Allyson Felix takes another Diamond League victory, this time in Stockholm (Deca Text&Bild) © Copyright
Preview Doha, Qatar

Defending Diamond Trophy winners descend on Doha - PREVIEW - Samsung Diamond League

Nine of last year’s Diamond Race winners, including the women’s 200 and 400m champion Allyson Felix, will get their World Championship season underway here in Doha in the first of this year’s 14 IAAF Samsung Diamond League events.

Felix will contest the one-lap event at the Qatar Sports Club stadium, where she won in last year’s inaugural Diamond League competition, and in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase, which was not run in Doha last year, Milcah Chemos Cheywa of Kenya will set out in defence of her overall title. 

Kenya’s Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop, Diamond Race winner in the metric mile last year, races over the 800m here just as he did last year.

Other overall winners from 2010 taking part here are Bershawn Jackson in the 400m Hurdles, pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, his French team-mate Teddy Tamgho, winner of the Triple Jump, Christian Cantwell, who dominated the Shot Put event, Poland’s discus thrower Piotr Malachowski and the Norwegian World and Olympic Javelin champion Andreas Thorkildsen.

Felix gets her 400m season underway

Felix goes in the longer of her two favoured events and will be seeking her ninth victory in Doha with a degree of confidence despite the presence of fellow American Monica Hargrove and Jamaicans Patricia Hall and Davita Prendergast, as well as last year’s African and Commonwealth champion Amantle Montsho, whose Botswana national record stands at 49.83.

“I know it’s going to be a strong field,” Felix said. “In the 400 I’m always being pushed.”

Felix, whose 400m victory here in 50.15 proved to be her fastest of a year in which she was unbeaten at the distance, also holds the meeting record of 49.83.

She will face European challengers in Muriel Hurtis-Houairi, France’s former World champion, and Britain’s former world silver medallist Nicola Sanders.

Tamgho returns to site of first World indoor record

Like Felix, Tamgho is an athlete with good memories of Doha, where he won the IAAF World indoor title last year with a then World record of 17.90m.

But this exuberant 21-year-old was entirely respectful today of the challenge that will be presented by the likes of last year’s winner, Alexis Copello of Cuba, and his fellow Frenchman Yoann Papinier.

“We have got a great field here so it is going to be difficult,” said Tamgho as he sat on a press conference podium alongside his team-mate Lavillenie and the 19-year-old Qatari high jumper who advanced from 2.14m to 2.31m last year to win the World junior title, Mutaz Essa Barshim.

Tamgho will also be looking out for the challenge of World and Olympic medallist Leevan Sands, of the Bahamas, European silver medallist Marian Oprea, Randy Lewis, Grenada’s record holder, and Nigeria’s African champion Tosin Oke.

Lavillenie eyes Bubka’s meeting record

Lavillenie’s memories of Doha are less happy than those of Felix and Tamgho – he failed to reach the final at last year’s World Indoor Championships at the Aspire Dome.

“I made some mistakes,” Lavillenie reflected with a grin. “But every great athlete knows defeat.”

The 24-year-old responded last year by winning European gold, and earlier this year he retained his European title in Paris with a national record of 6.03m, so he is carrying fine form into his outdoor season.

Sergey Bubka’s 1998 meeting record of 5.80m could be under pressure, particularly with the competitive prompt of a field that includes former world indoor and outdoors champions Igor Pavlov, Giuseppe Gibilisco and Brad Walker, along with world indoor silver medallist Malte Mohr and  European silver medallist Maksym Mazuryk of the Ukraine.

Kiprop gunning for fast 800m

In the absence of the injured pair of Abubaker Kaki and David Rudisha, Kiprop is favoured to earn a victory on the track where he recorded a personal best of 1:43.17 in 2009 and finished second last season in chasing home the man who would finish 2010 as World record holder, Rudisha.

But he will be challenged by fellow Kenyans Sammy Tangui, Richard Kiplagat and Alfred Yego, the former World champion. Britain’s Michael Rimmer will be hoping to profit from the pace.

Last year’s 400m Hurdles in Doha was won by Jackson in 48.66, and the American will be looking for a similarly encouraging start to his outdoor season this time around.

Jackson’s fellow American LaRon Bennett, who has a personal best of 48.74, will be one to watch out for, and other challenges will come from world and Olympic finalist LJ van Zyl, currently the world leader, African silver medallist Cornel Fredericks, and last year’s European silver and bronze medallists, respectively Rhys Williams of Britain and Stanislas Melnykov of the Ukraine.

Cantwell leads the Shot Putting elite

While the draw of meetings in Ethiopia and Jamaica has had an effect on some of the track entries, the fields for throwing events here are consistently strong.

World Shot Put champion Cantwell, another World indoor winner here last year, will have the usual collection of world class opponents to contend with. Poland’s Tomasz Majewski, who beat the American to the Olympic title in 2008, will be here, as will Canada’s Dylan Armstrong, whose effort of 21.72 in San Diego last month leads the early season world list.

