Happy Opening Day! 2022 Diamond League Season Kicks Off With Stellar Meet in Doha
May 13, 2022
By Jonathan Gault
May 12, 2022
The first Diamond League meet of the season is one of LetsRun.com’s favorite days on the running calendar. The Diamond League is what the NFL is to football or the Champions League is to soccer — the best athletes in their sport facing off on a regular basis. In a sport that can be frustratingly hard to follow, the Diamond League is the closest thing we have to stability. The meets are (mostly) in the same place from year to year, they don’t drag on all day (the TV window is just two hours), and while showdowns between the very best in each event don’t happen as much as we’d like, you can tune into a Diamond League event and know that most of the races will be of a fairly high quality. Plus in the US you don’t have to go hunting for how to watch every meet: you can watch it all for $5 a month if you subscribe to Peacock Premium. All in all, the Diamond League a pretty good thing.
As we count down to Friday’s Doha Diamond League, we’re doubly excited. First, because it’s Opening Day! That means a chance to see stars who have competed sparingly or not at all in 2022 like Donavan Brazier, Faith Kipyegon, and Dina Asher-Smith. We’re also excited because the 2022 Doha fields are spectacular. How about Brazier against Noah Kibet and Ferguson Rotich in the 800? Kipyegon against Francine Niyonsaba in the 3000? Or, best of all, world champ Noah Lyles and Olympic champ Andre De Grasse squaring off against Fred Kerley in the 200? There are big-time matchups up and down the schedule.
LetsRun.com is so excited, in fact, that we’re running a mini prediction contest. Give us the winner and winning time of the men’s 200 as well as Donavan Brazier’s time in the 800. Closest prediction in each event wins the LetsRun.com shirt of their choice. Enter below.
Plus make sure you head to LetsRun.com immediately after the meet is over as we’ll be doing a LIVE video show recapping the meet shortly after it wraps up at 2 p.m. ET on Friday.
To get you ready for a great meet, here’s one man’s look at the top 10 events in Doha on Friday.
What: 2022 Doha Diamond League
Where: Qatar SC Stadium, Doha, Qatar
When: Friday, May 13. 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.
10. Women’s 400 (12:04 p.m. ET): Miller-Uibo vs Paulino
The Olympic and World Indoor champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo ran 49.91 her last time out, but that was a month ago. Something tells me she will go even faster against a field featuring Olympic silver medalist Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic.
9. Men’s steeplechase (1:47 p.m. ET): Olympic rematch — will anyone rise up and take over this event?
The cool thing about this race is that all of the top guys from 2021 will be here. The top five from last year’s Olympic final — Soufiane El Bakkali, Lamecha Girma, Benjamin Kigen, Getnet Wale, and Yemane Haileselassie — are all entered. The bad news is the steeple kind of sucked last year. Kigen had the fastest time in the world in 2021 at 8:07.12. Outside of the 2020 COVID year (where there were almost no elite steeples), that was the slowest world leader in 27 years. 8:17 won the Diamond League final.
But there’s still talent in this event, even if injury-plagued Evan Jager and Conseslus Kipruto (neither of whom is running Doha) can’t return to their former heights. El Bakkali is a sub-8:00 guy. Girma is a two-time silver medalist at the age of 21. Wale may be the biggest question mark. He’s run 7:24 and 12:53 on the flat but only 8:05 in the steeple. He’s also only 21 (officially) — could he take over the event if everything clicks?
There’s one American in the Doha field: Hillary Bor, who has won the last two US titles in Jager’s absence. Bor has produced some impressive DL performances in the past, almost winning Doha in 2019 and taking the DL opener in Gateshead last year, but he failed to make the Olympic final in Tokyo. After running 13:10 indoors and 43:14 to finish 3rd at the US 15K champs in March, how will he fare in his steeple opener?
El Bakkali is the most accomplished and consistent member of the steeple crew right now so you’d have to call him the favorite for Friday and the safest pick for Worlds this year. Will anyone rise up and challenge him?
8. Women’s 200 (1:36 p.m. ET): Dina Asher-Smith returns
One of the shames of the 2021 Olympics is that we didn’t get to see Dina Asher-Smith at her best. Six weeks out from the Games, the British star was in the shape of her life, confident she could go even faster than the 10.83/21.88 national records that delivered silver and gold medals at the 2019 Worlds. But a torn hamstring caused her to miss a chunk of time just ahead of the Olympics, and Asher-Smith wound up missing the 100 final in Tokyo and withdrawing from the 200 entirely.
