If Qatar’s stated ambition is to surpass their best-ever gold medal tally at the Asian Games, the process has to start in right earnest at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium today where the extensive track and field programme gets underway with the men’s marathon early in the morning.
Six of the 10 gold medals won by Qatar four years ago in Incheon came from athletics, but three of their stars, who accounted for five of them, are conspicuous by their absence in the Indonesian capital.
Sprinter Femi Ogunode, middle-distance runner Mohamed al-Garni and high jump world champion Mutaz Essa Barshim are missing the Games because of injuries, leaving the athletics squad short on heft and experience.
Ogunode had repeated his sprint double in Incheon, having first won the 100 and 200m four years earlier in Guangzhou, while al-Garni had stunned some of the favourites in the 1500m and 5000m to cause a sensation in 2014.
Barshim, who was looking forward to a hat-trick of Asian Games gold medals – he was the champion in Guangzhou and Incheon – suffered a ligament injury while attempting to break Cuban Javier Sotomayor’s long-standing world record of 2.45m at the Istvan Gyulai Memorial in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, in early July.
He underwent surgery and is ruled out for the rest of the season, with reports indicating he will be only back in action during the IAAF World Championships in Doha next year.
That puts the onus on 400m hurdler Abderrahman Samba and 400m flat specialist Abdalelah Haroun to inspire the others in the squad which will be up against the might of the China, Japan and South Korea.
Samba, who recently became only the second man in history after Barcelona Olympics champion Kevin Young to go under 47 seconds, is a sure shot gold prospect, going by his recent form in the Diamond League where he repeatedly got the better of world champion Karsten Warholm of Norway.
Ever since arriving in Jakarta, Samba has been totally focused for the “most important event of my life after the World Championships”. His coach Hennie Kotze is busy plotting a plan of action with the aim of making him the world champion next year, with a gold medal in Jakarta as the starting point.
“The world title and a possible world record are all part of our plan but the immediate focus is the Asian Games. This is his first Asian Games and he is completely focused on the job at hand. He is a great athlete to coach as he is very receptive to my methods,” Kotze told the Gulf Times.
Samba himself is cherishing the prospect of showcasing his talents at the Games, the first multi-sport event he is taking part in.
“I am really excited to be in Indonesia to participate in the Asian Games. Staying with the other athletes at the Athletes Village has been a new experience for me and I am relishing every moment of it,” he said.
Qualification for the 400m hurdles will begin tomorrow with the final on Monday, but if all goes well Qatar could already have a couple of medals by then, with the 400m and 100m finals scheduled for tomorrow.
Haroun, who finished third at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London in the 400m behind winner Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa and silver medallist Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas, has a personal best of 44.07 seconds set during a stunning winning performance at the London Diamond League meeting last month.
Fellow Qatari Mohamed Nasir Abbas, who clocked a personal best of 45.15 seconds during the World Challenge in Madrid in June, is also in contention for a medal in the 400m.
The Asian record over the distance belongs to Yousef Ahmed Masrahi of Saudi Arabia who clocked 43.93 seconds during the heats at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing. He had improved his own record by about half a second then, but he is not listed in the Saudi squad at the Asian Games this time.
The 100m final is also scheduled for tomorrow with Femi Ogunode’s brother, Tosin, attempting to make a mark.
That is, however, easier said than done as Tosin hardly has any competitive experience for nearly a year now because of injury problems. On top of it several runners in Asia, among them China’s Su Bingtian, have gone under 10 seconds in recent events, something which Tosin has never done.
“My brother told me to just go there and do your best. That’s what I’ll try to do,” he said.
Hammer thrower Ashraf Elseify, the winner of the junior world title in 2012 and 2014, and javelin thrower Ahmed Bader are also in medal contention.
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