Season-opening Diamond League meet attracts track & field's elite

The talent-laden Doha meet has become a must-see on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, and Friday's season opener (CBCSports.ca, noon ET) in the Qatari capital is no exception.

Among the field of 206 track and field athletes from 50 nations and five continents — 125 men and 81 women — there are 38 champions and 80 medallists from previous Olympics and indoor and outdoor world championships.

"Although 2016 is an Olympic year and many medal contenders elected to delay their outdoor debut, I am sure that athletics fans will enjoy another fantastic night on Qatar Sports Club's track," Qatar Athletics Federation president Dahlan Al Hamad said in a story on the Diamond League website.

Kenya will have the largest team at 29, including 20 men, with the United States fielding the largest women's contingent with 14.

Three Canadians have been confirmed for Doha: world high jump champion Derek Drouin, 2015 Pan Am gold medallist Liz Gleadle in javelin and shot putter Taryn Suttie.

3-peat at Drake Relays

Drouin, who won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, won his first outdoor event of the season with a third consecutive title at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa on April 29.

The 25-year-old Corunna, Ont., native had a slow start to 2015 but went on to win Pan Am and world gold in Toronto and Beijing, respectively. He is eyeing another chance at gold in August at the Rio Olympics.

Gleadle, 27, won Pan Am gold last August and then silver at the Weltklasse Diamond League meeting in Zurich, beating 2015 world medallists Kathrina Molitor of Germany and Sunette Viljoen of Russia.

The Vancouver athlete, who is ranked fifth internationally, will compete in Rio. She finished 12th at the 2012 London Summer Games.

The 25-year-old Suttie met the Rio qualifying standard of 17.75 metres last month with a throw of 17.88 to surpass her previous best of 17.66. The native of Hanley, Sask., exceeded 18 metres in practice and had met the standard numerous times during training.

Suttie, who has been training and competing in Phoenix since mid-March, will await the announcement of Canada's roster after the Canadian track and field championship/Olympic trials in early July.

Jamaican sprint champion Usain Bolt, Canada's Andre De Grasse and Allyson Felix of the United States are a few stars that will miss this year's competition. 

Bolt, who hasn't raced since Aug. 23, is scheduled to compete in the 100 metres at the Cayman Invitational on May 14 in the Cayman Islands. From there, the 17-time Olympic and world championship gold medallist is eyeing the Racers Grand Prix in Jamaica on June 11 before his Rio tune-up race at the London Diamond League meet on July 22.

De Grasse choose a meet in the Caribbean over Doha, and will compete in the 200 at the Jamaica Invitational on Saturday.

Felix has won 11 times in Doha: Five consecutive victories in the 400 and three each in the 100 and 200. She clocked 21.98 seconds in the 200 last year to set the meet record.

Even without Felix, who suffered a minor ankle injury in training, the 100 will be led by 200 world champion Dafne Schippers and 2015 world bronze medallist Tori Bowie.

Here are some other notable matchups:

Men's 1,500

Three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop of Kenya leads the field. Besides the Doha meet record holder, five men have run under three minutes 30 seconds, including world championship silver medallist Elijah Motonei Manangoi of Kenya.

Women's 3,000

The meet's longest race features world champions Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya. Ayana, 24, is the Ethiopian record holder in the 3,000 with a time of eight minutes 22.20 seconds, the 11th fastest of all-time.

She won the 5,000 at last year's world championships in Beijing while Cheruiyot returned from maternity leave to capture gold in the 10,000.

Men's 3,000 steeplechase

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya will attempt to win for the fourth time in Doha after victories in 2009, 2010 and 2014. The 33-year-old, whose career best of 7:55.76 ranks sixth all-time, is the four-time defending world champion. Fellow countryman Jairus Birech, 23, who won six of seven Diamond League meets in 2014, is also in the field, along with 2008 Olympic and 2015 world bronze medallist Brimin Kipruto.

Women's 800

Kenyan Eunice Sum, 27, will try to defend her Doha title after running a career-best 1:56.99 last season. The 2013 world champion won bronze at the event a year ago. South Africa's Caster Semenya, the 2009 world champion and 2012 Olympic silver medallist, will be among Sum's chief rivals.

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