Anyone who has followed the men’s 400m hurdles in the last two years, very well know that the discipline has seen a renaissance of sorts in recent times.
More than a quarter of a century after American Kevin Young set the world record of 46.78 in Barcelona, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba became only the second man to breach the magical 47-second mark when he ran a 46.98 in Paris last year.
This year, however, world champion Karsten Warholm of Norway and American sensation Rai Benjamin too have breached the barrier, setting up a mouth-watering clash at the Doha Worlds.
Yesterday, home star Samba ran the fastest time of the day – 49.08 seconds, modest by his standards – with Japan’s Takatoshi Abe finishing behind the Qatar athlete in the third heat.
The two went faster than the Norwegian star Warholm, who won the first heat in 49.27 seconds, while Benjamin was the tenth fastest overall in 49.62s after topping the fourth heat.
But heats are by no measure an indication for things to come today as the competition heads into the semis today and then into the finals on Monday.
However, Samba did not fail to fire a warning shot when asked if a gold is a fair expectation of him. “Gold,” pat came his reply, adding, “and something else.”
Never has Young’s 1992 record been under a bigger threat than this year, especially with Samba making his intentions crystal clear, and the rest of the field in top form.
“This is the first race after the injury. Even though the time does not suggest so, but it was a big injury. I am Ok today though. With this result I am so happy and I am looking forward to tomorrow,” the 24-year-old said.
Asked if he was worried given the times of Warholm and Benjamin this year, Samba said, “Actually that’s good. Especially in hurdles when you see the athletes running so close to each other, they make each other go fast, and make the race exciting.”
Warholm, for his part, understands the enormity of his task given that his title defence is under a threat. “It was a solid run. I enjoyed it. Of course, Samba is competing on his home soil so everybody will watch him and literally push him to the finish,” Warholm said after the heats.
“But also Rai is chasing me since Zurich and he wants to beat me.
“I do not feel pressure and I do not think of the time too much but I just need to execute what I am supposed to do. On the other hand, the time is important too.” Benjamin, 22, said he was “focused on myself” and that he was “really excited for tomorrow”.
Talking about his Worlds debut, he said, “Just having the US on your chest takes you to another level. I just felt like I cannot let my teammates down.”
There was a lot more to witness as the seventeenth edition of the IAAF World Athletics Championships got off to a roaring start at a packed Khalifa International Stadium yesterday.
Braima Dabo of Guinea-Bissau and Jonathan Busby of Aruba offered a visual lesson in sportsmanship in the first heat of the men’s 5,000m first round when the latter lost his legs halfway through the final lap, and had to be helped through to the finish line.
Dabo held on to Busby for the rest of the lap as the decibel levels at the stadium rose high in appreciation.
This was after Ethiopian Selemon Barega enjoyed a massive cheer from the huge contingent of African fans at the state-of-the-art stadium for his win in 13:24.69. Olympic silver medallist Paul Chelimo of the US ran the fastest time of the 5,000m heats, 13:20.18, and celebrated with arms spread wide. And he finished with only one shoe on.
Chelimo’s compatriot Christian Taylor stopped short of the 17.10m mark in the triple jump competition but reckoned his 16.99m was good enough to take him through to the final passing on on his last attempt.
Portugal’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo and Hugues Fabrice Zango of Burkina Faso were the only ones with the Big Q (passing the qualification standard) at the end of the qualification round with the Cuban-born Pichardo jumping a 17.38m and Zango a 17.17m.
In the women’s pole vault, 17 athletes including 2017 champion Katerina Stefanidi of Greece and European indoor champion Anzhelika Sidorova cleared the standard of 4.60m for their place in the final.
World record holder Beatrice Chepkoech (8:44.32) of Kenya topped the timecharts for the first round of the women’s 3000m steeplechase with a time of 9:18.01, beating American Courtney Frerichs in the second heat.
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