 14:22 win in Monaco earlier this year, is the favorite. But if she’s off her game (she ran 4:10 in her most recent race in Stockholm on August 23 and hasn’t raced since), this race is totally up for grabs.
The best bet behind Obiri may be Great Britain’s Laura Weightman — not only does she have the #2 pb in the field at 8:26, but she’s been in fine form this year with pbs at 1500 (4:00) and 5,000 (14:35). The next three-fastest women by pb (Agnes Tirop, Chepkoech, and Margaret Kipkemboi) all have something Weightman lacks — a global medal. But Weightman beat Chepkoech in the 5,000 in Monaco, and neither Tirop nor Kipkemboi have raced on the track in 2020.
Wait, where are our official predictions? We’ll make them in the messageboard thread tomorrow.