Asher-Smith did race after the Olympics but only showed glimpses of her best self. Now, with an offseason to heal, she’ll run her first 200 of the year against a field featuring Olympic 100 bronze medalist Shericka Jackson and Olympic 200 bronze medalist Gabby Thomas. Asher-Smith will be eager to show both what she could have done if healthy in Tokyo last year.
7. Men’s pole vault (11:10 a.m. ET): Duplantis & Nilsen lead the way
Any pole vault competition with Mondo Duplantis is automatically worth watching because there’s a chance he might set a world record. Doha will be his outdoor opener — the first time he’s jumped since he invented the 6.20 club at World Indoors in March — and he’ll take on a field that includes five of the top six from Tokyo, highlighted by silver medalist Chris Nilsen of the US.
6. Men’s high jump (12:15 p.m. ET): Barshim and Tamberi, reunited
One of the most popular moments from last year’s Olympics was when longtime friends Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy both won gold medals after one of the greatest high jump competitions in Olympic history. This is the first time they’ve competed together since, which is a nice chance for them to reunite…and also a damn good competition, since no other event in Doha features two reigning Olympic champions. Throw in World Indoor champ Sanghyeok Woo of South Korea and US champ JuVaughn Harrison in his Diamond League debut and this is quite a field.
5. Men’s 400 hurdles (12:35 p.m. ET): Benjamin vs. dos Santos vs. Samba
No, it’s not Rai Benjamin vs. Karsten Warholm (it’s becoming clear that we’re only going to get that matchup once a year moving forward — maybe twice if both feel like running the DL final). But it’s still pretty damn good. Between Benjamin (#2, 46.17), Alison dos Santos (#3, 46.72), Abderrahman Samba (#5, 46.98), and Kyron McMaster (#8, 47.08), this field features half of the eight fastest men ever to walk the Earth. The 400 hurdles would be a stacked event right now even if Warholm and Benjamin did not exist.
What I’m interested in seeing is whether dos Santos can turn the Big Two into a Big Three. At just 21, he’s almost three full years younger than Benjamin and his 46.72 pb is faster than both Warholm (48.22) and Benjamin (47.02) at the same age. Dos Santos has never beaten Benjamin, and in Tokyo, he was .55 behind him. Can he close the gap in Doha?
4. Men’s 1500 (1:23 p.m. ET): Is Timothy Cheruiyot still the man?
Few athletes dominated a Diamond League discipline as thoroughly as Timothy Cheruiyot has dominated the 1500/mile since 2018. The 26-year-old Kenyan has won 17 of his 19 DL races in those events over the last four years, including five straight Diamond League finals. It’s El Guerroujian stuff.
Last year, however, a challenger finally emerged as Jakob Ingebrigtsen, after losing his first 12 matchups with Cheruiyot, beat him twice in a month, first at the Olympics in Tokyo and then, convincingly, at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. A changing of the guard? Not so fast. Cheruiyot battled back and held off Ingebrigtsen to win a classic in their final matchup of 2021, the DL final in Zurich.
Ingebrigtsen isn’t entered in Doha, but Cheruiyot is, along with a bunch of talented guys. Charles Simotwo, Abel Kipsang, and 19-year-old Kamar Etiang, the three men who beat Cheruiyot at last year’s Kenyan Olympic trials, are all running and Kipsang is in fine form having just run 3:31.01 at 5000+ feet in Nairobi on Saturday. Stewart McSweyn, a fixture at the front of Diamond League packs, is also entered for his first race of the year — a big test for the Aussie who has been out of action while battling the effects of long COVID. Indoor mile world record holder Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia is another name to watch.
Cheruiyot and Kipsang have already raced each other this year, with Kipsang destroying Cheruiyot over the final 100 at the Kenyan championships at the end of April (Cheruiyot wound up 6th in the race). That sounds bad on paper, but there are a few things to know. First, the meet wasn’t really the Kenyan championships — it was just the selection meet for the African Championships in June (the World Championship trials will be held as a separate meet). In addition, fabled coach Renato Canova, who is familiar with the Kenyan system, weighed in on the LetsRun messageboard saying he did not believe Cheruiyot was trying over the final 100 as he had no interest in making the African Champs team.
