“Is the world record in danger? I believe so,” LaShawn Merritt on Michael Johnson's 400 meter world record.
The 2016 IAAF Diamond League season gets underway on Friday in Doha, Qatar, with nine reigning world outdoor champions opening their outdoor campaigns before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The fields for this year’s races and events include 38 champions and 80 medallists from past Olympics and world championships. Among the stars who will be competing are Americans LaShawn Merritt, Aries Merritt and Christian Taylor as well as Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, Ezekiel Kemboi and Brimin Kipruto.
The meet will be broadcast on BeIn Sports and begins at 11:55 a.m. ET.
Here is an in-depth look at what to expect in the Doha Diamond League’s biggest races and field events:
Men’s 400 meters
“Is the world record in danger? I believe so, with so many athletes running in the 43 lows,” LaShawn Merritt said at the meet press conference on Wednesday.
Last weekend’s 400-meter race at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa has put Michael Johnson’s 43.19 world record on watch for the Olympic year. At last summer’s world championships, Wayde Van Niekerk was on pace to break the record, which has stood since 1996, through 300 meters before the inevitable pain of the final 100 meters. He finished with a 43.48 for gold with Merritt in second with a 43.65 and Granada’s Olympic champion Kirani James taking bronze in 43.78. James and Merritt opened with 44.08 and 44.22, respectively, last weekend. Doha will feature only Merritt but a fast time could still be on with a challenge from Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, who will be opening his season after running 43.72 last year.
Women’s 100 Meters
Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands and Tori Bowie of the United States took silver and bronze behind Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at last summer’s world championships. Allyson Felix, the Olympic champion at 200 meters, pulled out of the meet with an ankle injury. Felix vs. Schippers will be must-watch at the Olympics and this was supposed to be the free sample that leaves us craving more. For now, Schippers vs. Bowie will suffice as a snack until the main course.
Men’s 1,500 meters
Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop begins his quest for Olympic redemption with what is expected to be a fast 1,500-meter race in Doha. The reigning world champion holds the meet record with his 3:29.18 victory in 2014, in a race that saw five other runners dip under 3:31. It took Kiprop a 3:31.13 to win in 2013 and Silas Kiplagat a 3:29.63 to defeat him in 2012. Factor in Nixon Chepseba’s 2011 winning time of 3:31.84 and you have a 3:30.45 average over four years. Aside from the Monaco Diamond League in July, this is the meet to see a fast 1,500. Kiprop going up against four other runners with personal bests under 3:29 will not disappoint.
Women’s 400 meter hurdles
The Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnová, the 2013 and ’15 world champion, will open her season with a challenge from last year’s bronze medalist and American Casssandra Tate. At the Drake Relays, Tate finished third in 55.91, which is her fastest season opener ever.
Men’s 3,000 meter steeplechase
Kenya’s Jairus Birech (7:58.41 PB) wants the world record. Doha may be a little too early in the season but a world leading time will definitely be dropped. Birech said the Rome Diamond League on June 2 will likely be the site of an attack on Qatari Saif Saeed Shaheen’s 7:53.63 world record from 2004. Doha may as well be a Olympic trials race, with 11 Kenyans competing, including Olympic and world champion Ezekiel Kemboi (7:55.76 PB) and Conseslus Kipruto (8:01.16 PB), who took 1-2 in a world championship Kenyan sweep last summer. Paul Koech went 7:56.58 to win the Doha Diamond League meet in 2012 with Richard Mateelong taking second in 7:56.81, demonstrating that a strong field can yield fast times. All this hope for a fast time goes to waste if the Kenyans decide to get greedy, chase a paycheck and make it a tactical affair for the prize purse. In that case, make the check out to Ezekiel Kemboi and throw in a bonus if he busts out another dance move.
Men’s 200 Meters
There is no major Jamaican or U.S. star is in this field but the race serves as a reminder that Walter Dix is still running track and remains elite at 30.
