2021 Doha DL Preview: Cheruiyot, Kipyegon, & Coburn Return as Kerley v Norman 400M Showdown Looms

By Jonathan Gault
May 27, 2021

You couldn’t pick two more different environments for the first two meets of the 2021 Diamond League season. The opener was contested in Gateshead, England, last Sunday in wet, blustery conditions with a high temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Meet #2 will be staged 4,000 miles southeast in Doha, Qatar, where the high on Friday is forecast at 109.

Conditions inside the Qatar Sports Club won’t be quite so brutal thanks to their air conditioning system, but it will still mark quite a departure from the northeast of England. And it should ensure faster times than last week, where 8:30 (men’s steeple), 13.28 (women’s 100 hurdles), and 11.35 (women’s 100) were enough to earn Diamond League victories.

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Unsurprisingly, Qatar’s two biggest athletics stars will be in action on Friday: high jump world champ Mutaz Essa Barshim and 400 hurdles bronze medalist Abderrahman Samba. Those two events — particularly Samba’s hurdles duel with American Rai Benjamin — will be worth watching. But if there’s a theme for the Doha DL, it’s the return to action of a number of current and former world champions. Timothy Cheruiyot and Faith Kipyegon will both race for the first time in 2021, while Emma Coburn will run her first steeple since the 2019 World Championship final in Doha. The women’s steeple is basically a re-run of that race, as the top five finishers, led by world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, update: Chepkoech has scratched will all be in action. Another Doha world champ, Hellen Obiri, headlines the 3000.

The race of the day is the men’s 400, which features a showdown between US rivals Michael Norman and Fred Kerley, plus 2012 Olympic champ Kirani James and 2019 Worlds silver medalist Anthony Zambrano.

Below, we break down the best events of the meet in chronological order.

We also previewed the meet on this week’s edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast (Doha part starts at 59:08)

What: 2021 Doha Diamond League
Where: Qatar Sports Club, Doha, Qatar
When: Friday, May 28. DL track events (and the Peacock broadcast) begin at 12:00 p.m. ET.

How to watch: This meet will be streamed live in the United States on Peacock from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET on Friday. For full TV/streaming details, see below.

Full Doha schedule/entries/results * TV/streaming information *2020 Doha DL coverage

Men’s 400 hurdles (12:03 p.m. ET): Benjamin vs Samba in a battle of sub-47 men

Name Country PB SB
Thomas Barr Ireland 47.97
Rai Benjamin USA 46.98 47.13
Yasmani Copello Turkey 47.81 49.21
Alison dos Santos Brazil 47.68 47.68
David Kendziera USA 48.42 49.73
Kyron McMaster British Virgin Islands 47.50 47.50
Abderrahman Samba Qatar 46.98
Kenneth Selmon USA 48.12 48.81
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When I started covering pro track & field in 2014, the 400 hurdles was an event to be endured, not savored. It would lead off every Diamond League meet, and you’d always have to sit through it before getting to the good stuff.

Now that we have three all-time talents competing at the same time, the 400 hurdles is the good stuff. There’s no Karsten Warholm here, but any showdown between two of the Big Three is worth getting excited about, and we get Rai Benjamin vs Abderrahman Samba on Friday. We know Benjamin, who ran 47.13 at Mt. SAC on May 9, is fit, so the question here is about Samba, who missed most of the 2019 season due to injury and didn’t race at all in 2020. Does he still have what it takes to contend with Benjamin and Warholm? Or is the Big Three down to a Big Two?

Women’s 800 (12:14 p.m. ET): Kipyegon debuts as Hodgkinson runs first DL race

Name Country PB SB
Habitam Alemu Ethiopia 1:56.71
Rababe Arafi Morocco 1:57.47 2:00.48
Natoya Goule Jamaica 1:56.15 2:00.92
Hanna Green USA 1:58.19 1:59.88
Keely Hodgkinson Great Britain 1:58.89 1:58.89
Hedda Hynne Norway 1:58.10 2:02.48
Faith Kipyegon Kenya 1:57.68
Winnie Nanyondo Uganda 1:58.63
Noelie Yarigo Benin 1:59.12 2:02.99

A couple of storylines in this one. Olympic 1500 champ Faith Kipyegon will make her 2021 debut here, and though she’s not an 800 specialist, she’ll still be a serious contender to win, as she did in her last visit to Doha in September, where she clocked her pb of 1:57.68.

