Feature | Athletics

On your marks, set, go for the Diamond League

Doha plays host to the start of the 14-meet track and field elite series, before staging the 2019 World Athletics Championships.

By Rory Jiwani ·

The stars of track and field descend on Doha on Friday (3 May) for the start of the 2019 IAAF Diamond League.

But who will shine brightest in the elite series of track and field events, as athletes lay down markers for the World Athletics Championships, back in the Qatari capital, at the end of September?

There are 14 meetings on the calendar with the finals split between the last two stops - Zurich on 29 August, and Brussels on 6 September.

With serious prestige and prize money up for grabs, the cream of the sport will be in attendance and there might even be a world record or two.

Here's our essential guide to what you can look forward to over the next four months.

Winners' Podium from the 2018 Diamond League final in Brussels, Belgium

How the Diamond League works

There are 32 Diamond Disciplines with points awarded for each finish - eight points for first place all the way down to one point for eighth.

Each discipline is staged either four or six times in the first 12 meetings with the top scorers going through to the final in either Zurich or Brussels.

The winner of each final will collect a Diamond Trophy and prize money of USD 50,000 as well as a possible wildcard entry to the World Championships.

Diamond League Calendar

3 May - Doha, Qatar

18 May - Shanghai, China

30 May - Stockholm, Sweden

6 June - Rome, Italy

13 June - Oslo, Norway

16 June - Rabat, Morocco

30 June - Eugene, Oregon (moved to Stanford, California this year as Eugene being renovated ahead of 2021 World Championships)

5 July - Lausanne, Switzerland

12 July - Monaco, Monaco

20-21 July - London, UK

18 August - Birmingham, UK

24 August - Paris, France


29 August - Zurich, Switzerland

Men - 100m, 400m hurdles, 800m, 5000m, high jump, pole vault, long jump, javelin

Women - 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles, 1500m, 3000m steeplechase, shot put, triple jump, javelin

6 September - Brussels, Belgium

Men - 110m hurdles, 200m, 400m, 1500m, 3000m steeplechase, discus, shot put, triple jump

Women - 100m, 100m hurdles, 800m, 5000m, discus, high jump, pole vault, long jump

Sprinting's new generation

The battle to fill the giant Usain Bolt-sized hole as the world's fastest man steps up a gear in 2019.

Justin Gatlin is the reigning world 100m champion but Father Time is surely against the American who turned 37 in February.

And this year could see two of his countrymen, Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, lead the way.

With his engaging personality and rapping prowess, as well as his ability over both 100m and 200m, Lyles looks a potential successor to the great Jamaican.

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The 21-year-old is slightly more effective over the longer distance with his 19.65 in Monaco last July the quickest 200m since Bolt took gold at the 2015 Beijing World Championships.

And despite winning last year's U.S. nationals over 100m in a personal best of 9.88, Lyles told Reuters in February that he will just run the 200m in Doha before doubling up at Tokyo 2020.

"If something happens and we are doing really well and training has proven that I can handle six rounds (three in both the 100m and 200m), then maybe we will. But as it stands now, the 200 is the goal." - Noah Lyles speaking in February

Coleman skipped the US nationals in a season with no major global competition.

After winning the world indoor 60m title, he struggled with hamstring issues which restricted him to the short sprint outdoors.

When he was fit, he was electric, and his 9.79 in the Brussels Diamond League Final at the end of August was the fastest time of the year.

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But coach Emanuel Hudson says Coleman will run both events at July's U.S. Championships.

"He is definitely doubling. Christian Coleman always has considered himself a 100-200 metres athlete."

And Hudson is expecting big things over half a lap with Coleman's personal best of 19.85 set in May 2017.

"Since then he has broken the world record in the 60 metres and run a personal best in the 100.

"I think his 200 metres time is going to be something off the charts." - Christian Coleman's coach Emanuel Hudson

The biggest challenge to the two Americans could come from China's Su Bingtian.

Su Bingtian wins the 100m at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta

The 29-year-old has been one of Asia's leading sprinters for most of this decade, but he made a big jump into world class by twice clocking 9.91 last June.

Su has already impressed indoors this season with victory over last year's Shanghai Diamond League winner Reece Prescod in Birmingham, UK.

Coleman, Lyles and Su will face each other in Shanghai on 18 May with a new track hopefully leading to some blistering times.

Go Syd Go!

Also appearing in Shanghai is the young woman who could be the future of the 400 metres, flat and hurdles.

Sydney McLaughlin competed in the 400m hurdles at Rio 2016 just a week after turning 17, making the semi-finals.

She was two seconds outside her best in Brazil, but that was a rare disappointment in a spectacular career so far.

