Sarah Mitton aims to add Diamond League hardware to collection and other storylines
Armed with a new Canadian record and several recent victories, Sarah Mitton travelled to Zurich last September keen on winning her first Diamond League Trophy.
The confidence and consistency she exhibited throughout the professional track and field season was in full view on Sechseläutenplatz, one of the city's most famous squares on the shore of Lake Zurich.
Mitton threw 19.56 metres on her first shot put attempt but the native of Brooklyn, N.S., couldn't top the 20 metres needed to upend Chase Ealey, whose 20.19 gave the American her 11th victory in as many outdoor events in 2022 and third over the Canadian.
The loss served as motivation for Mitton, who set a national indoor mark of 19.80 in January and the following month exacted revenge on Ealey, defeating the world champion in Madrid at the World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold series meet.
"She has worked extremely hard this indoor season tweaking technique and getting faster and stronger," Mitton's coach Rich Parkinson said ahead of Friday's Diamond League opener in Doha, Qatar.
"I expect to see her compete and throw well [in the outdoor campaign]," Parkinson added. "I know she has sights on winning Diamond League. She isn't working this hard for second."
WATCH | Mitton throws 19.56m for 2nd in Diamond League Final:
The 26-year-old Mitton, who lives and trains in Toronto, will open her Diamond League season May 28 in Rabat, Morocco — the second of 15 events on the 2023 calendar — and then compete at the Meeting de Paris (June 9) and six days later at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway.
Athletics Canada's 2022 field athlete of the year placed top three at three of four Diamond League competitions last season and went on to win gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and NACAC Championships in August.
For the first time, the season-ending competition won't be held in Brussels or Zurich. The Prefontaine Classic is scheduled for Sept. 16-17 in Eugene, Ore., where 32 Diamond League champions will be crowned and earn $30,000 US in prize across two days of elite athletics at Hayward Field, site of last year's World Athletics Championships.
WATCH | Diamond League Preview — 5 storylines to follow:
Canada's Trophy drought
Like Mitton, sprinter Aaron Brown, middle-distance runner Marco Arop and high jumper Django Lovett posted a top-three finish in Zurich and inched closer to being the first Diamond League champion from Canada since shot putter Dylan Armstrong in 2011.
The previous year, one-time world No. 1 hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Whitby, Ont., became the country's inaugural Diamond League champ when the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist stopped the clock in 12.54 seconds in the women's 100 in Belgium.
Brown and Lovett competed Friday at Qatar Sports Club along with sprinter and six-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse and pole vaulter Alysha Newman.
Brown crossed the line in 20.20 seconds for third in the men's 200 behind Americans Fred Kerley, the reigning 100m world champion, and Kenny Bednarek. Lovett of Surrey, B.C., missed each of his first three attempts at 2.15 metres in men's high jump and was eliminated in the first round.
WATCH | Brown 3rd behind Kerley, Bednarek in Diamond League opener:
Newman was eighth in women's pole vault after failing to clear 4.55 metres. It was her first event on the circuit since May 2021 after a lingering concussion suffered the previous month and stress fracture in her left heel prematurely ended the London, Ont., native's 2022 season.
De Grasse and Brown, the four-time defending Canadian champion in the 100 and 200, went head-to-head in the latter event last weekend. Brown ran 20 seconds flat to place second — his fastest 200 since a 19.99 effort on Aug. 3, 2021 in the Tokyo Olympic semifinals — while De Grasse was seventh in 20.41.
CBC Sports track and field analyst Dave Moorcroft was encouraged by Brown's race, pointing out the three-time Olympian is "one of a number of sprinters in the world who are within shouting distance of a [world and/or Olympic] medal."
De Grasse, who is no stranger to posting slow times early in a season, was fourth in the 200 at Doha Diamond League a year ago, clocking a 2022 season-best 20.15. From there, he was plagued by a toe injury and two bouts of COVID-19.
"He can be fairly average in the Diamond League season and not give a great deal away early in the year but come back with a bang at the major [championships]. That's a credit to him and his ability to peak when it matters," said Moorcroft of De Grasse.
WATCH | Athletics North is the new home for track & field:
Kerley-Jacobs war of words
What you don't see between the Canadian sprinters is a nasty back-and-forth on social media like the recent exchange between reigning Olympic 100 champion Marcel Jacobs and 2020 world gold medallist Fred Kerley.
Kerley was asked on the Sprint Culture video podcast about Jacobs's runner-up showing (6.50) in the 60 at the March 4 European Indoor Championships that rank seventh in the world this year. Kerley was second to Jacobs in 2020.
"Indoor is indoor. The real dogs come and play outdoors," Kerley said.
Jacobs had previously mentioned he is not worried about any world champion American sprinters and took to his Instagram stories. He shared posts with captions like, "The lion doesn't turn around when a small dog barks" and "Easy run today so as not to scare small dogs."
WATCH l Kerley leads American sweep in world 100m:
The earliest possible meeting between the two could be in Rabat later this month.
