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Diamond League Kicks Off With A Bang

Asbel Kiprop redeemed himself in the 1500m.

Asbel Kiprop redeemed himself in the 1500m.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

DOHA, Qatar — One highly-anticipated matchup delivered while another fizzled as Abeba Aregawi of Sweden and David Rudisha of Kenya stole the middle-distance show, each scoring world-leading victories during the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season here before a packed house at the Qatar Sports Club.

Aregawi won the women’s 1500m in a meet-record 3:56.60, holding off upstart Kenyan Faith Kipyegon and former Ethiopian teammate Genzebe Dibaba. In the men’s 800m, it was Rudisha, the world record holder and Olympic champion, running a controlled 1:43.87 for the fastest time of the young season.

All totaled, world-leading times were run in all middle-distance and distance races.

Fast 1500m For Women

The highlight came in the women’s 1500m, which figured to be one of the hottest contests of the evening given the history of the two main protagonists. Last season, Dibaba ran 3:57.77 to beat Aregawi at the Diamond League Shanghai Grand Prix. Aregawi and Dibaba both went on to compete for Ethiopia at the London Olympics, but Aregawi switched nationalities to Sweden before this season.

With a large and loud Ethiopian contingent of fans in the stands, the runners took to the track. The pacemakers did their job brilliantly, bringing the leaders through the first 800 meters in 2:06.70, faster than the asked-for pace of 2:07, and through 1000 meters in 2:40.

When Lydia Wafula of Kenya, the final pacer, stepped off the track it was Dibaba leading and Aregawi giving chase. The Swede pulled right onto Dibaba’s shoulder going into the final turn and overtook her with about 120 meters to go. Coming down the homestretch, it was all Aregawi, who powered through the line with Dibaba showing signs of fading.

Dibaba was eventually overtaken for second with about 20 meters to go by Kipyegon, the world junior champion, who crossed in 3:56.98, which at once obliterated her PR of 4:03.82 and established new Kenyan national and African junior records. The 19-year-old’s time is the fifth-fastest ever by a junior and fastest by a non-Chinese athlete. Dibaba finished third in a personal-best 3:57.54.

“It was a fantastic race for me,” Kipyegon said. “Breaking the national record was something I did not expect. My plan was to stay behind Aregawi and Dibaba and attack in the last 200m.”

The race also saw a solid, but not spectacular effort from lone American Gabriele Anderson, who was unable to meet her stated pre-meet goal of mixing it up with the contenders. After one lap, she was second to last in the field and was only able to move up slightly. The quick pace of the race, however helped pull her along to a 10th place finish in 4:05.41, a career best which earned her the ‘A’ qualifying standard for this summer’s World Championships in Moscow.

Rudisha Rules Again

In the men’s 800m, all eyes were on Rudisha and his nemesis Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia, the only man to beat the great Kenyan over the last two seasons. Both of those victories came in rainy conditions, and there was little chance of Aman getting that kind of assistance in this desert state on the Gulf.

But the opening pace was such that Aman had a fighting chance. The leaders went through the first quarter in 49.04 and covered the opening 600 meters in 1:17.70. During that time, Rudisha showed no signs of throwing down anything resembling a lethal surge, choosing instead a gradual increase in pace.

Aman wound up running behind Rudisha the whole way, unable to get around the tall Kenyan, who picked things up coming off the final turn and running strong enough down the stretch to thwart any potential challenge. Aman wound up finishing second in 1:44.21. Rudisha has now won five of seven head-to-head meetings with Aman.

Afterward, neither Rudisha nor Aman was particularly thrilled with their performances.

“I felt good and I ran okay,” Rudisha said. “It’s always nice running here in Doha and tonight the crowd was fantastic. It’s a world lead but I can do better for sure.”

“I did not want to stay behind Rudisha,” added Aman. “I tried to pass him but I could not. The race was not that fast but it is still the start of the season, my first race.”

The 800m ‘B’ race saw Amine El Manaoui of Morocco score the victory in 1:46.05, holding off American Tyler Mulder down the stretch. Mulder crossed second in 1:46.29.

“It was the first race of the year for me,” El Manaoui said. “I am happy with my win, but I am not satisfied with my performance.”

Redemption For Kiprop

Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop is embarrassed with his performance at the London Olympics. Just weeks after running a world-leading 3:28.88 at the Diamond League Herculis Meeting in Monaco, the 2008 Olympic champion limped home to a last-place finish at the Games. What he didn’t reveal at the time was that he was competing with a hamstring injury suffered in training.

Since then, however, the only thing on his mind has been restoring his image on the global athletics scene.

“It took time to accept what happened and to listen to the bad things people were saying and training hard,” Kiprop said before the meet. “I believe I’m now ready to face the competition and restore my name. There are low moments in one’s career and London was one of the most disappointing for me.”

There were no such disappointments here as Kiprop was in complete command. He opened up in 58.14 and followed pacer Victor Kebenei through 800 meters in 1:52 and Ismael Kombich through 1200 meters in 2:49. Down the final straight, he was able to hold off fellow Kenyan Bethwelll Birgen for the win, 3:31.13 to 3:31.90.

“It was a good race and I have the world lead at the moment,” Kiprop said. “That feels fine.”

Also of note in the race was South Africa’s Johaan Cronje setting a new national record with an eighth-place finish in 3:33.46.

Late Surge Decides Steeple

The women’s 3000m steeplechase opened at a rather tame clip, with pacer Virginia Nyambura going through the first 1000 meters in 3:05.09 and Lidiya Chepkirui hitting the 2000-meter mark in the lead in 6:16.43. Over the final 700 meters, the Kenyan picked up the pace significantly, kicking hard over the final 200 meters, and cruised across the line in 9:13.75, establishing a new world lead and meet record. Sofia Assefa of Ethiopia was a distant second in 9:14.61.

“I am feeling good and my body responded well,” Chepkurui said. “I pushed at the last kilometer and it went okay. I am happy for the world lead and the meeting record. I hope to continue like that.”

Ethiopia Closes With A Bang
With the Ethiopian and Kenyan cheering sections on the first turn among the diehards who stayed through the final event of the meeting, the stage was set for bang-up finish to the meet with the men’s 3000m.

Pacers Vincent Rono and Geoffrey Barusei brought the runners through the targeted splits right on schedule, Rono hitting 1000m in 2:29 and Barusei 1500m in 3:44. When Barusei stepped off, he left Kenya’s Augustine Choge in the lead, which he maintained for a lap and a half.

But with 600 meters to go, the chase pack swallowed Choge up on the turn, leaving him in seventh place, where he would finish. Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet stormed to the lead on the backstretch of the bell lap and continued to hammer the pace.

By the final turn, he had opened a seven-meter lead, which he carried to the finish for a victory in 7:30.36, the final world lead of the night. Gebrhiwet covered the final 400 meters in 53.8. Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya was second in 7:32.01 with Yenew Alamirew of Ethiopia third in 7:32.64.

Afterward, Ethiopian fans directed their night-long chanting toward the Kenyan section, which drew a smattering of boos. The spirited nationalism continued for almost 15 minutes after the meet’s conclusion.

And with that, the Diamond League moves on to Shanghai on May 18.