Four reigning Diamond League champions from Kenya including Hellen Obiri will be competing at the Doha Diamond League – the first stage of the 2019 IAAF Diamond League – which will take place in the state-of-the-art Khalifa International Stadium for the first time on 3 May.
Obiri, who will contest the 3000m in Doha, has already made a piece of history this year by winning gold at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. In doing so, she became the first athlete – male or female – to win titles at the IAAF World Championships, IAAF World Indoor Championships, IAAF World Cross Country Championships as well as the IAAF World Relays.
“It was a difficult race but I was determined to win as it was one of the few titles missing from my collection. However my focus is now on the track,” said Obiri, who prevailed on what many observers rated to be the toughest ever course for a World Cross Country Championships.
Obiri is also the reigning world 5000m champion and she will be looking to start her track campaign on a high as she builds up to the IAAF World Championships Doha 2019 from 27 September to 6 October.
“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 next month 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 said.
Obiri is unbeaten in 2019 but her winning streak will be put to the test in Doha. The Ethiopian contingent can always rely on raucous crowd support in Doha and their challenge is headed by world indoor record-holder Genzebe Dibaba, the winner of the last three titles over 3000m at the World Indoor Championships.
Obiri also faces opposition from teammates Caroline Kipkirui – who won in Doha twelve months ago in 8:29.05 – as well as world 3000m steeplechase record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech and former world cross country champion Agnes Tirop.
Kipruto and El Bakkali to renew rivalry in the 3000m steeplechase
Another eagerly awaited clash on the track is the men’s 3000m steeplechase which features both Kenya’s reigning world and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto and Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali, who set a world-leading time of 7:58.15 in 2018.
They were involved in one of the most dramatic and unforgettable races of the 2018 Diamond League season in Zurich where Kipruto overhauled El Bakkali in the home straight to clinch the Diamond League title – 8:10.15 to 8:10.19 – despite losing his left spike on the second lap.
“That was a victory I will never forget. I had a lot of pain in my left foot but I fought until the end,” said Kipruto.
“I am looking forward to opening my track season here in Doha where I expect another tough race against Soufiane. My main goal in 2019 is to defend my title at the World Championships but I want to start my track season with a victory here.”
The line-up also features fellow Kenyans Amos Kirui, Benjamin Kigen and Leonard Bett along with Ethiopia’s Chala Beyo, who won the 3000m steeplechase when it was a non-Diamond League event last year.
Korir and Cheruiyot to highlight middle distance action
Emmanuel Korir began his unbeaten campaign on the Diamond League circuit last year with victory over 800m in Doha and he will be seeking a repeat performance this year – albeit on a different track.
“I am excited to open my season in Doha again and I look forward to racing in the Khalifa International Stadium for the first time. I had a brilliant season in 2018 but I am looking to run even better in this important World Championships year,” said Korir, who moved to sixth on the world all-time list with 1:42.05 in London before winning the Diamond League title in Brussels.
Korir faces opposition from Botswana’s former Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos – the joint third fastest 800m runner in history – who handed Korir his sole defeat of the 2018 season at the African Championships in Asaba, Nigeria.
One of the in-form runners during the indoor season was the United States’ Donavan Brazier who is making his racing debut in Doha. Only 21, Brazier set a national indoor 800m record of 1:44.41 and also broke the world indoor 600m record at his domestic championships with 1:13.77.
Other standout names include multiple European champions Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski from Poland and the recently crowned European indoor champion Alvaro de Arriba from Spain.
There is also a strong Kenyan presence in the 1500m with training partners Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi both confirmed.
Manangoi had the beating of Cheruiyot at both the Commonwealth Games and African Championships last year but Cheruiyot overturned these results to win the Diamond League final in Zurich- 3:30.27 to 3:31.16.
“I’m delighted to be kicking off my Diamond League season in Doha. I’ve had a long winter of training in Nairobi and I can’t wait to race the best in the world once again.
“My aim is to be back here in October for the World Championships so it’s a unique chance to experience the new track,” said Cheruiyot, who broke the 3:30-barrier for the distance twice on the Diamond League circuit in 2018.
Ronald Kwemoi, who won the 3000m in Doha two years ago, returns to action after a low-key season in 2018 while other leading runners on the start-line include Djibouti’s former world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman and 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Abdelaati Iguider from Morocco.
Elijah Manangoi’s younger brother George, the reigning world U18 and U20 1500m champion, also competes.
-Courtesy of Diamond League organisers