Women’s 800 meters
Olympic silver (although maybe soon-to-be-gold) medalist Caster Semenya will get her first taste of international competition with two other women who have run under 1:58 in their careers with Morroco’s Malika Akkaoui (1:57.64) and Kenya’s Eunice Sum (1:56.99). Semenya pulled off an impressive triple in winning the South African national titles at 400 (50.74 PB), 800 (1:58.45) and 1,500 (4:10.93) in a span of four hours. Semenya will be a figure to watch before the Olympics as last summer the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the “female hyperandrogenism” policy, which was adopted in 2011 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (track and field's governing body) and deemed high levels of natural testosterone as a competitive advantage. Semenya was subjected to gender testing in 2010 and now re-emerges as a contender for the Olympic gold medal.
Americans Chanelle Price and Molly Ludlow will also open their 800 meter campaigns.
Men’s 110 meter hurdles
Aries Merritt’s comeback to the track is incredible. Doha will mark his second race over the 110-meter hurdles since undergoing a kidney transplant less than nine months ago. He opened with a 13.61 after clipping a hurdle at the Drake Relays. Jamaica’s Omar McLeod, who recently became the first man to break 10 seconds for 100 and 13 for the 110 hurdles, won in Des Moines with a 13.08 performance. American David Oliver, the 2013 world champion, took second in 13.31. Get ready for a Jamaican-U.S. rivalry heating up in sprints but with hurdles for 2016.
Women’s 3,000 meters
A nice six-on-six Kenya vs. Ethiopia match-up is set for the 3,000, and the best part is that everyone will be opening their season at the distance, providing a quick view of where fitness levels stand at for the start of the season. Cherono is the fastest Kenyan with her 8:21.14 personal best and owns a 3-1 head-to-head record over Ethiopia’s fastest, Almaz Ayana’s (8:22.22 personal best). For Cherono, it will also be a chance to redeem herself after Ayana captured gold in Beijing at 5,000 meters and she finished fifth overall.
Men’s Triple Jump
Last year’s meet in Doha made history as Christian Taylor (18.21m PB) and Pedro Pablo Pichardo (18.08m PB) jumped over 18 meters, the first time ever that two jumpers surpassed that barrier in the same meet. Pichardo will not be in Doha this time around so Taylor will look to upgrade from his runner-up finish in 2015 against 2013 world champion Teddy Tamgho (18.04m PB), who ruptured his Achillies tendon at this meet last year and missed the remainder of the outdoor campaign.
Here’s last year’s great clash between Taylor and Pichardo:
Women’s Triple Jump
Olympic silver medalist Caterine Ibarguen looks to extend her 31-meet winning streak, which dates to November 2012. She has not lost a Diamond League contest since May 31, 2012 in Rome. Olga Rypakova, the 2012 Olympic champion and the last woman to beat Ibarguen, is also in the Doha field. Rypakova took bronze at last summer’s world championships.
All three medalists from last year’s world championships— Poland’s Piotr Małachowski, Belgium’s Philip Milanov and Poland’s Robert Urbanek—will go head-to-head.
Last year’s world champion Katharina Molitor (67.69m PB) will open her season against fellow medalists Lu Huihui (66.13m PB) of China and Sunette Viljoen (65.79) of South Africa.
Men’s High Jump
The high jump is the opposite of the men’s 100 meters. No primadonna ducking between the top stars and head-head competition on a weekly basis. Mutaz Essa (2.28m PB) will have the backing of a home crowd as he takes on world champion Derek Drouin, Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard, 2011 world champion Jesse Williams and world championship silver medalist Zhang Guowei. The high jump is unpredictable and Friday will be the first spark to an expected series of fireworks in the event.
Women’s shot put
Americans Tia Brooks and Michelle Carter highlight the field. Brooks is coming off a Drake Relays victory, where she tossed a personal best of 19.37 meters.
Women’s pole vault
After capturing silver at the world indoor championships, former Arkansas Razorback Sandi Morris did not hesitate to launch her outdoor season. Already four competitions into her 2016 campaign, Morris has improved her personal best to 4.95 meters and has not been defeated. With three women in the field who have personal bests better than her’s, Morris will have to work hard to continue her winning streak.