Cantwell will also have to contend with the only man who managed to beat him last year – fellow American Reese Hoffa, the 2007 World champion. Germany’s Ralf Bartels also looks likely to prove difficult to overcome.

Malachowski looking to add to his momentum

Majewski’s fellow Pole Malachowski has an equally challenging task in the Discus Throw, where he faces Lithuania’s former double Olympic and World champion Virgilijus Alekna, and Gerd Kanter of Estonia, the current Olympic champion whose effort of 71.45m was the best of last year.

Jason Young of the United States, world No2 last year, is also in the field, as is local thrower Rashid Dosari, the 2006 Asian Games silver medallist, and Iran’s Asian record holder Ehsan Hadadi.

In the javelin, Thorkildsen suffered only two defeats last year and he will have his 2006 meeting record of 90.13m as a target, although he will be wary of the talents of perennial rival Teri Pitkamaki of Finland, the 2007 world champion, who inflicted one of those defeats in the Stockholm Diamond League meeting.

Petr Frydrych, coached in the Czech Republic by the former double Olympic champion Jan Zelezny, got within two metres of Thorkildsen last year, and this meeting offers an early opportunity to gauge his progress during the winter.

Germany’s Matthias de Zordo, third in the world last year, also competes.

Chemos’s chances in the 3000m Steeplechase will depend on the form of her fellow Kenyans Mercy Njoroge, who took silver behind the Diamond Race winner in last year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and Lydia Rotich, the African Championships bronze medallist.

Ethiopia offers strong contenders in the form of Sofia Assefa, the African silver medallist, and Mekdes Bekele.

Kipchoge vs Kipsiro in hot 3000m

Although the 3000m does not contain a Diamond Race winner, it looks likely to offer one of the high points of the meeting in terms of competitiveness given the presence of Kenya’s former world champion Eliud Kipchoge and Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro.

Kipsiro defied the Kenyans not once, but twice at the Commonwealth Games as he spoiled their hopes of a clean sweep in the distance track events by winning the 5000 and 10,000m.

Numerically, Kenya’s chances of defeating the Ugandan are 13-1. But that may not prove sufficient.

Walter Dix, the Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medallist, will be offering evidence of his early season half lap form against a field which includes two Jamaicans in the form of Mario Forsythe and Ainsley Waugh.

Dix recorded 19.72sec to beat Tyson Gay at last year’s Eugene Diamond League meeting but was unable to contest the closing stages of the Diamond Race because of injury.

Home supporters will be watching out for 19-year-old Femi Ogunode, who won the Asian Games last year and will be hoping to improve his personal best of 20.43.

Kiplagat ready to pick up where he left off?

The 1500m offers another Ethiopian-Kenyan rivalry as the former’s Mekonnen Gebrehedhin, fourth at last year’s World Indoors, lines up against nine Kenyans including last year’s world junior champion Caleb Ndiku and Nixon Chepseba.

Also running is Silas Kiplagat, the 21-year-old who astonished observers at last year’s Monaco Diamond League meeting by winning in 3min 29.27sec and went on to take the Commonwealth title.

Local spotlight on Barshim

Barshim will not be the only local lad getting extra support in the High Jump. Qatar also have Rashid Ahmed Al-Mannai, who won the Continental Cup in Split with a personal best of 2.28m.

With Russia’s Aleksey Dmitrik in the field, along with the 2007 World champion Donald Thomas of the Bahamas and a trio of US competitors – world indoor bronze medallist Dusty Jonas, former World indoor bronze medallist Andra Manson and Jesse Williams – the meeting record of 2.28 may be under pressure.

Jones on the mend

Lolo Jones, who still only rates herself as being at 90 per cent of full capacity following a longstanding nerve injury which continues to leave her in pain, will be eager to test her capabilities in the 100m Hurdles.

She will have six fellow Americans to contend with, and a single Frenchwoman – Sandra Gomis.

The location will at least be a comforting one for Jones, who won the indoor title in Doha last year and returned to win the opening Diamond League race in 12.63.

Her toughest challenge looks likely to come from fellow American Kellie Wells, who has profited in Jones’s absence during the indoor season, remaining ubeaten in 10 races.

Olympic champion Maurren Maggi meets European champion Ineta Radevica in the long jump. Maggi has won twice in her native Brazil this year, while Radevica has yet to get her outdoor season underway after failing to reach the final at this year’s European Indoor Championships.

Tatyana Kotova of Russia is also be likely to figure in the leading places.

 United States champion Connie Moore will be joined in the 200m by team-mate LaShauntea Moore, European bronze medallist Aleksandra Fedoriva and Nigeria’s triple African champion Blessing Okagbare.

Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka, who took 1500m bronze in last year’s World Indoor Championships at the Aspire Dome, returns to Doha to race a field which includes her 17-year-old compatriot Tizita Bogale, last year’s world junior champion, and a Kenyan trio of Eunice Jepkoech Sum and two of Bogale’s predecessors as world junior champion, Viola Kibiwot and Irene Jelagat.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF