Caster Semenya’s quest for a title double in the Diamond League started well when she won the 1,500 meters in a South African record time on Friday.
The loudest cheers at Qatar Sports Club, however, were reserved for local high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, the world champion and 2017 IAAF athlete of the year. He won with 2.36 meters, then cleared 2.40 at his first attempt.
Barshim, who was undefeated in 11 competitions last year, finally failed at 2.42, three centimeters off the world record.
“2.40 is my best season-opener ever, and it comes in front of my mother and my home crowd. I feel really blessed,” Barshim said.
“I really was not fit for so many jumps today. I was feeling a bit tired after my fourth, but I just carried on because of the support of everyone here. I wanted to break a record today. That did not happen, but still very ambitious for the rest of the season.”
Semenya, the two-time Olympic and three-time world champion in the 800, won the 1,500 comfortably by more than a second in 3:59.92.
Kenya’s Nelly Jepkosgei was second, and Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu third.
Semenya came to Doha after her 800-1,500 double at the Commonwealth Games in Australia last month, and begins the defense of her 800 Diamond League title in Eugene, Oregon, on May 26.
After setting her personal best and a national record in the 1,500, she said: “It’s always a dream to set the national record and I want to continue to push beyond my personal best. We definitely achieved that here.
“I wanted to go faster, but had to slow down a little. I will go back and watch the race and see where we can improve.”
The women’s 100, expected to be a showdown between Olympic champion Elaine Thompson and world 200 champion Dafne Schippers, was won by Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast. She stopped the clock at 10.85 seconds. Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor of Nigeria was second at 11.9, Thompson third at 10.93, and Schippers sixth at 11.03.
The next Diamond League meet is on May 12 in Shanghai.