Friday, May 3, 2019

Doha Diamond League

by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Caster Semenya was the star of the 2019 Diamond League opener - on the track as well as off. Generous and gracious in the face of those who are not, Semenya let her running do the talking as she won the 800m in a blistering 1:54.98 against a field that featured all the medalists from the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championships.
Caster Semenya after winning the ISTAF Title in Berlin, 2018
Photo credit: Gallery4/ISTAF
The depth of the results was remarkable as 1:59.07 was Raevyn Rogers’ time in 5th place; ahead of her in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th were Francine Niyonsaba, Ajee Wilson, and Nelly Jepkosgei.

“For me, I believe nothing is hard in life because it is up to you how you take life,” said Semenya, referring to the CAS (Court for Arbitration of Sport) decision against her this week.

“As an athlete, I believe in sportsmanship, and what sports teaches you is to keep pushing on despite all odds. I know life could be difficult at times but I'm a believer and I believe there is always a way to resolve issues. One of my firm belief is that there is always a way out for everything. So if a wall is placed in front of me, I jump it. I'm going to keep enjoying my life and live it. I will keep on training and running. To me, impossibility is nothing.”

“It's all about inspiring the world,” she said, further, in an interview on the Olympic Channel. “When you are a living testimony of God, you cannot let things affect you personally.”

So strong were today’s performances that it was hard to tell it was the first week of May.

Delilah Muhammad set the tone for the day in the first track event, the 400m hurdles, as she blew past the field coming around the final turn and won going away in 53.61, a 1.11 margin of victory over a stellar field. World indoor and outdoor champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer (US), Olympic relay bronze medalist Anna Ryzhykova (UKR), and World and Olympic Games finalist Janieve Russell (Jam) have some work to do.

Sweden’s Daniel Stahl set the Diamond League discus record with his 71.29/233-10 statement, one which drew scant response from his competitors, as he won by over two meters. Setting the DL record is no small feat when we consider who has thrown before him, and he gains a huge advantage by achieving this in the World Championships ring.

“I had great power and I have been working on my technique a lot and training hard in the gym so I expected it and I am really happy,” he said. “I hope to return here for the IAAF World Championships and win again. The big focus though is always to have fun and big power.”

Sam Kendricks won the pole vault in 5.80/19-¼, while 2016 Olympic Champion Thiago Braz (BRA) finished a strong second. His attempts to return to his Olympic heights may finally be coming to fruition.

A surprise in the women’s long jump was that Tianna Bartoletta did not qualify for the final. There went an intriguing matchup against the 2018 IAAF Female Athlete of the Year, Caterine Ibarguen (COL), who scored a narrow win over Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, 6.76/22’2¼ - 6.74, with Australia’s Brooke Stratton another centimeter behind in 3rd.

The women’s high jump had “star is born” written all over it.  Let’s let Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh say it in her own words.  

“I was so surprised that I won because I am the youngest competitor here,” she said, “so I am extremely happy to take the win and to jump a personal best.”


She is 17.

Remember her name in October.

Five men broke 1:45.00 in the 800m; the resurgent Nigel Amos won in 1:44.29. Donavan Brazier (US) seemed to be moving into perfect placement with 180m to go when he had to steady himself when some jostling took place. Still, he recovered nicely to work his way back from 5th to 3rd at the finish.

Brianna McNeal is the World and Olympic Champion in the 100m hurdles. That was hard to tell today as the field blew by her over the 7th and 8th hurdles and she finished a surprising 7th in 12.94. Jamaica’s Danielle Williams’ 12.66 ruled the day.

“I didn't expect that,” said Williams. “It was a big surprise so I am very happy. It was a big step forward for me, I am so happy I got the win, I went for glory. Now, I just need to remain consistent and stay injury free.”

Hilary Bor (US) won everything except the last 100m of the men’s 3,000m steeplechase. He took the lead with 600m to go but stutter-stepped repeatedly as he approached the final barrier and Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali sprinted past to win, 8:07.22 to 8:08.41 – a personal best for Bor. 

Nonetheless, the manner in which Bor took control of the race in its latter stages was impressive, and he served noticed that he’ll be a medal contender in October.

“Finish second behind Soufiane (El Bakkali) a world silver medalist, is a great achievement and it means I’m doing something right,” said Bor. “My goal now is to go back and study the race and see how I can improve… I love the stadium and the atmosphere here tonight is great.”

Put him in a 100m race and he’ll be taking attendance from behind. Put him in a 200m race and you have an Olympic Champion. Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev ran a scintillating early-season 19.99 to win going away. He led coming off the turn and was never challenged.

Similarly, Dina Asher-Smith dominated the women’s 200m with her 22.26 world leader. Jamile Samuel of the Netherlands was a big surprise in 2nd in 22.90 over Phyllis Francis and Blessing Okagbare among others in a deep field. Asher-Smith won triple gold at the European Championships in Berlin last summer, but she has yet to mine World or Olympic metal. This serves notice to notable absentees Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bah) and Jenna Prandini (US) that Asher-Smith is a force to be reckoned with in 2019.

With an 800m split of 1:53.32, it was surprising to see 11 men still in contention 300m later at the bell of the men’s 1500m. In a mild upset, Elijah Manangoi held off Timothy Cheruiyot in the area that had been Cheruiyot’s strength in his domination of the 2018 season, the last 120m. The top 7 finishers were from Kenya.

Anticipation for this meet had been high after a stellar indoor season was capped by outstanding performances on the outdoor and relay circuits, most notably by Ryan Crouser’s 22.74-74 7¼ world leading shot put at Long Beach. As noted here before, he seems well on his way to a world record this year, and today he won with apparent ease at 22.13. However, New Zealand’s Thomas Walsh put him on notice that it won’t be quite so easy, as he finished a scant 7cm behind.

In a stellar concluding event, Hellen Obiri outsprinted Genzebe Dibaba (these are words you don’t hear often) in a women’s 3000m race that saw the top 6 break 8:30. The 2019 World Cross Country champion held off the 2008 and 2009 U20 World XC titleist, 8:25.60 to 8:26.20. I would have used the term “down the stretch they come” as two of the greatest distance runners in history battled it out, but tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby, so that phrase is already taken.

It was 88 F (31 C) degrees inside the refurbished Khalifa International Stadium and 99 (37 C) outside the stadium, so while 88 is hot, it could have been worse. This is of import not only for track and field’s September/October World Championships but for the 2022 soccer World Cup as well.

A sophisticated cooling system has been installed in the stadium, and several track and field journalists noted how surprised they were at how much difference it made, one indicating that he felt cold in the media tribune (press row) near the top of the stadium. Cold! The system is so strong that it is turned off as competition begins so there will not be interference from the wind it generates.

Next Diamond League stop: Shanghai on May 25th.

Thanks to IAAF for making the flash quotes available.

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