Thrilling duels, close finishes embellish Doha’s book
The IAAF World Championships in Doha witnessed some marvellous performances, with plenty of new stars emerging.
In the end, Doha delivered what it promised. From teens with dreams in their eyes to mothers with kids in tow, athletes of the world turned in spectacular performances as the 17th World Championships concluded with the bright face of the sport on full view.
For 10 days, the Khalifa International Stadium had everything a fan of track and field could wish for – world records, world leads, area records, career-best performances and edge-of-the-seat contests that sent the pulse racing.
As the curtains came down on the biggest sporting festival that the Middle East had hosted till now, the words of Sebastian Coe, the president of the sport’s world governing body, came as a tribute not just to the athletes but to the organisers as well, for setting an ideal stage for them to perform, some minor glitches notwithstanding.
When the championships kicked off 10 days ago, the main question centred on the future of the sport in a highly competitive age. The answers kept arriving, sometimes in trickles, most times in a rush on every competition day.
The likes of Noah Lyles and Dina Asher-Smith applied a touch of class to the sprinting events but the emergence of freshly-minted world champions was more prominent in the men’s 800M and women’s 400M, where Donovan Brazier and Salwa Eid Naser scorched the track. Also impressive were the jumpers who fought till the very end to bring out their best, despite the championships arriving late in the season.
Lyles brushed aside questions on whether he could be next Usain Bolt, but having notched a hard-fought win in the 200M and confirming his desire to go for a sprint double at the Tokyo Olympics next year, the American runner ensured the spotlight will remain on him in the near future.
“I’m definitely going after the 1-2 double. I know everyone is asking that, don’t worry,” he said. “Tokyo it is. This time we got the gold in the 200, and now we’re going to get that double gold.”
Asher-Smith, so often in the shadow of Jamaican and American sprinters, burst out like a ray of light in the 200M. The absence of some big names did not blemish her victory, for her time of 21.88sec was proof that she would have stood out in any field.
The pick among track races in the women’s section, though, came in the 400M where Salwa Naser’s bold run ruined the plans of Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo.
Naser’s was the quickest 400M in the last 34 years, the third-fastest ever in the event and an Asian record. The 21-year-old Bahraini could only find one word to describe that one-lap – “It was crazy,” she said.
Championships are so often judged by records set and Doha had its share, with six meet records and 21 area records besides 86 national marks entering the books. And crowning the record spree came two world records, in the 4x400M mixed relay by the United States and in the women’s 400M hurdles by American Dalilah Muhammad.
Dalilah’s 52.16sec underlined her steely will in a mighty contest against compatriot Sydney McLaughlin while the mixed relay gold fetched Allyson Felix a record 12th world title. On the final day, that count rose to 13 as United States emerged worthy winners in the 4x400M women’s relay.
Felix led a clutch of mothers making a mark in Doha. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the 100M champion, and Nia Ali, the 100M hurdles winner, paraded their children on the track while others like China’s Liu Hong (20km walk gold) and Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon (1500M silver) decided to keep their kids out of the spotlight.
“Having Zyon being able to witness tonight is definitely a moment I’ll cherish,” said Fraser-Pryce, referring to her son. “He reminded me of how much I had to work and fight as a woman.”
At 32, Fraser-Pryce carried the flag for the senior brigade, winning her fourth gold medal in the short sprint. She had company in that club, with triple jumper Christian Taylor also picking up his fourth title, outsmarting his compatriot Will Claye in a terrific display of championship temperament.
Taylor was among a handful of favourites obliging in Doha. The list wasn’t very long though, with Karsten Warholm in the 400M hurdles, Mariya Lasitskine in women’s high jump, Christian Coleman and Lyles in the sprints and Daniel Stahl in men’s discus being among those embellishing their reputations.
Doha also set the bar high when it came to nail-biting contests. Just one centimetre separated the gold and bronze medallists in men’s shot put, with Joe Kovacs nailing it with his final round effort of 22.91M, beating compatriot Ryan Crouser and New Zealander Tom Walsh. One-hundredth of a second was the difference between Kenyan Conseslus Kipruto and Ethiopian Lamecha Girma in the 3000M steeplechase while Sam Kendricks and Armand Duplantis were separated only on a countback after both cleared 5.97M in the men’s pole vault.
“Unbelievable,” Kovacs said after winning the shot put gold. No one could disagree with that assessment after the greatest shot put contest ever.
“It was tight and when I crossed the line, I was saying ‘please, let the first man be Conseslus,” said Kipruto after protecting Kenya’s proud record in steeplechase. It was a heart-stopper, no doubt.
For sheer drama, the men’s high jump came close to these contests, even though it wasn’t a narrow affair. The presence of Qatar’s favourite son Mutaz Essa Barshim ensured a full house and the 28-year-old obliged with a superb performance under pressure. The 2.37M leap wasn’t his best but for Barshim and a nation aspiring to go higher in the sporting world, it was pure gold.
Golden too was Malaika Mihambo’s leap in the women’s long jump event. The German’s 7.30M was the best in the world since 2016 and like Barshim, she also expressed a desire to go on a holiday after Doha.
Sore limbs deserve that, as Sifan Hassan would vouch for, after her unprecedented 1500-10000M double. The Dutchwoman also had to endure mental agony, after her coach Alberto Salazar was banned and packed off from Doha for anti-doping rule violations. Hassan had to defend her reputation vociferously at the end of the competition and only time will tell where the truth lies.
Controversy also chased 100M champion Coleman for missing three dope tests and escaping on a technicality, prior to his arrival in Doha. The American though was hardly bothered by the row, and took potshots at the legendary Michael Johnson for suggesting Coleman was not fit enough to be the face of the event.
Indeed, for those looking for faces of the event, Doha had plenty and more. Plenty of happy faces – athletes, officials and coaches going home after a wonderfully organised championships. Lack of crowd in the early stages was a blip but poor scheduling contributed to it. Marathon and road races on the Corniche did not rise to expectations, mainly due to the humid weather conditions but these were minor blots that hardly tarnished a hugely enjoyable competition.
As Dahlan Al Hamad, the director general of the Local Organising Committee put it, “We don’t say we’’re perfect. There’s nothing perfect in this world. There’re many lessons, we’ll review them and move on.”