Doha, Qatar – With the London Olympics less than three months away, the season-opening Diamond League meet on Friday offers a chance for many of the world's elite athletes to chart their progress and renew old rivalries.
Some of the most intriguing matchups are in the 100 meters, with Jamaica's Asafa Powell facing his countryman Nesta Carter and American Justin Gatlin. Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce faces off against Veronica Campbell-Brown in the women's 100 in a possible prelude to London. Also in the race is Allyson Felix, a three-time world champion in the 200 who has twice won the 100 in Doha.
Powell, a former world record holder, has been overshadowed in recent years by Usain Bolt and his fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake, who won the 100 at the world championships last year after Bolt false started.
The 29-year-old Powell missed the worlds with a groin injury, but believes he still has it in him to win Olympic gold.
“It's not going to be easy. This one will be very difficult,” Powell said of the London Games. “It's just the best man on that day will win. You have to be prepared.”
Gatlin also sees London as maybe his last chance for an Olympic medal, after winning the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games. The Doha meet also hold special significance for Gatlin, since it was here in 2006 that he tied Powell's then world record of 9.77 seconds. His time was erased weeks later after it emerged Gatlin had tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone, which led to a four-year ban.
“It is just good to be in strong competition once again,” said Gatlin, who has beaten Powell in six of their nine meetings. “I'm always a competitor at heart. ... It will be a great gauge for me going into the next step of my season.”
Felix will be hoping a victory over Campbell-Brown can set her on the way to a historic season. She is considering running the 200 and 400 meters in London and wants a gold to go along with her two Olympic silver medals.
“I'm very excited to be here,” Felix said. “Doha has been very good to me and so I hope for a good race. I'm running the 100
meters so of course it will be tough. I'm just excited to put it together.”
Campbell-Brown also welcomed the chance to face off against Felix again, having beaten her at this distance in all five of their meetings. She will be looking for her third straight Olympic gold in the 200 in London.
“It's a great field and I'm sure we will push each other and entertain the crowd,” said Campbell-Brown, who defended her 60-meter title at the world indoors in March.
There are plenty of other attractions as well.
In the men's 800, world champion and Olympic favorite David Rudisha will be looking to set a season's best in a field missing his main rival Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia, who pulled out. In the women's 800, Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo will be looking to turn the tide on her fellow Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei who has beaten her in the last six races.
Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 champion Kenenisa Bekele is returning from injury to run in the 3,000 and will be looking to show he is 100 percent healthy.
Jelimo is hoping to build on the success she had the world indoors, where she won the 800. Great things were expected of the Kenyan after she dominated the 2008 season and won gold in Beijing, but she has struggled with injuries since then.
Bekele, too, is hoping his injury woes are behind him. The Ethiopian great who has three Olympic and 16 world titles to his name said he hopes to run the 10,000 and 5,000 in London and will be looking for a strong showing in Doha. He had a disastrous worlds last year, withdrawing from the 5,000 after dropping out of the 10,000.
“I'm feeling good. I'm feeling happy,” Bekele told reporters. “I'm free of injury and training is going well. I expect maybe it will (be a) fast race and I hope everybody will be fresh and will push everybody.” – Sapa-AP