Considering Kipsang is one of the world’s top milers (4th at the Olympics, 3rd at World Indoors), he may not have needed Cheruiyot to back off to earn the victory. But we’ll know for sure who is fitter right now after Friday’s race as there’s no way Cheruiyot would pack it in in a Diamond League event.
3. Women’s 3000 (12:17 p.m. ET): Kipyegon vs Niyonsaba should be a treat
When Francine Niyonsaba decided to focus on longer distance races for the 2021 season, no one knew how it would turn out. Caster Semenya — another intersex athlete who, like Niyonsaba, chose not to lower their testosterone levels and therefore cannot compete in the women’s 800 meters — made the same decision and was more than 20 seconds away from qualifying in the 5000 meters.
Niyonsaba didn’t just qualify for Tokyo; she finished 5th in the 10k (and was on track to finish similarly high in the 5k before a BS DQ). After the Olympics, Niyonsaba was even better: she won four Diamond Leagues (clocking 8:19 for 3k and 14:25 for 5k along the way) and ended her season with a 2000m world record in Zagreb of 5:21.
The question now is how good Niyonsaba can become as a distance runner. If she was able to make such massive improvements in her first year racing the longer events, what can she do now that she’s had an entire offseason to build her strength? And if she continues to dominate, how long until World Athletics tries to expand the restricted events for DSD athletes beyond the mile? (WA faces a similar question with Christine Mboma in the sprints).
Niyonsaba will get a serious test in Doha. Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet (winner here in 8:27 last year) and steeple world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech (8:22 flat pb) could pose a challenge, but the headliner is Faith Kipyegon, double Olympic 1500 champion and the greatest female miler in history. Recently, Kipyegon has been more interested in stepping down in distance than up as she’s only run one 3k in her life, way back in 2014. But that 3k was also really fast — 8:23 — and Kipyegon ran that when she was 20 years old at a time when her 1500 pb was 3:56.98 (it’s now 3:51.07) and before she had won a single global medal. If she’s close to her 2021 shape, she should be able to run well under 8:20 on Friday — which is what it could take to defeat Niyonsaba.
2. Men’s 800 (12:49 p.m. ET): Donavan Brazier runs his first 800 since the Olympic Trials
2021 was supposed to be Donavan Brazier‘s year. After winning Diamond League and world titles in 2019 and going undefeated in 2020, Brazier entered 2021 as the Olympic 800 favorite. But Brazier struggled to run through a leg injury early in the campaign and wound up fracturing his tibia at the Olympic Trials, fading from second to dead last over the final 200 in his first 800m defeat in over two years. In his absence, the men’s 800 was a bit of a mess globally until Emmanuel Korir took over, winning Olympic and Diamond League titles.
Brazier didn’t run an 800 indoors this year, but he ran well enough in the 400 to make the US World Indoor team in that event. More importantly, he was healthy and said he felt the best he has in training since the middle of 2020 — back when he was still the World #1. Though Korir is absent, the race in Doha (the city of Brazier’s world title, but a different stadium) will serve as a baptism by fire as the field is strong: Marco Arop and Wyclife Kinyamal (two DL wins each in ’21), Ferguson Rotich (Olympic silver), Peter Bol (Olympic 4th), and new Kenyan wunderkind Noah Kibet (silver at World Indoors) will all line up. If Brazier is a cut above the rest of the world, as he was in 2019, we’ll know it. And if he still has work to do, we’ll know that too. Either way, we’ll have a measure of where Brazier is at.
1. Men’s 200 (1:12 p.m. ET): De Grasse vs Kerley vs Lyles
So the caveat here is that none of this may matter if Erriyon Knighton improves at all from his 19.49 opener in April. But even if Knighton totally owns the 200 meters by July, this is still an incredible matchup. You’ve got the Olympic champ Andre De Grasse, the world champ Noah Lyles, and Fred Kerley, who impressively ran down Michael Norman with a 19.80 victory at Mt. SAC in his last 200 four weeks ago. That’s a whole lot of sprinting star power.
I’ll be watching Lyles closest of all. The 24-year-old struggled for a lot of 2021, but the old Lyles came out in his final meet at the Pre Classic, where he blasted a 19.52. After a couple of 60-meter pbs indoors, Lyles opened up with a low-key 19.86 in his first 200 of the year in Clermont on May 1. How much faster can he go in Doha?
All of these guys will have seen what Knighton did at LSU. This is their chance to answer.