Dina Asher-Smith’s season began with unwelcome turbulence as she finished a well-beaten third in the 200m at the opening Diamond League meeting in Doha.
Asher-Smith had promised that she was fit and flying but after powering around the bend she tailed off sharply as the American Gabby Thomas and Jamaican Shericka Jackson fought it out at the front.
Thomas, the bronze medallist in Tokyo and third fastest woman in history, came through to win in an impressive 21.98 sec. But Asher-Smith’s face – and words – said it all after she finished in 22.37. “I feel like I was in a bit better shape than that time,” admitted Asher-Smith, who had the benefit of a +1.3m tailwind. “I’m a little bit disappointed but at the same time, it is the first race. I’ve got to get a few more under my belt.”
At least Asher-Smith can take some comfort in it being her fastest ever season opener – while the other Briton in the race, Beth Dobbin, was sixth in 23.06. “It takes me a while to warm up,” added Asher-Smith, who will race over 100m in Birmingham next Saturday. “So it’s all good.”
Asher-Smith knows she has plenty of time to improve, and opportunities for medals 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 this year and the way he powered clear of a field, which included world champion Donovan Brazier and Olympic silver medallist Ferguson Rotich, sug gested that more medals will be on the way.
Rowden looked well-placed in third with 200m to go but he had no answer when Kibet blasted clear to win in 1:49.08.
The gusty wind benefited the athletes in the men’s 200m – especially the world champion Noah Lyles who held off Tokyo 100m silver medallist Fred Kerley to win in 19.72. “I perform better under pressure, the crowd makes me excited,’ said Lyles. “I feel good about my position right now. My plan for the world championship is to win, to always win.” However Olympic gold medallist Andre De Grasse looked off the pace and could only finish fourth in a modest 20.15.
There was another minor surprise in the women’s 400m as the Olympic and world indoor champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo was beaten by Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Marileidy Paulino. Miller-Uibo started hard but struggled in the wind and could only finish third in 51.84, with Paulino coming through to win in 51.20.
The highly-anticipated clash between Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon and world 2000m record holder Francine Niyonsaba over 3000m went the way of Niyonsaba in a sprint finish.
Niyonsaba is a 46 XY 5-ARD athlete with a difference of sex development (DSD) and under World Athletics rules is unable to compete internationally between 400m and 1600m without taking medication to lower her testosterone. However – for now – the Burundian is still able to run at longer distances.
Niyonsaba, who won the silver medal over 800m at the 2016 Rio Olympics, proved just strong enough to edge Kipyegon, who is regarded by many as the greatest female middle distance runner in history.
“I feel so happy and grateful,” said Niyonsaba. “I am so happy that I came and won. I worked hard to be a top athlete. I came from a small country, this win is to inspire others.”
Perhaps the performance of the night came from the 21-year-old Brazilian Alison dos Santos who ran a stunning 47.24 in the 400m hurdles to defeat Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Rai Benjamin, with Ireland’s Thomas Barr coming through to take third. “I love the crowd, it gives me motivation,” said Dos Santos.
The high winds forced the men’s pole vault, which was due to star the world record holder Mondo Duplantis, had to be postponed. It will now take place indoors on Saturday.