Mutaz Essa Barshim in action at the 2012 Doha Diamond League (© Jiro Mochizuki)
Local heroes Mutaz Essa Barshim and Abdalelah Haroun will be out to impress their home fans at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of 2016, which see the series start in Doha on 6 May.
At a press conference on Tuesday (29), Qatar Athletics Federation President Major General Dahlan Al Hamad released another list of top overseas athletes who will compete at what has become the traditional curtain-raiser to the IAAF Diamond League.
Barshim has competed at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha on three previous occasions but the 2014 world indoor champion has yet to notch a win.
Three Olympic and two world medallists will challenge Barshim: world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Derek Drouin of Canada, China’s world silver medallist Zhang Guowei, USA's Olympic silver medallist Erik Kynard, and Britain's Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz.
Donald Thomas, the 2007 world champion from The Bahamas, Italy’s Marco Fassinotti and Qatari youngsters Muamer Aissa Barshim and Hamdi Alamine complete the high jump list.
Haroun, still 19, won a non-Diamond Race 400m contest for Asian athletes only in Doha last May. Since then he has earned the Asian title and a silver medal at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 already this year.
Among his rivals will be the 2008 Olympic and two-time world champion LaShawn Merriitt, who also finished second in Beijing last summer.
Merritt set the current meeting record of 44.19 in 2014. The US sprinter’s personal best of 43.65 ranks him sixth on the world all-time list, one place above another Doha-bound 400m runnerIsaac Makwala of Botswana.
In 2015, Makwala, the former African record-holder with a personal best of 43.72, was fifth in Beijing and a winner at the All Africa Games in the Congolese capital Brazzaville.
Another athlete with sub-44 credentials is Saudi Arabia's Youssef Ahmed Masrahi, the Asian 400m record-holder with 43.93.
Masrahi was eighth in Beijing, one place behind Machel Cedenio from Trinidad and Tobago, who is another Doha starter.
Middle distance enthusiasts will be delighted to see a stellar line-up in the 1500m which features, among others, Kenyan trio Asbel Kiprop, Elijah Manangoi and Silas Kiplagat.
Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic champion, has won each of the past three world titles, while last year he also produced the fastest time in 14 years when clocking 3:26.69 in Monaco, the third best time ever. The Kenyan also set the Doha meeting record of 3:29.18 in 2014.
Manangoi, whose personal best is 3:29.67, was second behind Kiprop in Beijing while Kiplagat was the winner in Doha in 2012 and can boast of being the fifth fastest man ever in his event with a time of 3:27.64.
The Kenyans’ fiercest rivals will undoubtedly be Djibouti’s 2014 world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman and Ethiopia’s Aman Wote, who both have bests faster than 3:30.00.
The 800m is not part of the Diamond Race schedule in Doha this year, but Beijing and Portland finalist Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla will feature in a national race along with Jamal Hairane and Abubaker Haydar Abdalla who finished second and fourth respectively at the recent Asian Indoor Championships.
"The IAAF Diamond League meeting has been held annually in Doha since the series started in 2010 and is well established as one of the series’ top meetings,” said Dahlan Al Hamad.
“All these years we brought to Doha dozens of star athletes. We raised the awareness of our sport and engaged, inspired and motivated a growing number of young athletes. Some of them have come of age and are now ready to compete against their idols.
“Most of the Qatar Olympic team members, along with a large number of youngsters, will make their outdoor debut, competing against the best, at the top international meeting held in Qatar," added Al Hamad.
“I believe that all these early announcements show that we will not let down the athletics fans and that the meeting will be once more of a very high calibre with top athletes competing."
Organisers for the IAAF
2016 IAAF Diamond League calendar
6 May – Doha, QAT
14 May – Shanghai, CHN
22 May – Rabat, MAR
28 May – Eugene, USA
2 Jun – Rome, ITA
5 Jun – Birmingham, GBR
9 Jun – Oslo, NOR
16 Jun – Stockholm, SWE
15 Jul – Monaco, MON
22-23 Jul – London, GBR
25 Aug – Lausanne, SUI
27 Aug – Paris, FRA
1 Sep – Zurich, SUI
9 Sep – Brussels, BEL