By Sports Reporter/Doha
Local hero Mutaz Barshim will be the key attraction when the 7th edition of the AAA Asian Indoor Championships kicks off this Friday at Doha’s Aspire Dome.
More than 400 athletes representing 37 nations are expected to compete in the event at Doha’s state-of-the-art athletics facility between February 19 and 21, but none will be as watched as the host nation’s reigning Olympic high jump bronze medallist.
It’s a rare opportunity for the 24-year-old, who is also the reigning World Indoor champion, to compete on a high level stage before home crowd, and he’s already indicated that he’s hoping for big things.
With a 2.34m clearance in Malmo, Sweden, late last month, Barshim has illustrated good form as the championships approach and has already suggested that assaults on his 2.41m Asian Indoor record set one year ago, and even Javier Sotomayor’s legendary 2.43m World Indoor record set nearly 27 years ago, may be under assault.
Barshim is a rare breed—only one man has ever sailed higher than the Qatari's outdoor best of 2.43m while indoors, his Asian record mark ranks him fourth all-time.
A fourth successive victory on Friday will make Barshim the first four-time winner at these championships.
The opening day will also witness another Qatari gunning for that superlative, with Samuel Francis targeting his fourth 60 metres title after victories in 2008, 2010 and 2014.
The biggest threat to the veteran Francis, who has clocked 6.70 this season, could come from his teammate, Tosin Ogunode, who ran 6.50 in 2014 and 6.66 this season.
Eric Shauwn Cray of The Philippines, who clocked 6.60 in Karlsruhe, Germany, on February 5, will lead the challenge to break up the hosts’ 1-2 ambitions.
In the men’s 800 metres, which also gets underway on Friday, Qatari Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla will start as the overwhelming favourite to defend his title. Balla, who was fifth at the World Championships in Beijing last summer, has a 1:46.79 run to his credit this season, nearly three seconds faster than any other Asian. The final is on Sunday.
Also returning for the hosts in Mohamed al-Garni, who'll defend both middle distance titles he claimed two years ago, both in straight finals against strong opponents from neighbouring Bahrain. In Saturday's 1,500m, he'll take on Marouane Habti, and in Sunday's 3,000m contest he faces Asian Albert Rop, the Asian Indoor record-holder over the distance at 7:38.77.
Rising 400m star Abdellelah Haroun Hassan is another key Qatari medal prospect. Barely 19, Hassan is already the Asian record-holder in the event both indoors (45.39) and outdoors (44.27). His biggest challenge will come from defending champion Mehdi Zamani of Iran.
Elsewhere, watch out for China's rising pole-vaulter Huang Bokai, the 19-year-old who tuned up for Doha with a 5.70m effort to claim a surprise victory in Gent, Belgium, on February 13.
In the shot put, India will be gunning for a gold-silver finish courtesy Om Prakash Singh Karhana and Indrejeet Singh, the defending champion and 2015 Asian champion, respectively. Each brings a 20.65m outdoor personal best to the competition.
Other 2014 champions returning to defend their titles are Kuwaitis Abdulaziz Almandeel and Saleh Alhaddad in the 60 metre hurdles and long jump, respectively. Almandeel will go up against China’s 2013 Asian Championships 110m hurdles champion Fan Jiang, while Alhaddad will face Fan's teammate Huang Changzhou, who has an 8.17m career best.
Doha also hosted the championships’ 2008 edition at the Aspire Dome, the same facility that played host to the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships.
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