World champions Hellen Obiri (5,000m) and Elijah Manang’oi (1,500m) cracked world leads as they opened their track season in style with victories in the opening leg of the 2019 Diamond League in Doha on Friday.
Obiri, who is fresh from winning the World Cross Country senior women’s title in March in Denmark, clocked 8 minutes, 25.60 seconds to win women’s 3,000m to devour a strong field that included Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba.
Dibaba, the 1,500m world record-holder, returned a personal best of 8:26.20 to settle second as another Kenya Lilian Kasait also clocked a personal best of 8:29.02 for third place.
Obiri and Kasait’s compatriots, 3,000m steeplechase world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech (8:29.83), Caroline Chepkoech (8:29.89) and Gloria Kite (8:29.91-PB) followed in that order.
“I am happy winning at this great arena which will also host the IAAF World Championships,” said Obiri, the 2016 Rio Olympics 5,000m silver medallist. “It’s good to begin the season with a win despite taking a break from training for some time.”
“My next race will be in Stockholm. I hope to remain in top shape for the World Championships," said Obiri, who is also the Africa and Commonwealth 5,000m champion.
Manang’oi, who is also the Commonwealth 1,500m champion, romped home in 3:32.21 beating compatriot Timothy Cheruiyot came in second in 3:32.47 with Bethwell Birgen wrapping up the last podium place in 3:33.12.
“Winning here tonight feels good. I followed the pacemakers and my plan paid off,” said Manang’oi. “Starting the season like this is something I have always looked forward to and I hope to keep winning.”
Manang'oi said his target for the year is to successfully defend his title in Doha. “It is good to start with a win at the same venue where the World Championships will be held. The stadium is beautiful and I love the turnout and the support from the fans," said Manang’oi.
However, the Kenyan victories were overshadowed by South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who won the 800 metres, her first race since losing her appeal over a controversial gender ruling, claiming "actions speak louder than words".
The South African, a two-time Olympic champion, timed 1min 54.98sec to defeat Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba, who clocked 1min 57.75sec and Ajee Wilson of the United States in 1min 58.83sec.
Semenya's victory could be her last over 800m before new IAAF rules governing testosterone levels come into operation on May 8.
"Actions speak louder than words. When you're a great champion you always deliver," Semenya told the BBC after setting a new meeting record.
"With me, life has been simple. I'm just here to deliver for the people who love and support me. I'm enjoying each and every moment of my life maybe because I have the love I need from my people."
Asked if she intended to take the medication required to lower her testosterone levels, she later told reporters with a smile: "Hell no, that's an illegal method."
Semenya, 28, was only added to the 800m start list in Doha on Thursday morning, a day after her appeal against a new rule regulating testosterone levels for women athletes was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
She had challenged the measures, introduced by the IAAF, that will force women with higher than normal male hormone levels - so-called "hyperandrogenic" athletes - to artificially lower the amount of testosterone in their bodies if they are to continue competing.
The rules will come into effect on May 8 and will apply to athletes competing in races over distances of 400m to the mile.
Semenya hinted at quitting the sport in a tweet Thursday, saying: "Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity."