The main season-opener of the IAAF Diamond League meeting takes place in Doha on Friday but Usain Bolt, the biggest name on track, is missing from the list of participants.
There is a clear sense that Bolt, under the diligent direction of coach Glen Mills, is playing a long game as he looks ahead to what is likely to be a concluding flourish to his career, the 2016 Rio Olympics. He has not started his season yet but maintains he has already run a personal best in training – over 400 metres. How fast has he run? Bolt is not saying. So will he run the 400m this year? Bolt is not saying.
Indeed, Jamaica’s 27-year-old multiple world and Olympic sprint champion is remaining tight-lipped on his programme ahead of a summer missing a World Championship or an Olympic Games. The only thing he has confirmed is that, in what is a Commonwealth Games year, he wants to take things “as easy as possible”.
If the last Commonwealth Games year of 2010 is a guide, then Bolt is likely to avoid any Championship commitment and unlikely to test his 100 or 200m world records. However, this would be a good year for him to test himself in the new territory that is 400m, for which he has an official personal best of 45.28s set in 2007, particularly if he is taking part in the inaugural IAAF World Relays taking place in The Bahamas later this month (he’s not saying).
One thing Bolt definitely wants in this Commonwealth year, however, is to avoid getting beaten. He lost in the 2010 Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, a defeat which effectively ended the season for him.
The man who inflicted that defeat, Tyson Gay, is due to make an earlier-than-expected return to action following his positive doping test for a banned steroid cream last year. The 31-year-old former world 100 and 200m champion is due to be eligible for competition at the end of June, having seen a standard two-year ban controversially halved following his decision to co-operate fully with the US Anti-Doping agency.
The ruling was made in accordance with article 10.5.3 of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, which enables an athlete to have up to 75 percent of the ban reduced if they provide “substantial assistance” to the anti-doping authorities.
What benefits Gay’s openness will have for the sport remains to be seen. But serving a year out, back-dated to June last year, will clearly benefit him as he seeks to challenge the Jamaican who has trumped his every ace in recent years.
While Bolt and Gay manoeuvre their way around the season, with a possible eye-catching meeting likely in August, younger sprinters are seeking to strengthen their own credentials.
Yohan Blake, 24, who won the world 100m title in 2011 after Bolt had been disqualified for a false start, is back after missing last season with injury, and recently announced he would run in the Glasgow Grand Prix on July 11-12.
Another swiftly rising Jamaican, 24-year-old Warren Weir looks ready to take another step towards catching Bolt, behind whom he took 200m silver at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow. He runs in Doha against the US world bronze medallist Curtis Mitchell.
Diamond League calendar
In the continuing absence of former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell, who is serving an 18-month ban for his positive test for a banned stimulant, the presence of such sprinting talent is of huge comfort to the Jamaicans, who have also lost the services this season of female sprinter Sherone Simpson, the 2008 Olympic 100m silver medallist, following a positive doping test last year.
But Jamaica’s position in the female world sprint rankings is likely to be maintained given the continuing presence of last year’s world 100 and 200m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. She will be competing in Doha alongside Kenya’s world 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop and double Olympic 3,000m Steeplechase gold medallist Ezekiel Kemboi, Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor of the US and world and Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand.
Fraser-Pryce’s compatriot and rival Veronica Campbell-Brown will also be in the mix – the double Olympic 200m champion returned to competition two months ago at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot having served 10 months of a suspension for a banned stimulant which she had overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Another injury – this time to his calf – has prevented Kenya’s 800m world record holder David Rudisha making a long-awaited comeback in Doha after a year out. But the Doha organisers have signed up one of the most exciting talents in world athletics and the only man to have beaten the Kenyan in the last three years: Ethiopia’s 20-year-old Mohamed Aman. He took the world title in Rudisha’s absence last summer and defended his world indoor title in Sopot.
In the men’s high jump, Russia’s Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov, who cleared 2.42m in February, a height only surpassed by Cuba’s retired world record holder Javier Sotomayor, will seek to turn that prowess into results by defeating the Qatari athlete who beat him to the world indoor title, Mutaz Essa Barshim. And, assuming the current political turbulence in Ukraine allows, he will also seek a win over the man who beat him to the world title in Moscow last summer, Bohdan Bondarenko.
In a year when Ethiopia’s multiple world and Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, has made her marathon debut in London (finishing third), younger sister Genzebe Dibaba has already made a startling impact on the sport in setting world indoor records at 1500m, 3000m and two miles before taking the world indoor 3000m title in Sopot.