The other intriguing entrant in this race is 19-year-old Brit Keely Hodgkinson. So far in 2021, Hodgkinson has been terrific against European competition, winning the Euro indoor title in March and running a 1:58.89 pb to win in Ostrava last week. Now she’s making her Diamond League debut, and the competition will be a lot tougher: that 1:58.89 pb actually ranks her last in this field, once you remove rabbit Noelie Yarigo. Based on her current form, I don’t expect Hodgkinson to finish last. But this race, which resembles an Olympic semifinal, will be telling about Hodgkinson’s prospects for the rest of the year.

Men’s 1500 (12:28 p.m. ET): Timothy Cheruiyot returns to the site of his world title

Name Country PB SB
Mohamed Al-Garni Qatar 3:34.61 3:37.74
Kalle Berglund Sweden 3:33.70
Bethwell Birgen Kenya 3:30.77
Timothy Cheruiyot Kenya 3:28.41
Hamza Driouch Qatar 3:33.69
Soufiane El Bakkali Morocco 3:33.45
Ryan Gregson Australia 3:31.06 3:36.72
Vincent Kibet Kenya 3:31.96
Stewart McSweyn Australia 3:30.51 3:34.55
Adam Ali Musab Qatar 3:32.41 3:32.41
Ronald Musagala Uganda 3:30.58 3:36.63
Matthew Ramsden Australia 3:34.83 3:34.97
Timothy Sein Kenya
Erik Sowinski USA 3:44.82
Samuel Tefera Ethiopia 3:31.39

Cheruiyot after winning gold in Doha in 2019 (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF)

For the last three years, the odds of Timothy Cheruiyot winning a race have been roughly the same as Stephen Curry, the greatest shooter in NBA history, hitting a free throw. Starting with his win in Shanghai on May 12, 2018, Cheruiyot has won 19 of his 21 races (90.5%) at 1500 meters or the mile. That win rate is just a hair under Curry’s 90.7% career free throw rate — the NBA record.

At its best, the 1500 meters is one of the most exciting events in track & field, a four-act drama that concludes with a last lap bang.

Cheruiyot is so good, he has broken the 1500. Employing a front-running style, he has turned almost every race — including the 2019 World Championship final — into a pure fitness test. And, over the last three years, Cheruiyot’s fitness has been so far ahead of everyone else’s that the outcome of each race has felt predetermined. Either someone will go with Cheruiyot, and they will tire out over the last lap as Cheruiyot kicks away to victory. Or nobody will go with Cheruiyot, and he’ll just run away with it.

Timothy Cheruiyot’s last 22 1500/mile races

Date Venue Meet Time Place
5/12/18 Shanghai DL 3:31.48 1st
5/26/18 Eugene DL 3:49.87 (mile) 1st
5/31/18 Rome DL 3:31.22 1st
6/23/18 Nairobi Nationals 3:34.82 1st
6/30/18 Paris DL 3:29.71 1st
7/20/18 Monaco DL 3:28.41 1st
8/5/18 Asaba African Champs 3:35.93 2nd
8/30/18 Zurich DL final 3:30.27 1st
9/2/18 Berlin ISTAF 3:32.37 1st
4/26/19 Reduit 3:39.22 1st
5/3/19 Doha DL 3:32.47 2nd
5/30/19 Stockholm DL 3:35.79 1st
6/30/19 Stanford DL 3:50.49 (mile) 1st
7/5/19 Lausanne DL 3:28.77 1st
7/12/19 Monaco DL 3:29.97 1st
9/6/19 Brussels DL 3:30.22 1st
9/13/19 Nairobi Nationals 3:34.91 1st
10/6/19 Doha Worlds 3:29.26 1st
8/14/20 Monaco DL 3:28.45 1st
8/23/20 Stockholm DL 3:30.25 1st
10/3/20 Nairobi Continental Tour 3:34.31 1st

Will anything change in 2021? We may have to wait until Cheruiyot races Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the heir apparent in the 1500, to find out the answer to that question. Until then, expect Cheruiyot to keep rolling.

