World champions Almaz Ayana and Vivian Cheruiyot will meet in a scintillating 3000m clash at the Doha 2016 meeting, the opening event of the 14-meeting IAAF Diamond League series, on Friday 6 May.
In what is sure to be one of the most anticipated early season middle distance showdowns, the meeting’s longest race pits Ayana, the 5000m winner at the World Championships in Beijing last year, against Cheruiyot, who returned from maternity leave last season to strike world gold in the 10,000m.
Cheruiyot’s triumph in [link id="520" tax="category" text="Beijing"] was the fifth at a World Championships for the 32-year-old Kenyan whose previous season-long consistency on the track was rewarded with Diamond Race Trophies in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Meanwhile, [link id="554" tax="post_tag" text="Almaz Ayana"], 24, is the Ethiopian national record holder in the 3000m, her 8:22.20 set last season ranking her 11th fastest of all-time.
“With these two world champions meeting in the same race, we have again shown our commitment to bringing the best of middle and long distance racing to Doha,” said Qatar Athletics Federation President Dahlan Al Hamad.
“Two years ago Doha hosted one of the best women’s 3000 metres races in history. I am very excited to see if we will witness a rerun of that this year as we prepare to kick-off the Diamond League series for the seventh time.”
The 2014 contest was indeed one of the finest ever, with Kenyan Hellen Obiri leading a parade of eight runners under 8:30 en route to her 8:20.68 African record.
Finishing second in that race was another Kenyan, Mercy Cherono, who returns to [link id="920" tax="post_tag" text="Doha"] as the fastest woman in the field, courtesy of her 8:21.14 run behind [link id="386" tax="post_tag" text="Obiri"] in the thrilling 2014 contest.
[link id="454" tax="post_tag" text="Cherono"], 24, was fifth in the 5000m at last year’s World Championships and in 2014 lifted the Diamond Race Trophy in the event.
The quality field also includes Ethiopians Senbere Teferi and [link id="308" tax="post_tag" text="Gelete Burka"], the 2015 World Championships silver medallists in the 5000m and 10,000m respectively. Kenyan Viola Kibiwot, fourth in Beijing last summer, will also be on the start line.
Qualify steeplechase field
The field in the men’s 3000m steeplechase is led by two-time Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi of [link id="81" tax="category" text="Kenya"] and his young compatriot, Jairus Birech, who last year won his second successive Diamond Race Trophy.
[link id="261" tax="post_tag" text="Kemboi,"] who triumphed at the 2004 and 2012 Olympic Games, captured his fourth straight world title last year after three successive world silver medal finishes.
The 33-year-old, whose career best of 7:55.76 ranks him No. 6 all-time, will be gunning for his fourth win in Doha after victories in 2009, 2010 and 2014.
[link id="527" tax="post_tag" text="Birech"] meanwhile is a rising force who took the event by storm in 2014 when he won the African and Continental Cup titles and nabbed victories at six out of seven [link id="450" tax="post_tag" text="Diamond League"] meetings.
The only series title that eluded the 23-year-old that year was Doha. Birech, who finished fourth at last year’s World Championships, brings a personal best of 7:58.41 from 2014 to the Qatari capital to rank No. 10 all-time.
Brimin Kipruto, the 2008 Olympic and 2015 world bronze medallist and African record holder, also returns gunning for his first victory in Doha.
[link id="813" tax="post_tag" text="Kipruto"] clocked 7:53.64 in Monaco in 2011, missing Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen’s world record by a scant 0.01 seconds.
Also in the field is his namesake [link id="262" tax="post_tag" text="Conseslus Kipruto"], a former world youth and world junior champion who collected silver medals at the last two World Championships –both before his 21st birthday.
The meeting record? 7:56.58, set by Paul Kipsiele Koech in 2012. He too is in the field.
Sum faces Semenya
Meanwhile, [link id="275" tax="post_tag" text="Eunice Sum"], the 2013 world champion and last year's world bronze medallist, will command the spotlight in the women’s 800m.
The 27-year-old Kenyan improved her career best to 1:56.99 last season and this year will be gunning for a fourth straight Diamond Race Trophy and a second successive victory in Doha.
Among her chief rivals will be [link id="201" tax="post_tag" text="Caster Semenya"] of South Africa, the 2009 world champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist.
Watch also for Briton Shelayna Oskan-Clarke and [link id="225" tax="post_tag" text="Malika Akkaoui"] of [link id="817" tax="category" text="Morocco"], both finalists at last year's world championships.
Two years ago Chanelle Price of the US chased Sum to the line to finish second just 0.42 seconds behind. Price, that year’s surprise world champion indoors, also returns.
The middle distance programme also includes the men’s 1500m, whose field was previously announced.
There three-time world champion and Doha meeting record holder [link id="207" tax="post_tag" text="Asbel Kiprop"] of Kenya leads another strong field that includes five other men who have run under 3:30, among them Kenyan Elijah Motonei Manangoi, the world championships silver medallist.