DOHA, QATAR – The 2016 IAAF Diamond League series will kick-off on Friday with the season’s opening meeting in Doha.
The star-studded setup will feature some 38 champions and 80 other medal winners from former Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships, according to the meeting officials.
Highlighting the list of big names to compete in the series opener are LaShawn Merritt, Christian Taylor, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Omar McLeod, Dafne Schippers, Alma Ayana, as well as local star Mutaz Essa Barshim.
MERIT LEADS STRONG ONE-LAP FIELD
A very strong men’s 400m field has been put together by the organizers, with American Merritt, who holds the meeting record of 44.19, which was set back in 2012, starting as the man to beat.
The 2008 Olympic champion has already posted a time of 44.22 seconds last week at the Drake Relays.
After toughing out last Friday’s intense battle with Olympic Champion Kirani James in the cold, Merritt should enjoy the more favourable conditions in Doha, where he is expected to have the likes of Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, Olympic silver medallist Luguelín Santos of the Dominican Republic, as well as rising stars Machel Cedenio (T&T), Steven Gardiner (BAH) and home favourite Abdalelah Haroun.
“The weather conditions are just great in Doha, the crowd is very passionate and I want to put on a great show for them, I want to run fast and execute all that I have been training for,” Merritt said.
MCLEOD TO GO FASTER?
Fresh from off his sizzling season opener over the barriers at Drake Relays last week, Jamaica’s Omar McLeod will seek to improve his own world-leading mark when he tackles another strong setup in the men’s 110m hurdles.
McLeod, who blasted his way to a 2016 best time of 13.08secs in the cold and wet weather in Iowa on Saturday, was a bit surprised by his performance, given the conditions, but the World Indoor champion from Portland 2016 believes he’s in good condition to run another fast time on Friday if everything goes according to plan.
“I really was kind of surprised (with how fast it was) knowing that it was my season opener, and with the weather really cold and windy,” he said.
“I know that it will be completely different on Friday.”
The 22-year-old will be challenged by fellow countryman and Olympic bronze medallist Hansle Parchment, world record holder Aries Merritt of USA, countryman David Oliver and Spain’s Orlando Ortega.
Oliver holds the meeting record at 12.95 secs from 2008 and it could be under serious threat with McLeod in such great form.
The veteran American has admitted that he’s been impressed with the current group of hurdlers.
“There are so many great guys running right now and we all have our own qualities,” said Oliver, who is the fourth fastest man all-time in the event.
“There are eight guys who are running right now who have run under 13 seconds.
“That’s never happened before.
“So it’s definitely an interesting event.”
SCHIPPERS GUNNING FOR SOMETHING QUICK
IAAF World Championships 200m champion Dafne Schippers will lead a solid field in the women’s 100m.
“I’ve heard that it’s a very nice track, and it’s very nice to be able to compete against these very fast women,” she said added ahead of her first 100m for 2016.
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The Dutch star who opened her outdoor season with a world-leading 22.25 seconds late last month in Florida, will take on American world championships bronze medallist Tori Bowie, Caribbean sprint-queen Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, her countrywoman Simone Facey and the Ivory Coast’s Marie Josee Ta Lou.
Also on the track, World Championships 5000 gold medallist Alma Ayana will go head-to-head with world 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot in the women’s 3000m.
Cheruiyot certainly has the strength to stay with Ayana, but the Ethiopian has the better leg speed, which could give her the edge over the shorter distant on Friday.
Meanwhile, in the field events in the 2016 IAAF Diamond League series opener, Beijing 2015 world champion Christian Taylor will lead the nine-man field in the Triple Jump.
The American leads the world in 2016 with a mark of 17.11m, but could be challenged by China’s world indoor champion Dong Bin, France’s Teddy Tamgho, as well as Alexis Capello of Cuba.
He said he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to seal the win in the Diamond League opener, even if it takes going 18-metres.
“If that calls for 18 metres, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to compete,” Taylor said.
“Qatar is very special to me because it’s the first place I went over 18 metres (in 2015). It’s a blessing and curse. Now the bar is set really high.”