Women’s steeple (12:53 p.m. ET): Emma Coburn returns to the steeple against a stacked field

Name Country PB SB
Mekides Abebe Ethiopia 9:25.66 9:51.7h
Marwa Bouzayani Tunisia 9:43.54
Peruth Chemutai Uganda 9:07.94 9:43.80
Beatrice Chepkoech Kenya 8:44.32
Rosefline Chepngetich Kenya 9:08.23
Fancy Cherono Kenya 9:31.00
Emma Coburn USA 9:02.35
Luiza Gega Albania 9:19.93 9:29.93
Genevieve Gregson Australia 9:14.28 9:36.85
Norah Jeruto Kenya 8:59.62
Hyvin Kiyeng Kenya 9:00.01
Gesa Krause Germany 9:03.30
Marusa Mismas-Zrimsek Slovenia 9:20.68
Lili Anna Toth Hungary 9:52.67
Winfred Yavi Bahrain 9:05.68
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Like the men’s 1500, the women’s steeple has been dominated by one athlete in recent years: Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech, who has won 15 of her last 17 races in the event, including the 2019 world title in Doha. The good news for her rivals is that she showed a degree of vulnerability last year, losing one of her two steeples to Hyvin Kiyeng, who beat her convincingly, 9:06 to 9:10, in Berlin. The bad news is that Chepkoech has been tearing it up at other distances. Though she lost that steeple to Kiyeng in 2020, she rebounded 12 days later to run 8:22 for 3,000 meters, good for #3 on the all-time Kenyan list. This winter, she set a world record of 14:43 for 5k on the roads and ran 8:31 indoors. She appears to be very fit.

That fitness gives Chepkoech an enormous advantage against the rest of the women’s steeple field, as no one can match her flat speed (though Kiyeng did run 8:25 last year in the same race where Chepkoech ran 8:22). But Emma Coburn, the silver medalist at 2019 Worlds, has made fitness gains of her own — she ran a 1500 pb of 4:03 last year and ran an impressive 9:15 for two miles indoors back in February. The last time Coburn raced a steeple was the 2019 World Championship final in Doha, where she finished five seconds behind Chepkoech. We’ll find out on Friday if she has closed the gap in the ensuing 19 months.

Overall, this is a terrific field as the top five women from the Doha final are back (Chepkoech, Coburn, Gesa KrauseWinfred YaviPeruth Chemutai).

Men’s 800 (1:14 p.m. ET): Promising Brit Daniel Rowden makes season debut

Name Country PB SB
Adrian Ben Spain 1:44.97 1:47.49
Jamal Hairane Qatar 1:45.67 1:47.62
Abdirahman Saeed Hassan Qatar 1:46.19 1:46.25
Wyclife Kinyamal Kenya 1:43.12 1:46.09
Ferguson Rotich Kenya 1:42.54 1:45.64
Daniel Rowden Great Britain 1:44.09
Tshepo Tshite South Africa 1:44.69 1:45.79
Amel Tuka Bosnia & Herzegovina 1:42.51 1:46.64
Cornelius Tuwei Kenya 1:43.82 1:44.63
Jamie Webb Great Britain 1:44.52

Is it just me, or does a Diamond League 800 feel a little empty without an American in it? Between Donavan BrazierBryce Hoppel, and Clayton Murphy, the US had three finalists at Doha 2019, including half of the top four. Alas, none of them made the trip out to Doha, but there’s still a solid field here with two of the three world medalists in Amel Tuka and Ferguson Rotich.

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The guy I’m most interested in watching has never competed at a senior global championship though. It’s 23-year-old Daniel Rowden of Great Britain. Rowden ran 1:44 at age 20 in 2018 but, bothered for years by a condition called MALS (median arcuate ligament syndrome), which caused chronic stomach pain, he underwent surgery to correct the condition the next year and missed all of 2019. He returned last year to win the British title and lower his pb to 1:44.09, beating a quality field in Zagreb and offering a taste of what is to come.

