Who to watch in track and field’s Diamond League opener | CBC Sports

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Canada’s reigning 800-metre world champion Marco Arop and shot put indoor world champ Sarah Mitton will be in action Saturday as the international track and field season ramps up with the Diamond League opener in Xiamen, China.

If you’re not familiar, the Diamond League is a series of one-day track and field meets held all over the world from now through September. The track races are typically squeezed into a viewer-friendly two-hour window. Athletes accumulate points (and earn prize money) in any of the 14 regular-season tour stops they choose to compete in. The top point-getters qualify for the season-ending Diamond League Final, which this year will be held in Brussels. Whoever wins the Final is crowned the champion of their event.

Apart from the world championships and the Olympics, the Diamond League is the best place to see the planet’s best track and field athletes compete. And the series has some extra juice this year as everyone gears up for the Paris Olympics, where track and field competition begins Aug. 1.

Here’s who to watch in the Diamond League opener on Saturday:

Marco Arop in the men’s 800m (7:55 a.m. ET)

The 25-year-old from Edmonton has been on the rise since his tough Olympic debut in 2021 in Tokyo, where he flamed out in the semifinals. A diligent student of his craft and an avid puzzle-solver, Arop went back to work and built himself up to a bronze medallist at the 2022 world championships in Oregon before capturing gold at last summer’s worlds in Budapest, outmaneuvering Kenyan teenager Emmanuel Wanyonyi in the final. A few weeks later at the Diamond League Final back at Oregon’s storied Hayward Field, Arop broke the Canadian record but got out-kicked by Wanyonyi in a thrilling dash to the finish line.

Wanyonyi is not racing on Saturday, but any Diamond League matchup between him and Arop will be must-see TV as the friendly rivals prepare for their biggest showdown yet at the Olympics.

Sarah Mitton in the women’s shot put (6:21 a.m. ET)

The 27-year-old from Brooklyn, N.S., announced herself as a top contender for Olympic gold by upsetting back-to-back world champion Chase Jackson of the United States to win the indoor world title last month in Scotland.

Mitton’s arrow has been pointing up since her 28th-place Olympic debut three years ago. She went on to win gold at both the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games and took silver behind Jackson at last year’s world championships. Mitton was also the runner-up to the top-ranked American at last September’s Diamond League Final before beating her at the indoor worlds.

Saturday’s Diamond League contest will be another great test for Mitton as she’ll face Jackson and China’s Gong Lijiao — the reigning Olympic champion and the bronze medallist at last year’s worlds.

One more Canadian is competing on Saturday: Regan Yee in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase. Read about her in this story by CBC Sports’ Doug Harrison.

International athletes to watch

American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has been one of the most compelling characters in the sport since her controversial suspension from the Tokyo Olympics for testing positive for marijuana following her victory at the U.S. trials. But she truly broke through at last summer’s world championships in Budapest, winning gold in the 100m and 4x100m and taking bronze in the 200m to set herself up for stardom in Paris. Richardson will race in the women’s 200m on Saturday at 7:47 a.m. ET.

Reigning Olympic and world pole vault champion Mondo Duplantis of Sweden and Olympic high jump champ Mutaz Barsham of Qatar headline the men’s field events.

The most anticipated men’s track event is the 100m, which closes out the meet at 8:53 a.m. ET. It features a trio of former world champions in Americans Fred Kerley (2022) and Christian Coleman (2019) and Jamaican Yohan Blake (2011). Coleman added his second 60m indoor world title last month, beating reigning 100m and 200m world champ Noah Lyles in the final.

Looking ahead

Canadian sprinting star Andre De Grasse will likely begin his Diamond League season three weeks from now in Doha, which is hosting the first men’s 200m race in the series. The Olympic champ snapped out of a sleepy 2023 season to steal the Lyles-less Diamond League Final with a stunning time of 19.76 seconds — his fastest in two years.

De Grasse, 29, insists he can win another three medals in Paris after reaching the 100, 200 and 4×100 podiums in both Tokyo and Rio. He’s even gunning for the Canadian 100m record shared by Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin. Learn about the hard work De Grasse is doing to achieve his goals in this story by CBC Sports contributor Morgan Campbell.

How to watch

The Diamond League season opener in Xiamen will be streamed live on CBC Gem, the CBC Sports app and CBCSports.ca on Saturday from 7-9 a.m. ET. You can watch a replay on the CBC TV network Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the full schedule and startlists for each event.

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