Doha – They finished second and third in last year’sOlympics 100m final and on Friday Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse renew theirrivalry in the Diamond League season-opener in Qatar.
The sprint race is not the only standout event of thenow-traditional Doha curtain-raiser for the league – this year spread over 14meetings in 13 different countries – but is given an extra edge coming as itdoes in a World Championship season.
Both athletes will have their eyes on London in August, whenthey will take on the legendary Usain Bolt in his international farewell, butfor now battle commences in Doha.
Canadian De Grasse, 22, is Bolt’s heir apparent and hasalready said that he wants to “spoil” the legendary’s Jamaican’sgoodbye to athletics.
De Grasse also claimed silver to Bolt in the 200m in Rio.
The controversial Gatlin, 35, has already struck an earlyseason blow, anchoring his American team to victory at the IAAF World Relays inNassau last month, De Grasse’s Canada bombing out in the final.
The pair will be joined in Doha by another former Jamaican100m world record holder – and last year’s Diamond League winner – theevergreen Asafa Powell and yet another rising star, Akani Simbine.
The South African, 23, ran 9.92sec in March, the second fastesttime of the year so far.
His early season form has been superb, dipping under 10seconds five times and winning his country’s 100m title ahead of Wayde vanNiekerk.
The women’s 200m will be contested by the gold and silvermedallists from Rio – Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson and Dafne Schippers from theNetherlands.
Last year’s bronze medallist in Rio, Tori Bowie from the US,is not in Doha but has already made her presence felt by clocking the year’sfastest time so far, 22.09sec.
In recent years in the Doha leg of the Diamond League, someof the best performances have come in the middle and long-distance races.
This year could prove the same.
All three female 800m finalists from Rio – South Africa’sCaster Semenya, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui – willrace on Friday.
They will be joined by Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba, a former1500m world-record holder who has chosen an extremely tough field in which tomake her 800m debut.
In the 3000m steeplechase, Kenyan-born Bahraini runner RuthJebet, who won gold in Rio, will make her season debut.
She is also the current world record holder with a time of8mins 52.78.
Off the track, there’s another clash of Olympic gold andsilver medallists from Rio, when Greece’s Ekaterini Stefanidi takes onAmerica’s Sandi Morris in the pole vault.
Friday’s meeting marks the beginning of the eighth season ofthe Diamond League.
As with many other athletics events, it comes at a time ofcontroversy within the sport.
The build-up has been overshadowed by a controversialEuropean Athletics’ proposal, which could see all world records set before 2005written off as the sport tries to set a clean slate in its fight againstdoping.