The organisers of international athletics meetings, not unlike boxing promoters, are inclined to exaggerate from time to time. I lost count of the number of times I was encouraged to watch a “fight of the century” a long time ago.
So it is with Friday’s international track meeting at Doha, in the sportingly ambitious Gulf state of Qatar, and the first Diamond League meet of this Olympic summer, where the organisers are boasting of “world championship quality fields” in several events.
The Diamond League is the big-money global tour, where the top athletes flex their muscles over the course of the season, often only as part of their preparation for the main event of the year, which of course this year will be the London Olympics in August.
Form lines in early May are therefore thin on the ground, with just a handful of domestic meets in the Caribbean and California to go on so far in 2012.
And while some of the odds on offer for Friday night’s featured events might be as skinny as a 0% Latte in Starbucks, do look to put together some sort of accumulator, from which you can definitely seek out some profits.
Men’s 100 metres
The field for this in Doha serves as a good example of the over-statement of the organisers, since Usain Bolt is conspicuous by his absence. The featured head-to-head here is between Asafa Powell, an ex-world record-holder, and Justin Gatlin, a former Olympic champion. Come London in August, both might expect to be Olympic finalists, but neither would attract strong ante-post money for the gold medal.
Gatlin, after his drug ban-enforced absence, is getting back to some sort of world-class status: the American won the world indoor 60 metres title just over a month ago. With Gatlin offered at 4.50, to Powell’s 1.35, there could be good winnings to be had if the American has successfully transferred his indoor form to the outdoor track.
Fastest men in the field so far this year are Jamaica’s Lerone Clarke, who comes into this meet off a 10.03sec clocking in Kingston on May 5, and another American, the 34-year-old Darvis Patton (10.04, run in Texas in March). Patton is offered at a very reasonable 50.00, while 20-year-old Clarke can be backed at 25.00.
If Clarke really is the latest off the Jamaican sprinter production line, he could be the one to land a big early season upset.
Men’s 400 metres
This race pits one-lap hurdler Angelo Taylor against the 2008 Olympic champ, LaShawn Merritt, a man who must live the rest of his track career with everyone knowing that his excuse for failing a drugs test was that he was using a sex-enhancing pill... In the 400 metres sprint, it is usually a case of who can keep it up longest, but not in that sense of the phrase.
Merritt has beaten Taylor 15 times in 16 races. He tops the early 2012 rankings, having run 44.73sec a week ago.
Both Americans were beaten at the end of April by Martyn Rooney, but you sense that the Englishman will need to find at least another two-tenths of a second to beat Merritt this time. Merritt is the tip here, at 1.10; Rooney the temptingly-priced outside bet, at 9.00.
Men’s high jump
In Doha, the Qatari crowd will offer strong home support to their champion, Mutaz Essa Barshim. Like event favourite Jesse Williams, Barshim has a personal best of 2.37 metres, the Qatari having managed that height in the recent indoor season. Williams can be backed at a reasonable 2.25. But look out for the Frenchman, Mickael Hanany, who is second in the world rankings this year and is on offer at 22.00.
Women’s 100 metres
This field is one event where the meet promoters’ hyperbole is well deserved, as the line-up features all the leading contenders from last year’s world final in Daegu, plus Allyson Felix, the 200-400-metre specialist.
For the likes of Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly Ann Fraser, this is their first time out this season. Kerron Stewart, however, has already clocked a sub-11.00sec performance this year – when just third in Kingston a week ago behind world champ Carmelita Jeter.
In the absence of Jeter, go with the early season form and back Stewart at 5.75.
This looks to be a three-way battle between Mariya Abakumova, of Russia, the Czech Barbora Spotakova, and Germany’s Christina Obergfoll.
World record-holder Spotakova has won 13 times in heads to head against her Russian rival, but with the Czech and the German both in their first major competition of the year, and in an event where just the evening breeze off the Arabian Gulf can influence the outcome, it might prove shrewd to back Abakumova, the joint favourite on 2.75, who has already had one significant outing.
Steven Downes is the author of ‘Usain Bolt: The story of the world’s fastest man.’