Sydney McLaughlin running at the 2019 Mt SAC relays in Walnut, California

Last year while representing University of Kentucky, McLaughlin broke the world junior indoor record for the 400 metres.

And outdoors in May, she smashed her own world junior record for the 400m hurdles with a time of 52.75, less than half a second outside Yulia Pechonkina's world record from 2003.

The 19-year-old has since turned professional and her first international test will be in China on 18 May over the flat 400.

With a personal best of 50.07, McLaughlin will be hoping to break the 50-second barrier when she takes on Bahrain’s World Championship runner-up Salwa Eid Naser and European champion Justyna Swiety-Ersetic of Poland.

But she said after her pro debut in January, "I think the 400 hurdles for this year is our main focus. Just getting ready to go to Tokyo."

McLaughlin insists she wants to improve her personal best and "get my steps under control" but, with her current best being so close to the world record, she was asked if that was a goal.

"I mean it’s always in the back of my mind, but it’s not my main focus. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, so we’ll just see where it goes." - Sydney McLaughlin on the 400m hurdles world record

Samba seeks to continue hurdling dominance

In the men's 400m hurdles, the man to beat is Abderrahman Samba who will be desperate to win a world title on home soil in Doha later this year.

The Qatari catapulted to the top of the world rankings in 2018 with the second fastest time in history last June in Paris.

He clocked 46.98, just two-tenths outside Kevin Young's world record from the final at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

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Samba has already shown he means business this season, running 47.51 to take the Asian title in Doha two weeks ago (22 April).

Abderrahman Samba celebrates after winning the 400m hurdles at the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships in Doha

And he is keen to break Young's mark set more than three years before he was born.

"I began last season with 47.9 and finished it with 46.9. This year I started with a 47.5 so I want to finish with 46.5." - Abderrahman Samba

The 24-year-old also set a new personal best of 44.60 for the flat 400m in April, and he will hope to lead Qatar to a medal in the relay.

With the 400m hurdles not on the programme at Doha, the first time we could see him in Diamond League action is in the second meeting at Shanghai.

Ibarguen aims for second perfect season

Olympic gold medallist Caterine Ibarguen was named IAAF Athlete of the Year in 2018.

The Colombian was unbeaten in eight triple jump events last year, and won Diamond League titles in both the triple jump and long jump.

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Venezuela's Yulimar Rojas denied her a third consecutive world title in 2017, and her main focus for the year is regaining her triple jump crown in Doha.

She starts her Diamond League campaign in the Qatari capital in the long jump.

"I am thrilled to launch my season in Qatar. It is a country where athletics is popular and I am confident I can perform to the best of my abilities at the start of the season."

Ibarguen faces Rio 2016 long jump champion Tianna Bartoletta in a mouthwatering clash to open the new Diamond League.

The 35-year-old has had a meeting named in her honour in her home country.

Organisers are hoping she will be in Barranquilla to take on South American rival Rojas in mid-May.

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Norway's young prince takes on the world

Jakob Ingebrigtsen turns 19 a week before the start of the World Championships.

By then, we should have a good idea whether the Norwegian has what it takes to beat the best runners from Africa.

Last August, Ingebrigtsen stunned the world by completing a 1500m and 5000m double at the European Championships in Berlin.

His elder brothers, Henrik and Filip, had both previously been European champions at 1500m but not over the longer trip.

Trained by their father Gjert, the Ingebrigtsen siblings have their own way of doing things with their lives chronicled in a fly-on-the-wall documentary series entitled Team Ingebrigtsen.

The teenager has already shown great tactical maturity so far in championships races, and the presence of pacemakers on the Diamond League circuit may not play to his strengths.

They should enable him to improve on his personal bests, and he will be hopeful of arriving in Doha in September in tip-top shape and ready to challenge for gold.

Mondo seeks new heights

The pole vault is one of the highlights of the opening Diamond League meeting in Doha with world champion Sam Kendricks going up against Rio 2016 gold medallist Thiago Braz.

But there will be a very interested spectator watching on television in the shape of Mondo Duplantis.

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At last year's European Championships in Berlin, the Louisiana-born Swede cleared 6.05m to take victory at the age of 18 ahead of Russian Timur Morgunov and London 2012 champion Renaud Lavillenie.

Only Sergey Bubka, 1988 Olympic champion and the winner of six consecutive World Championship titles, has vaulted higher outdoors.

Duplantis, who had only just graduated from high school, is as versatile as he is talented.

Earlier in 2018, he won the 100 metres at a regional event in 10.57 seconds with a wind just in excess of the legal limit.

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Duplantis looks set for another big year in 2019.

Following in his pole vaulting father Greg's footsteps, Mondo is now a freshman at Louisiana State University (LSU).

