Dina Asher-Smith’s season started with unwelcome turbulence as she finished a well-beaten third in the 200m at the Diamond League opener in Doha.
Asher-Smith had promised she was fit and flying, but after rounding the bend she crashed hard as American Gabby Thomas and Jamaican Shericka Jackson battled it out up front.
Thomas, a bronze medalist in Tokyo and the third-fastest woman in history, won in 21.98 seconds. But Asher-Smith’s face – and words – said it all after finishing in 22.37. “I feel like I’m in a bit better shape than I was in those days,” admitted Asher-Smith, who enjoyed +1.3m downwind. “I’m a bit disappointed but at the same time, it’s the first race. I must have a few more under my belt.
At least Asher-Smith can take comfort in the fact that this is her fastest opener of the season – while the other Briton in the race, Beth Dobbin, finished sixth in 23.06. “I need a while to warm up,” added Asher-Smith, who will run the 100m in Birmingham next Saturday. “So everything is fine.”
Asher-Smith knows she has plenty of time to improve and medal opportunities in 2022 – starting with the world championships in Eugene in July, followed by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the European Championships in Munich. in August.
Earlier in the evening, Daniel Rowden finished fourth in a high quality 800m won by new Kenyan star Noah Kibet. Kibet, who only turned 18 last month, has already won a world indoor silver medal this year and the way he shook off a field, which included world champion Donovan Brazier and Olympic silver medalist Ferguson Rotich suggested more medals will be on the way.
Rowden looked well placed in third with 200m to go but had no answer when Kibet broke away to win in 1:49.08.
The gusts of wind benefited athletes in the men’s 200m, particularly world champion Noah Lyles who held off Tokyo 100m silver medalist Fred Kerley to win in 19.72. “I perform better under pressure, the crowd makes me excited,” Lyles said. “I feel good in my position right now. My plan for the world championship is to win, to always win. However, Olympic gold medalist Andre De Grasse watched the pace and could only finish fourth in a modest 20.15.
There was another small upset in the women’s 400m when Olympic and world indoor champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo was beaten by Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Marileidy Paulino. Miller-Uibo started hard but struggled in the wind and could only finish third in 51.84, with Paulino winning in 51.20.
The highly anticipated clash between Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon and 2000m world record holder Francine Niyonsaba over 3000m followed Niyonsaba’s path in the sprint.
Niyonsaba is a 46 XY 5-ARD athlete with a difference in sex development (DSD) and under World Athletics rules she is unable to compete at the international level between 400m and 1600m without taking medication to lower her testosterone. However – for now – the Burundian is still capable of running longer distances.
Niyonsaba, who won silver in the 800m at the Rio Olympics in 2016, proved just strong enough to edge out Kipyegon, who is considered by many to be the greatest middle-distance runner in history. .
“I feel so happy and grateful,” Niyonsaba said. “I am so happy to have come and to have won. I have worked hard to be a top athlete. I come from a small country, this victory is to inspire others.
The performance of the evening may have come from 21-year-old Brazilian Alison dos Santos who ran a stunning 47.24 in the 400m hurdles to defeat Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Rai Benjamin, with Irishman Thomas Barr taking third place. “I like the crowd, it motivates me,” said Dos Santos.
High winds forced the men’s pole vault, which was to feature world record holder Mondo Duplantis, to be postponed. It will now take place indoors on Saturday.