DOHA: American duo Gabby Thomas and Noah Lyles took impressive 200 metres victories and two men posted monster, wind-assisted 90 metre javelin throws as the Diamond League season got underway on a lively night in front of a noisy crowd in Doha on Friday.
A high-quality field produced some impressive performances on track and field as the outdoor season begins to take shape ahead of the July world championships in Eugene in the US although the fierce desert gusts made it too dangerous for Sweden’s Armand Duplantis to bid for a new world pole vault record.
Americans will expect to dominate the sprints on home soil and they put down an early marker as rhe 24-year-old Lyles, aiming to bounce back from a disappointing 2021 when he managed only bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, led from start to finish.
Fellow-American Fred Kerley crept up late on but could not stop Lyles winning in 19.72 seconds, though an agonisingly illegal wind of + 2.1 seconds denied him a meeting record. Jereem Richards of Trinidad came third.
“I came here to get my energy for the season. I perform under pressure, it helps me to get excited about the season,” said Lyles who expressed optimism for the season but added that rivals should expect “trouble” if he does not reclaim his world title in Eugene in July. “When I lose I come for blood,” he joked.
Canadian Andre de Grasse, who won gold in Tokyo, looked a little sluggish as he trailed home fourth in 20.15. De Grasse said he was not concerned but admitted that he will have to go home and “work on some things”.
In the women’s event Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson looked set to open with victory only for Thomas to surge past in the last 20 metres to match the meeting record with an impressive early season 21.98 seconds.
Jackson posted 22.07 with Britain’s world champion Dina Asher-Smith fading to 22.37 in third.
“I was nervous, but I feel great now,” Thomas said. “It is such a great feeling to play here with the crowd. It gives me good energy, it is beautiful to be here in Doha.”
The men’s pole vault was cancelled after a handful of attempts as organisers decided the high winds made it too dangerous. Duplantis’ appearance had been much-awaited in Doha but the wind forced organisers to delay the contest until Saturday when it will be staged indoors.
High jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Italian Gianmarco Tamberi also appeared nervous about competing together for the first time since they shared gold in Tokyo. But both were overshadowed by South Korea’s Woo Sanghyeok who cleared 2.33 metres. Barshim was second and Tamberi only seventh.
Organisers switched ends for the javelin throwers and Tokyo silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch quickly took advantage of the wind with a throw of 89.87 metres, beating his five-year old personal best. That was just the start though as Grenada’s 2019 Doha world champion Anderson Peters landed a 90.19. Valdlejch immediately hit back with a 90.88 only for Peters to smash out 93.07 making him the fifth-longest thrower since the javelin weight was changed.
Eighteen year-old Kenyan, Noah Kibet, who burst into the spotlight by taking a silver medal at the world indoor championships in Belgrade in March, won the men’s 800 metres against Australian Peter Bol and Canadian Marco Arop in 1:49.08. It was Kibet’s first Diamond League race.
Alison dos Santos of Brazil (47.24) beat American rival Rai Benjamin for the first time in the men’s 400 metres hurdles. “I feel so proud. We came here to prove this, now I want the next race,” said the Brazilian who took bronze in Tokyo when Benjamin won silver.
US world record holder Kendra Harrison took the women’s 100 metres hurdles (12.43) in a photo finish decision over Nigerian Tobi Amusan and Jamaica’s Britany Anderson.
Dominican Republic’s Maurileidy Paulino, silver medalist in Tokyo, won the women’s 400 metres in 51.20sec, as Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas struggled to make third (51.84sec), behind Stephenie Ann McPherson of Jamaica.
Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who can only run longer distances because of high testosterone levels, took the women’s 3,000 metres (8:37.70) ahead of Kenya’s Olympic 1,500m champion Faith Kiyegon and Australian Jessica Hull.
The last and longest race of the night saw the closest finish as Morocco’s Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali somehow outdipped Ethiopian Lamecha Girma, the man he edged into silver in Tokyo, to win the 3,000m steeplechase by one hundredth of a second.
The Diamond League resumes in Birmingham, England, next Saturday.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2022