Last weekend, he set a new school record with 5.94m - the highest clearance in the world this year - at the LSU Invitational.

Duplantis failed with three attempts at 6.01m which would have been a new NCAA record.

In order to compete for LSU, he has had to retain his amateur status which means he cannot receive prize money.

He is not confirmed for Stockholm where he clinched his first Diamond League victory last season, but he is in the line-up for Eugene on 30 June.

And then he will be seeking a medal at the World Championships having finished ninth in London in 2017.

Obiri bids for long-distance supremacy

As usual, we can expect Africans to dominate over longer distances this season.

Ethiopia had led the way in women's distance running thanks to the likes of Derartu Tulu and Tirunesh Dibaba, but Kenya has caught up in recent years.

After blitzing the field to win the 10,000m in a world record at Rio 2016, Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana was hot favourite to double up in the 5000.

But four-time world champion Vivian Cheruiyot had other ideas and she took the gold ahead of Hellen Obiri with Ayana having to settle for bronze.

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After Cheruiyot switched to the marathon, Obiri stepped up to beat Ayana for 5000m gold at the 2017 World Championships.

Ayana missed all of 2018 after undergoing knee surgery, and has only recently resumed training.

Meanwhile, Obiri has already made history in 2019.

In March, she took gold at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark making her the first athlete to win world indoor, outdoor and cross country titles.

Hellen Obiri wins the senior women's race at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark

It is the hardest race I have ever done, but the best one. Now I don't need to do any more cross country." - Hellen Obiri speaking to IAAF

Now she is keen to win a third consecutive Diamond League 5000m title and retain her world title in Doha.

Obiri will race in the 3000m in the opening Diamond League meeting in Doha

She told IAAF, "Of course, I have great memories of Doha which is where I set my African 3000m record of 8:20.68 in 2014.

"I am excited to race in the Khalifa International Stadium and I also look forward to returning for the World Championships later this year when I plan to contest both the 5000m and 10,000m."

She is one of four Kenyan reigning Diamond League champions appearing in Doha, the others being 800m runner Emmanuel Korir, world 1500m silver medallist Timothy Cheruiyot and world and OIympic 3000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto.

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Roehler eyes full set

Thomas Roehler is the Olympic and European champion in the javelin.

This year, the German is seeking to add the world title and complete his full set of international honours.

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And he has experienced plenty of success at Doha in the past.

After his Rio 2016 triumph, Roehler started 2017 with a bang in the Qatari capital by hurling the spear 93.90m, the third-longest distance in history.

And last year, he retained his Doha Diamond League title with a throw of 91.78m.

His biggest rival is fellow German Johannes Vetter.

The reigning world champion, fourth in Rio, has the second-longest throw of all-time behind triple Olympic champion Jan Zelezny's incredible world record of 98.48m.

Roehler has been training in Potchefstroom, South Africa to prepare for what he admits will be "a long summer".

He has not been confirmed for Doha, but we are sure to see him during the season.

Another German, Andreas Hoffman, is the current Diamond League champion.

'Discus Queen' hopes to last the distance

Sandra Perkovic has dominated the discus for the past seven years.

For most athletes, it would be a case of 'if it's not broke, don't fix it'.

But the Croatian decided she needed to change her routine drastically ahead of 2019.

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Frustrated by the wintry weather in her homeland, Perkovic spent the off-season in Florida as she targets a third world title and a hat-trick of Olympic golds at Tokyo 2020.

She told Croatian sports newspaper Sportske Novosti in April, "I am very satisfied with the conditions here. I can finally train without any difficulty and don't have to worry about the weather.

"This year is great for changes because we know what awaits us in 2020. Everything has to go smoothly, without any changes or surprises."

With the World Championship discus competition not taking place until early October, Perkovic is preparing for a long year having struggled to maintain her usual high standards throughout 2018.

She was unbeaten in her first 10 events of the season, the last of those being her fifth straight European Championships triumph in Berlin in August.

But she was only third in the Diamond League final in Brussels, and suffered another defeat in the Ostrava Continental Cup a week later.

The 28-year-old has largely taken things easy so far, and she and coach Edis Elkasevic have delayed her seasonal debut until the Stockholm Diamond League on 30 May.

"Doha is definitely my goal for the season, but it comes so late that we have to adjust our whole plan and training to it." - Sandra Perkovic speaking to Sportske Novosti

Victory in Doha would see Perkovic join German Franka Dietzch as a three-time women's discus world champion.

And next year in Tokyo, she could become the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals in throwing events

She and Polish hammer champion Anita Wlodarczyk are seeking their third consecutive titles in Tokyo, while New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams and Czech javelin thrower Barbora Spotakova were both denied hat-tricks in Rio.