Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Diamond League season set to open in Doha; preview

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Usain Bolt might not race until June. Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell are suspended. Allyson Felix withdrew from her first two scheduled meets of the season.

The absence of stars (to a U.S. audience) as the Diamond League season begins in Doha, Qatar, on Friday is a reminder that this is what athletes call the “off year” in track and field.

There are no Olympics or World Outdoor Championships for the only time in the four-year cycle. It’s a season for Rio Olympic medal hopefuls to dabble in different events, rest and/or play it safer than normal to avoid injury.

But this spring and summer could also see the emergence of new names to watch as we cross the halfway point between the London and Rio Games.

It was in 2010 that the Diamond League debuted. Also that year, Yohan Blake ran his first sub-9.9 100m and jumped from No. 83 to No. 4 in the world in the 200m. He would win World Championships 100m gold in 2011 and Olympic 100m and 200m silver in 2012. London Olympic champions David Rudisha and Ashton Eaton also broke their first world records in 2010.

Doha marks the first of 14 Diamond League meets over the next four months. Universal Sports will have coverage beginning at 12 p.m. ET. The full schedule and entry lists can be found here. Here’s the schedule of events Friday (all times Eastern):

10:25 a.m. — Men’s long jump
10:30 — Men’s discus
10:35 — Women’s shot put
11:10  — Women’s pole vault
11:40 — Men’s high jump
12:04 p.m. — Women’s 400m hurdles
12:10 — Women’s javelin
12:14 — Men’s 1500m
12:26 — Men’s 400m
12:30 — Women’s triple jump
12:35 —  Women’s 800m
12:46 — Men’s 110m hurdles
12:56 — Men’s 800m
1:09 — Women’s 100m
1:18 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
1:36 — Men’s 200m
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s high jump

The event is missing 2013 world champion and world record chaser Bohdan Bondarenko of Ukraine. But it includes London Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalists — Ivan Ukhov (Russia), Erik Kynard (U.S.) and Derek Drouin (Canada).

Drouin has impressed in the early season, winning the Drake Relays with a personal-best 2.40m, becoming the 10th man ever to clear that mark.

Men’s 400m

Reigning world champion LaShawn Merritt takes on the Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos in what could be a budding rivalry.

The previous two seasons had been about the Merritt-Kirani James showdowns, but it was the world bronze medalist Santos who edged Merritt in Kingston, Jamaica, on Saturday.

World Championships silver medalist Tony McQuay is also in the field.

Women’s 100m

Jamaican Olympic and world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the headliner in Doha. She said at a press conference Thursday that she’s focusing on improving her 200m this season, but she’ll start off her Diamond League campaign in her bread and butter event.

The top competition should come from 2013 U.S. champion English Gardner, 2008 Olympic silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare.

Okagbare won a 100m in 11.19 seconds in Kingston on Saturday, beating Stewart (11.32) and Gardner (11.50).

Fraser-Pryce went sub-11 seven times last season, including a 10.71 at the World Championships.

Men’s 200m

Jamaican Olympic bronze medalist Warren Weir is the favorite here after taking fourth in a 100m in Kingston on Saturday.

The current world-leading time for 2014 is 19.97, a time Weir beat in five races last season.

If anybody is to upset Weir, it could be American Curtis Mitchell, the upstart bronze medalist at last year’s World Championships.

Women’s 3000m

The final event features perhaps the hottest athlete of the indoor season, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba.

Dibaba blew away the 3000m field by 2.68 seconds at the World Indoor Championships in February after breaking the world record in February.

Friday’s field includes several other major meet medalists, including Kenyan Mercy Cherono and Ethiopian Almaz Ayana, who won 5000m silver and bronze at the 2013 World Championships.

The 3000m is not an event run at the Olympics or World Outdoor Championships.

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David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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