Diamond League opens in Doha, world championships loom
DOHA, Qatar (AP) There's more than one way to prepare for the world championships.
Sprinter Justin Gatlin wants to run fast times and dominate from the get-go. Olympic champion Allyson Felix isn't worried about Diamond League results as long as she's in the right shape for Beijing in late August.
Mo Farah, who won the long-distance double at the Olympics and the worlds, is starting his track season earlier than usual as he weighs up if he'll defend his 5,000-meter as well as his 10,000-meter title at the worlds in China.
For many top contenders, the opening Diamond League meet in Doha on Friday will be an indication of how their seasons might go. It will also be in the back of many minds that it's only a year until the Olympics.
More than a dozen reigning Olympic champions and 10 world champions are listed to compete at Qatar Sports Club, where the sweltering desert temperatures should drop, mercifully, from daytime highs of about 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius) to somewhere in the mid-80s (about 30 Celsius) for the evening meet.
''It's obviously still hot but I come from a place in Australia where it's warm all the time so I really like it,'' said Sally Pearson, the Olympic 100-meter hurdles champion.
Many of the athletes figure warm temperatures and a slight Persian Gulf breeze will mean fast times - especially over the short distances.
Gatlin thinks so. He will be trying to extend a hot streak that saw him win all 15 of his races over 100 meters in 2014, setting a season-best 9.77 seconds to mark him out as the man closest to chasing down Usain Bolt.
With Bolt scheduled to open his season later this month, Gatlin will race against Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter, former world champion Kim Collins and American relay teammate Michael Rodgers.
Bolt and the worlds aren't far from his mind, though.
''I'm not going to see him probably until the world championships,'' Gatlin said. ''To build that pressure up is to go out and run fast, run competitive, and show that I'm very strong and ready to run. On that moment, on that day, hopefully we both make it to the finals, we'll be ready to run and run very fast.''
Felix is a regular in Doha, has 10 wins spread over the 100, 200 and 400 meters here, and is the favorite in Friday's 200. But whatever happens, her season is about one thing.
''For me it's all about (the worlds). That's where the focus is,'' the American said. ''So, it's all about working back from there.''
Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross has instead targeted being the Diamond Race winner in the 400 meters and taking that title from Novlene Williams-Mills of Jamaica, who is also in the Doha field.
Farah is a first-time visitor to Qatar and has been swept from one promotional event to another by organizers quick to see a PR opportunity in a country that is gathering a mountain of sporting events, including the 2019 athletics world championships and topped off by the 2022 World Cup.
Farah posed for pictures on golden sand in front of Doha's glistening high-rise skyline, and visited the Aspire sports academy, with its track stadium and soccer field built inside a huge air-conditioned dome.
Farah's main business in Doha is the 3,000-meter race, where he said he might go for the European record in a field of tough Kenyan and Ethiopian challengers.
''It is possible, but at the same time you've got to respect the guys and try and race, rather than (focus on) times,'' Farah said.
Also in Doha are Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor, 400 hurdlers Felix Sanchez, Bershawn Jackson and Javier Culson, and 100 hurdler Jasmin Stowers, who has already run times of 12.39 and 12.40 seconds this season.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP