By Mikhil Bhat/Doha
*2,000 athletes to take part in the biggest sporting event in the Middle East
His Highness The Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani will open the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at the Corniche on Friday night. And quite simply, the 17th edition of the event is going to be historic - whether it’s the numbers, the number of firsts or the storylines.
Around 2,000 athletes from 208 countries will be taking to the track and field at the Khalifa International Stadium and the road course at Corniche, making it one of the biggest world championships ever and the biggest sporting event in the Middle East.
As many as 37 of the 44 individual winners from London 2017 will defend their titles in Doha, with 30 of this year’s Diamond League winners going for gold.
Those are just some of the numbers, now for the firsts.
Friday, for the first time, the World Championships will see a midnight marathon with the ladies taking a shot at a looped course around the Corniche in the Qatari capital with the impressive West Bay skyline as a backdrop and the embellishments by the Amiri Diwan, the Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif. The race will begin at 11.59pm.
Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich will, however, be focused on building on what has been a great year for her. She came within seven seconds of the women-only world record of 2 hours 17 minutes and one second, set by compatriot Mary Jepkosgei Keitany in London in the April of 2017 in January.
The championship record by Paula Radcliffe of 2:20:57 has stayed untouched since 2005 but besides Chepngetich, Ethiopians Ruti Aga, who has run 2:20:40 this year and has a best of 2:18:34, and Roza Dereje, who has run 2:20:51 this year and has a best of 2:19:17, have dipped below the Briton’s time.
The men will be taking to the course on the penultimate day of the championships on October 5.
While a lot many may not think much about it, but the national teams will be allowed to sport a sponsor logo on their kit.
In IAAF President Sebastian Coe’s words, ‘We only have really big global moments every two years. We have to absolutely maximise every bit of financial potential in our sport through those venues, and we wanted this to be a much more equitable process.’
And now, pick one of the numerous storylines you want to most see unfold.
Mutaz Essa Barshim, Abderrahman Samba and Abdalelah Haroun are just some of the medal prospects for the hosts, each though their own share of injuries to brush aside at the Worlds.
The high jump defending champion recently returned to action after sustaining an injury last year while going for the world record. And while he has since then done a modest 2.27m, his reputation and a record of topping 2.40m plus every year for the last six years will attract all the eyeballs. And there is also a small matter of being the athlete tipped by world record holder Javier Sotomayor of Cuba to break his record of 2.45. Barshim’s best is 2.43m.
The competition begins with the qualification on Tuesday, October 1. The final is on Friday, October 4.
Last year, Samba became only the second man to dip under 47 seconds in the men’s 400m hurdles event with a 46.98s after world record holder Kevin Young of the US (46.78s).
A year later, there are two more - Karsten Warholm of Norway and Rai Benjamin of the US - who have achieved the feat adding an extra dose of excitement to an already highly-anticipated event.
Warholm has the second fastest time of 46.92, with Benjamin tying Samba for 46.98.
While Samba went unbeaten last year in the Diamond League, Warholm has exploited Samba’s absence due to an injury to the full.
Also hopeful is Haroun, who has a personal best of 44.07s in 400m flat. A tendon injury earlier this year, meant he missed the Asian championships and the Diamond League but the bronze medallist from London 2017 is hopeful of picking up yet another medal.
His personal best would place him third in the list of fastest times this year, led by American Michael Norman, but perhaps home advantage is a thing.
At the air-conditioned Khalifa International Stadium during the course of the championships, Allyson Felix of the US will only boost her legacy if she picks up a medal in the women’s 4x400m relay. The most decorated athlete in the world championships has 16 medals, including 11 golds, and while her return to the track post her pregnancy last year may not have yielded the desired results, Felix is on course to make history.
The preliminary rounds and the heats for the men’s 100m will be held on Friday at the Khalifa International Stadium. The final will be held on Saturday and the eyes will definitely be on the likes of Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin of the US, Nigeria’s Divine Oduduru, South African Akani Simbine and Jamaican Yohan Blake.
While Coleman, with his world leading time of 9.81s, made it to the Qatari capital after US anti-doping agency dropped their case against him for three missed tests earlier this month, 22-year-old Oduduru is the second fastest man in the field with a time of 9.86.
Simbine, the African champion, ran 9.93 in London in July while Blake a 9.96 at home in June.
In the 200m, Blake, armed with the second fastest time ever, will be up against American sensation Noah Lyles among others.
Even as the athletics world looks for a new Usain Bolt to bring the much-needed shine and sparkle on track and field, Lyles, with a world leading time of 19.50, has focused on being himself, stepping away from any comparisons. And so far, the audience is loving the show.
Spain’s Jesus Angel Garcia at 49 will be the oldest competitor at the championships when he takes to the Corniche for the 50km race walk. He will be at the Worlds for the 13th time in his career.
With a total of 49 gold medals up for grabs, there is something for everyone, whether you are looking for inspiration or just thrill.
And Friday, it begins.
Joaan meets IOC chief
President of the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani, Chair of the Doha 2019 World Athletics Championships organising committee, on Thursday met in Doha with President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach and his accompanying delegation upon their arrival at Hamad International Airport.
Bach will attend the Doha 2019 championships, which begin today and conclude on October 6. Bach will also attend meetings set to take place on the sidelines of the competition between the Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
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