"Without going over the top, you do need controversy, personalities and a little bit of edge, particularly in the 100, and it probably helps the athletes," said Moorcroft, who ran a 5,000 world record (13:00.41) in 1982. "But it is a long season and by the end the Kenyan athlete [Ferdinand Omanyala] may have established himself as No. 1 [in the world]."
2nd Canadian man to earn world 800m medal
Arop, on the other hand, might be one of today's more soft-spoken athletes.
The Edmonton native ranked second in the world last season in the 800 and became the second Canadian man in history to win a medal in the event at worlds.
At the Diamond League Final, world No. 1 Emmanuel Korir of Kenya reeled in Arop down the homestretch and passed him just before the finish line to capture the Diamond League Trophy in a season world-leading 1:43.26. Arop crossed in a 1:43.38 SB.
WATCH l Breaking down what sets Arop apart from the pack:
Among Arop's goals is running under Brandon McBride's Canadian record of 1:43.20 that has stood since 2018. They finished 1-2 at nationals last summer while Arop — Athletics Canada's 2022 recipient of the Phil A. Edwards Trophy as athlete of the year — had a trio of top-three Diamond League finishes, including a May 21 victory in Birmingham.
"I think he can go quicker," Moorcroft said. "As he comes off final bend, he's not scared others are on his shoulder. He relishes the opportunity to hold them off down the straight and he's proven [it] with a global medal."
McBride out with knee injury
McBride, 28, was set to race Saturday at the Sound Running Track Fest in Walnut, Calif., but has had to withdraw due to a right knee injury.
"It occurred at the beginning of April," the two-time Olympian from Windsor, Ont., told CBC Sports. "It has been manageable but flared up and I haven't been able to run."
McBride returned to his regular training program at the beginning of October after breaking his left foot in an 800-metre heat at worlds last summer.
He won three of four races in 2022 before nationals in Langley, B.C., where the four-time Canadian champion ran 1:45.15 following a two-year absence due to COVID-19 and injury.
Ahmed eyes busy season on circuit
Two Canadian runners are preparing to return to the track after being hampered by injuries.
Moh Ahmed will compete several times on the Diamond League circuit before the world championships in August, starting with the men's 5,000 at the Golden Gala/Pietro Mennea in Rome on June 2.
The 2020 Olympic silver medallist, who was fifth at the event last year, dealt with a minor hamstring issue over the winter while training at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., but has since recovered, his agent Dan Lilot told CBC Sports.
Ahmed had his 12:47.20 North American record lowered by 2-10ths of a second last September by Calgary-born Grant Fisher (12:46.96) of Michigan.
Gabriela DeBues Stafford, who holds seven national indoor and outdoor track records, will race the women's 1,500 on Saturday at Track Fest.
The 27-year-old from Toronto was third (3:58.62) at the Prefontaine Classic last May but was forced to cut short her season a month later because of a stress reaction in her sacrum, located between the right and left iliac (hip) bones and forms the back of the pelvis.
DeBues-Stafford, who lives and trains in Victoria, missed worlds last year and was fifth at the Tokyo Olympics.
Will Sha'Carri challenge Jamaican trio?
Shericka Jackson, the reigning world 200 champion, headlines the field of eight women in Friday's 100 in the absence of fellow Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah.
Sha'Carri Richardson is among five Americans scheduled to race at 1:12 p.m. ET. The 23-year-old has shone early this season, winning the 100 at he Miramar Invitational in Florida in wind-aided 10.57 – the fourth-fastest time in history under any conditions.
Fraser-Pryce, 35, Jackson and Thompson-Herah swept the medal podium at last year's worlds.
Window opens for Rai Benjamin
American Rai Benjamin, a two-time world silver medallist in the 400-metre hurdles, won't have to contend with 2022 champion Alison dos Santos, who is reportedly out for the season after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered during training in February.
Benjamin, 25, is off to a fast start in 2023, setting a season world-leading time of 47.74 seconds in his first hurdles race. Last month, he won the 400 in Gainesville, Fla., and Los Angeles.
He'll compete in Doha at 12:34 p.m. ET after placing second last year to dos Santo.
Mondo continues to raise bar
Armand "Mondo" Duplantis has yet to debut this season outdoors after breaking his own pole vault world record, clearing 6.22 metres in late February at his final competition of the indoor campaign.
The 23-year-old Olympic champion of Sweden cleared the bar with room to spare in his third attempt at 6.22 metres in Clermont-Ferrand, France to add one centimetre to his previous mark.
Hassan back on track after debut marathon win
The Ethiopian-born Dutch runner, who won Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 gold in Tokyo, soon will make her return to the track after beating over 20,000 elite female runners in her debut in London on April 23.
A three-time Olympic champion and multiple world record holder, the 30-year-old won one of two Diamond League races in the women's 3,000 and was fifth in the outdoor 5k at the Diamond League Final.
Diamond League calendar
Doha, Qatar — Friday
Rabat, Morocco — May 28
Rome — June 2
Paris — June 9
Oslo, Norway — June 15
Lausanne, Switzerland — June 30
Stockholm — July 2
Silesia, Poland — July 16
Monaco — July 21
London — July 23
Shanghai — July 29
Shenzhen, China — Aug. 3
Zurich — Aug. 31
Brussels — Sept. 8