“A young athlete often asks this question,” said IAAF president Sebastian Coe, looking at Qatari star high-jumper Mutaz Barshim, “What is it that’s going to make me a great high-jumper?”
“Mutaz may talk about technicality, some may talk about angles, etc. But the answer doesn’t lie in that. The answer to that is to become a student of your sport. Understand who came before you, their adversity and their challenges.”
And with those words, and some more, the two-time 1500m Olympic champion, along with the IAAF vice-president and the IAAF Athletics World Championships Doha 2019 Local Organising Commitee director general Dahlan al-Hamad, threw open a six-month long IAAF Heritage World Athletics Championships Exhibition at Doha’s City Centre Mall yesterday.
The 400 square metre space not only gives one an insight into the challenges and the adversities that some of the most hallowed athletes of the past overcame, it also leaves you with a sense of wonderment witnessing the barriers that the human body has broken over centuries.
For instance, you enter the exhibition space under a gate with a Barshim cut-out that is elevated to exactly 2.43m, the world champion’s best high jump effort so far.
Many, including Qatar Athletics Federation secretary-general Mohamed Eisa al-Fadhala, tried touching the bar while up on their feet, and only managed to smile in respect to the 27-year-old who stood right next to him.
On the sidebars of the gates is also marked 2.45m, the world record height set by Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor. The difference seemed minuscule, and Barshim only smiled as he pointed it out to those around.
A few more exhibits were added to the ever-growing collection. Four-time Olympic champion Lasse Viren of Finland donated the pair of Onitsuka Tiger ASICS shoes which he wore when running the marathon at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.
Viren had finished fifth in the marathon but what was extraordinary about that performance was that he had run 10,000m heats and final, and 5000m heats and final, winning both the events, just a day before.
“He was very much an inspiration to me in 1972 and 1976 when I was beginning to understand the nature of my sport,” Coe told Gulf Times referring to Viren’s exploits at the 1972 Munich and 1976 Montreal Games.
“I remember very clearly his extraordinary performances winning the 5000m and 10000m events at two consecutive Olympics. The one race I remember was the 5000m at Montreal which was executed to perfection. So having his shoes in there, is a great reminder of what an extraordinary athlete he was.”
Coe, too, handed over his 1984 Los Angeles Games spikes and national vest from his second 1500m Olympic victory, before another British running great Liz McColgan, the 1991 world 10,000m champion, loaned her winning spikes – already donated to the ASICS museum in Kobe – for display at the Doha exhibition.
Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk donated the same hammer with which she set the first 80m+ world record by a woman.
Barshim presented his London 2012 Olympic Games competition vest and number while compatriot Abderrahman Samba handed over the bodysuit which he wore when winning the 2018 IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 400m hurdles title.
“Almost everyone in my family is into track and field, so it is a big deal for me,” Barshim said. “I hope people come and get inspired.”
Samba, who won six back-to-back Diamond League events last year, added, “This exhibition means a lot, not just to those present here but to the larger athletics world. This is going to keep the history of athletics alive. We will be giving out more information to the people and inspire them.”
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