Of course, given the 800 talent in Britain right now, Rowden may not even make the Olympic team. Jamie Webb — also entered here — ran 1:44 indoors and took bronze at Euro Indoors. 19-year-old Max Burgin ran 1:44.14 to win last week in Ostrava. Elliot Giles ran 1:43.63 — #2 all-time — indoors in February. But Rowden’s future is just as bright as any of those athletes, and we’ll get our first look at him in 2021 on Friday.

Men’s 400 (1:26 p.m. ET): Kerley vs. Norman headlines a star-studded race

Name Country PB SB
Mazen Moutan Al Yassin Saudi Arabia 45.28
Kevin Borlee Belgium 44.56 46.15
Kirani James Grenada 43.74 44.74
Fred Kerley USA 43.64
Michael Norman USA 43.45 44.4
Vernon Norwood USA 44.40 44.64
Ammar Ismail Yahia Ibrahim Qatar 46.04 46.04
Anthony Zambrano Colombia 44.15

No doubt about it: this is the race of the meet.

Fred Kerley running his first 400 of the year, on its own, would be enough to make this much-watch theater. Kerley has spent the first half of 2021 moonlighting as one of the best 100-meter runners on the planet, clocking a pb of 9.91 in Miami and beating Olympic medalists Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse in Ostrava last week. If he’s that fast in his second (third?) event, how good could he be in the 400 right now?

But that’s not all. Kerley gets to face Michael Norman, the man he beat out for the US title back in 2019 — and who also tried out the 100 last year, running even faster than Kerley (9.86). Norman has run 44.67 and 44.40 to win his two 400’s so far in 2021, but it may take a time in the 43’s to take down this field.

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That’s because Kerley and Norman aren’t the only guys who could win this race. Colombia’s Anthony Zambrano — who at 23 is a month younger than Norman — was the silver medalist at the 2019 Worlds, running a pb of 44.15 in the final (and defeating Kerley in the process). He will be in the mix here.

And then there’s Kirani James. It seems like James, who won the world title in Daegu in 2011 and the Olympic title in London in 2012, has been around forever, but he’s still only 28. He hasn’t been on the scene much in recent years, however, after he was diagnosed with Graves disease in 2017. From 2017-2020, he never competed in more than three meets per year (but did still manage to take 5th at the 2019 Worlds).

The good news for James is that Doha is already his third meet of 2021, and he looked good in his first two, running sub-45 both times out, including a win last week in Ostrava. He’ll get a much stiffer test against the Americans Kerley and Norman in Doha. If he can beat them, an already loaded event will become even more interesting as we head toward Tokyo.

Women’s 3000 (1:48 p.m. ET): Another fast 3k on the cards in Doha?

Name Country PB SB
Camille Buscomb New Zealand 8:45.97
Yasemin Can Turkey 8:33.29
Beatrice Chebet Kenya 8:49.05
Winny Chebet Kenya
Sheila Chelangat Kenya 8:55.19
Eva Cherono Kenya 8:41.69
Hawi Feysa Ethiopia 8:40.79
Siham Hilali Morocco 9:03.16
Margaret Kipkemboi Kenya 8:24.76
Hellen Obiri Kenya 8:20.68
Lilian Rengeruk Kenya 8:29.02
Dominique Scott South Africa 8:41.33

Recently, Doha has become synonymous with fast women’s 3ks. There are only four races in history in which six women have broken 8:30 for 3k, and three of those have come in Doha (2014, 2019, 2020). Last year’s edition was the most competitive yet: Gudaf Tsegay, who a few months later would run a world indoor 1500 record of 3:53, ran 8:25 and that was only good enough for sixth.

In addition to boasting outstanding depth, those three races had another thing in common: they were all won by Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, who will be back seeking a three-peat this year. With the fastest pb in the field, she will be favored to do so. And if recent history is any guide, she’ll run pretty fast as well.

More: We also previewed the meet on this week’s edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast (Doha part starts at 59:08)
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