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Diamond League Set To Debut in Doha

Bekele, Bolt, Richards-Ross all out of the series’ season-opener.

Written by: Mario Fraioli

With a whole host of big names set to take to the track on Friday at the IAAF Diamond League debut in Doha, the biggest news out of Quatar is who isn’t going to be attending the series’ first meeting.

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the reigning world and Olympic champion in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, announced earlier this week that he would be a no-go for the inaugural installment of the series, which features 14 meetings throughout the course of the summer and is aimed at rewarding season-long consistency in an effort to showcase the best athletes in the world. Bekele, who according to his manager Jos Hermans is nursing a “small but consistent calf injury” is expected to return to competition June 4th at the Bislett Games in Oslo, the third stop on the Diamond League’s summer tour.

With Bekele out of the men’s 5,000 meters, all eyes will be on Kenyan Joseph Ebuya, the reigning world cross country champion who has a personal best of 12:51 in the event. In a pre-meet press conference on Thursday, Ebuya clearly stated his intentions for the series’ season-opener.

“I know everybody is very strong,” Ebuya said. “My expectations are to run under 12:50. I’m ready and I’m prepared. Since winning the world cross country, I’ve been training and I have strong expectations.”

Ebuya’s biggest challenge will come from his countryman Eliud Kipchoge, the 2003 world champion who has a 12:46 personal best to his credit. Kipchoge, who won a silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the Beijing Olympics, is fresh off a 13:11 victory on the roads at the Carlsbad 5000 in April.

In the other distance races to take place in Doha, reigning world champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya headlines a loaded men’s steeplechase which features 11 of his countrymen, including Brimin Kipruto, the Olympic gold medalist in Beijing. Kemboi, the only sub-8-minute steeplechaser in the field, set his personal best of 7:58.85 in winning last year’s Doha meet.

The women’s 1,500 meters will also feature a fast field, led by a trio of Ethiopians – well, sort of. Ethiopian-born Maryam Yusuf Jamal, now representing Bahrain, is the fastest in the field with a personal best of 3:56.79. She will do battle with familiar foe Gelete Burka, who captured bronze for Ethiopia in this event at the world indoor championships in Doha in March. Burka’s countrywoman, Genzebe Dibaba, is coming off a strong indoor campaign and is worth keeping an eye on as she looks to make her mark on the outdoor oval this season.

Lastly, the men’s 800 meters will be led by the always dangerous David Rudisha, the world junior champion and African record holder who sports a personal best of 1:42.02. Rudisha won the 800 meters at this meet last year in 1:43.15, edging out his countryman and reigning Olympic 1500-meter champion, Asbel Kiprop, who crossed the line second in a personal best of 1:43.17. Also not to be overlooked is the experienced Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, the defending world champion from South Africa, who set his personal best of 1:42.86 in Rieti last summer.

On the sprint side of the action, conspicuous by her absence is the United States’ Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2009 IAAF Athlete of the Year, who has pulled out of the women’s 400 meters due to a quadriceps injury. Richards, the reigning world champion in the event, was slated for a showdown with countrywoman Allyson Felix, who will be looking to win the one-lapper in Doha for the fourth straight year.  Disappointment aside, Felix expressed her belief in the pre-meet press conference that a fast race was still in the cards on Friday.

“I’ve always opened my season in Doha,” said Felix, who is aiming for a sub-50-second clocking. “And being that it’s an off-year, I decided to run an event in which I need improvement in. It’s a really competitive field, so we’ll just see how fast we can run.”

In the men’s 100 meters, as usual all eyes will be on a Jamaican, but his name is not Usain Bolt. The reigning world champion and world record holder will wait a week to make his Diamond League debut in Shanghai, but his countryman and former world record holder Asafa Powell seems ready to get the season off to a fast start in Doha.

“I’m in pretty good shape,” said Powell, who sports a personal best of 9.72, by far the fastest in the field. “This is my first real competition so I have no idea what I can give, but I will do my best.”

Heading over to the 100-meter hurdles, Lolo Jones returns to Doha, where she won gold in the 60-meter hurdles earlier this year at the world indoor championships. Jones, who ran 12.68 earlier this season at the Drake Relays, is the favorite in the eight-woman field. She will be challenged by the Canadian duo of Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who finished second and third, respectively, behind her at the world indoor championships in March.

“I’ve had two races back in the US, but these were not as competitive fields as I will face tomorrow,” Jones said at the pre-meet press conference. “I expect to run quicker but I am curious to see how I will run when I am up against the elite of the elite for the first time this year.”

The dynamic duo of Americans Angelo Taylor and Kerron Clement will take center stage in the men’s 400-meter hurdles. Taylor, the Olympic champion in the event, and Clement, the reigning world champion, will battle it out for the win, while countrymen Bershawn Jackson and Michael Tinsley will be looking to upset their teammates and stir up some early-season excitement.