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—-This year’s Diamond League concludes with a single final across two days in Zurich on 7 and 8 September
(BBC SPORT) The pandemic-enforced postponement of the Tokyo Olympics has produced a logjam of quality track and field that shows no sign of clearing.
In the long term, last summer’s Games will be followed by two World Championships and another Olympics in three successive summers for a major-event itinerary that reads Eugene 2022, Budapest 2023, Paris 2024.
In the medium term, this year contains a trio of big championships for British athletes with a home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham sandwiched between a World and European Championships. And in the short term, the Diamond League circuit begins this Friday in Doha, the earliest start date since the beginning of the pandemic.
The world’s best will warm up for a busy summer in weekly clashes around the world.
Here are some of the rivalries to pick out of the start lists.
As the two rivals stood on track and stared at Belgrade’s big screen after March’s world indoor 60m final, it took more than a minute for the judges to separate Marcell Jacobs and Christian Coleman. In the end, they could only find three thousandths of a second between the pair, Olympic 100m champion Jacobs in first, world 100m champion Coleman in second. Neither are new names on the scene. Coleman is 26, Jacobs is 27. But the rivalry is a fresh one. After his victory at Doha 2019, Coleman was suspended for 18 months for his repeated failure to attend anti-doping tests.
In his absence, Italy’s Jacobs, a former long jump specialist, shocked the world by taking gold at the Tokyo Olympics. After his defeat in Belgrade, Coleman was asked whether their rivalry was the “next big thing”. “Yeah, I think so,” he told Athletics Weekly. It is one of the season’s most intriguing storylines as Coleman seeks to retain his title on home soil in Oregon in July.
Elaine Thompson-Herah, Dina Asher-Smith and Christine Mboma
It takes something special to distract from a historic sprint double-double. But as Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah cantered to 200m gold in Tokyo last summer, it was difficult to ignore what was happening behind her.
Namibia’s Christine Mboma had been sixth coming into the final 70 metres.
The 18-year-old, who had been barred from her favoured 400m and 800m because of high levels of naturally occurring testosterone, was running in only her seventh senior race at the distance.
She seemed destined to take only experience from the Olympic final before a tremendous finishing surge took her to silver. Mboma suffered a thigh injury earlier this month but it should not bar her from the business end of the season. Meanwhile, Thompson-Herah is as hungry as ever, her compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has started the season in ominously good form and British world champion Dina Asher-Smith is back from her own injury. Don’t discount the American challenge either. Gabby Thomas was the second-fastest woman in history when she ran 21.61 seconds in June at the same stadium that will host July’s World Championships. It all adds up to a fascinating mix of storylines and swift times.
GB’s Keely Hodgkinson and the USA’s Athing Mu
“I feel like it was USA against the UK today.”
That was Briton Keely Hodgkinson’s assessment of a Tokyo 800m final in which she had finished second to American rival Athing Mu. That red-white-and-blue tear-up might become a long-term feature of the circuit. Hodgkinson has only recently turned 20, while Mu will do so in June. Jemma Reekie, who finished fourth in Tokyo, and training partner and Olympic 1500m silver medallist Laura Muir add to the British challenge, while Raevyn Rogers filled out the Tokyo podium for the United States. Look out too for Jamaica’s Natoya Goule, who may break up the trans-Atlantic stranglehold on the event.
Muir’s silver in Tokyo was the culmination of a career of near misses and hard work for the Scot. At the age of 29, might it open the gates for more? Potentially. Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon, hailed by Muir as the event’s greatest of all time, has said she plans to transition to 5,000m.
Dutch world champion Sifan Hassan finished behind Muir in Tokyo, but was racing under tremendous workload. It was the only leg of a three-pronged distance assault that failed to deliver gold. The relationship between Muir and Hassan has been strained in the past, with the Scot questioning Hassan’s decision to train under now-banned coach Alberto Salazar while the American was under investigation.
However, as with Kipyegon, Muir might see less of Hassan on the circuit this year as her rival tries her luck on the road as well as the track. Meanwhile, another athlete is returning to the event. After winning bronze at Doha 2019 ahead of Muir, Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay briefly stepped up to 5,000m in Tokyo. But the 25-year-old won the 1500m indoor world title in Belgrade and has looked in ominous form so far this year.
Men’s high jump
Rivalries don’t come much more friendly than that of Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim. The pair famously split the high jump title in Tokyo, rather than enter into a winner-takes-gold jump-off. Their truce was the mark of a friendship that stretches years to less happy times. They have comforted each other after both suffered ankle ligament damage in the run-up to major events in the past.
If they get in a similar situation to the Tokyo final again, both say they would now put friendship aside and duel it out for gold. And they might well find themselves doing exactly that. Russian Ilya Ivanyuk and Belarusian Maksim Nedasekau – the only other two men to jump 2.37m last year – are both barred from Diamond League and World Athletics events because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.