Ryan Wilson

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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Lolo Jones boosted by relay teammates in return to track

Lolo Jones
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Lolo Jones got off to a slow start in her first track event since competing in bobsled at the Sochi Olympics in February, but her shuttle hurdles relay team still won at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday night.

Jones, who said she has lost more than 20 pounds since Sochi, ran the second leg of a 4x100m shuttle hurdles relay on the USA Red team with 2013 world champion Brianna RollinsQueen Harrison and Vashti Thomas.

Rollins handed a lead to Jones, who lost it with a stuttering hop over her first hurdle, taking nine steps instead of the customary seven. Harrison and Thomas got it back to win in 50.93 seconds, beating a Jamaican team that ran 52.01.

“I made probably the biggest hurdle mistake you can make … for a 100m hurdle race, you’re pretty much sitting in a coffin like ‘the race is over,'” Jones said, according to The Associated Press. “So at that moment I crossed the line I was like, ‘All right, Queen! Let’s go team,’ because if it was individual, Lolo would be in last place.”

Nia Ali, the 2014 world indoor 60m hurdles champion, suffered an injury in warm-ups, which kept a USA White team from competing. It was set to include 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Kellie Wells.

In other events, 2013 world champion LaShawn Merritt edged rival and 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James in the 400m, 44.44 to 44.60. 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner was last in 46.90.

2012 Olympic bronze medalist Hansle Parchment of Jamaica won the 110m hurdles in a world-leading 13.14 seconds, beating a field that included Americans David Oliver and Ryan Wilson, who went one-two at the 2013 World Championships.

“I am surprised with that time,” said Parchment, who ran .12 faster than Oliver’s previous world lead for 2014, to Lewis Johnson for Universal Sports. “I didn’t expect to run that fast so quickly [early in the season].”

2012 Olympic silver medalist Michael Tinsley won the 400m hurdles in 48.57, ahead of Olympic bronze medalist Javier Culson (48.68). Olymipc champion Felix Sanchez was sixth in 49.84.

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David Oliver rolls to 110-meter hurdles World Championship

David Oliver
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AVJZ89NPdk

The U.S. went one-two in the 110-meter hurdles final at the World Championships, but the world record holder and the defending world champion did not medal.

David Oliver bounced back from missing the 2012 Olympic team, coming out strong, clearly leading most of the way and winning in 13.00 seconds, his first world title. Ryan Wilson, 32, in his first world or Olympic final, took silver in 13.13.

Oliver, beset by a pelvis injury in 2011 and calf problems in 2012, let out a scream after crossing the finish line.

“It’s about time,” Oliver told Universal Sports. “So many sacrifices. … I’ve been injured for so long, dealing with that, still running. Never giving up, believing in myself.”

Russian Sergey Shubenkov kept the U.S. from sweeping the podium. Shubenkov clocked 13.24 for bronze.

The defending world champion, Jason Richardson, and the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder, Aries Merritt, finished fourth (13.27) and sixth (13.31), respectively.

Merritt was a revelation in track and field last year, running sub-13 eight times, including the 12.80 world record after the Olympics. A hamstring injury affected his early season, and he never challenged Oliver on Monday.

Oliver’s time marked the fastest in the world this year. The last time a year went by without anybody running sub-13 was 2009.

He added the world gold to his Olympic bronze in 2008. Oliver, who also played football at Howard University and still has that physique, ran the world’s five fastest times in 2010. But he missed the 2009 World Championships with an injury and placed fourth at the 2011 World Championships.

He finished fifth at the 2012 Olympic trials, where only the top three earned trips to London.

“Not the way I wanted it to end, made a whole lot of changes,” Oliver said of last year. “After having the amazing 2010, ’11 started with the injuries. … Not being able to perform at your best, running like a donkey, it sucks.”

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