So what did Abderrahman Samba do after winning Qatar’s first medal, a gold, at the 23rd edition of the Asian Athletics Championships in a championship record time of 47.51 seconds?
He said he hoped to shave a second off that time by the end of the season.
“I am doing what I did last year. I started the season with 47.9, and ended with 46.98. This time, I have started with 47.51,” the 23-year-old said at the press conference, and with a smile flashing across his face added, “I hope to finish with 46.5.”
It was not just Samba who smiled, but also the fellow medallists, runner-up Chieh Chen of Chinese Taipei and bronze winner Jabir Madari Palliyalil of India, perhaps at the enormity of the task of competing with the Qatari who tipped to win the IAAF World Championships gold in the 400m hurdles in Doha later this year.
To the uninitiated, the world record in the men’s 400m hurdles is a 46.78 by Kevin Young, set at the Barcelona Olympic Games, and Samba is only the second athlete after the American to dip under the 47-second mark when he ran a 46.98 in Paris last year.
When Chen was asked why he smiled when Samba spoke of his target, he said, “Because he can do it.”
Yesterday, Samba faced some headwind at the start, but with sunglasses and confidence, he tore through the first part of the race, changed the number of strides between the hurdles in the latter stages of the race, and finished with a championship record of 47.51m.
Chen, behind him, had dipped under 49 seconds for the first time with a 48.92, while Palliyalil too ran a personal best 49.13. Qatar’s Bassem Hemeida narrowly missed out on a medal finishing fourth in 49.45.
“I am so happy today. It was a very good race. To start the season with a 47.51 is amazing. I am so happy to win the first medal for Qatar in the championships, and I hope that we win a lot more,” Samba said.
“The plan was to push hard in the first 300m. After the seventh hurdle I changed from 13 steps between the hurdles to 14. I also had to deal with a headwind in the first metres of the race. It is a good time, but I can go faster.”
Abubaker Haydar Abdalla doubled Team Qatar’s gold tally with a blistering run in the men’s 800m final, posting a personal best and a world-leading time of 1:44.33.
The win also meant that the 22-year-old now holds both the outdoor and indoor continental titles, following his victory in Tehran at the 2018 Asian Indoors.
“I ran hard from gun to tape and in the end I was rewarded with a new personal best and a world leading time. I haven’t qualified for a major final yet, hopefully I will be able to make it here in Doha at the World Championships,” Abdalla said after the win.
Defending champion Ebrahim al-Zofairi of Kuwait ran a season best 1:46.88.
Jamal Hairane, silver medallist at the last edition, won the third medal for the hosts finishing the race with a bronze, beating compatriot Abdirahman Saeed Hassan at the finish line.
“We followed our coach’s plan with the aim to make a clean sweep,” Hairane said, referring to the trio leading the pack till the final straight, with Abdalla in the front throughout.
“We didn’t make it, but of course we feel happy with gold and bronze. A World Championships’ final is what I am looking for this season.”
In the absence of world champion Mutaz Barshim, Qatar’s hopes in the men’s high jump rest on Mahmat Hamdi, who qualified for tomorrow’s final by clearing 2.16m on his final attempt.
Yousef Karam won Kuwait’s first gold at this edition when he won the men’s 400m in a national record of 44.84 seconds yesterday.
Karam, who had qualified for the IAAF World Athletics Championships with a 45.04 run on Sunday, dipped under the 45 second mark for the first time a day later. Abbas Abubaker (45.14) of Bahrain and Mikhail Litvin (45.25) of Kazakhstan won silver and bronze respectively.
Kazakhstan’s Olga Safronova, second in the 2017 edition, set the women’s 100m championship record twice yesterday, first running a 11.21 in the semifinal, before returning two and a half hours later to shave it further down to 11.17 in the final for a gold.
Zheng Wang threw championship record 75.66m in the women’s hammer throw for China’s third gold of the championships. Compatriot Na Luo was the only other athlete to go past the 70m mark with a 72.23 for her silver, while Japan’s Akane Watanabe won bronze with a 63.54.
China’s second gold of the day was won by Minjia Lu, who jumped a 6.38m in the women’s long jump for a victory.
Gomathi Marimuthu won India’s first gold of the championships when she ran a personal best of 2:02.70 in the women’s 800m. Asian Games champion Tajinder Pal Singh Toor stayed true to his favourite tag with a gold-winning effort of 20.22m, his season’s best, in the men’s shot put.
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