Doha Day Eight: Report by Bob Snow

We have a compact day’s programme in the stadium starting at 8.00pm and finishing at about 10.45pm when the rush for transport puts all of the spectators in another mass race. Sadly I never do well in this “event”, but will leave the stadium after seeing five great finals and the heats of the 4 x 100m relays. The journey back to the hotel is always a “magical mystery tour”.

You have got to congratulate the IAAF and the Local Organising Committee for responding so positively to the negative publicity about the “empty stadium”. True there were some early days when the back straight stands were sparsely populated, but the foreign press, including some from my preferred newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, gave in to negativity without ever looking at the quality of the competition. Were they just looking at the Australian results?

Crowd numbers have been building all week, and last night the stadium was packed. There were many good reasons for that. The first is that it was Friday, and the first day of the weekend. Secondly, Qatari fans turned up in huge numbers to cheer on their local hero, Mutaz Essa Barshim in the High Jump. Thirdly, the very large expatriate Kenyan and Ethiopian populations turned up to cheer on their middle and long distance athletes.

I found it hard to get a seat in the stand that was normally reserved for accredited spectators.

The competition in the Khalifa Stadium started with the Men’s 1500m semi-finals. With only the first five in each heat, plus the next two fastest non-automatic qualifiers going on to the final, the pressure was intense. You had to run a very good tactical race, being fully aware of the finishing pace of many in the field.

Stewart McSweyn (AUS) had the credentials to progress, and in his heat showed good tactical sense in taking up the early running to burn-off the speedsters in the final 100m. We did not see much of Matthew Ramsden in his first round heat as he was tripped and fell to the track early in the race. Neither, however, was able to make it through to the final, which will be dominated by African and European athletes. My guess is that Timothy Cheruiyot from Kenya will win. His fans in the stands will go wild if it happens.

Oceania waited with much anticipation for the final of the Men’s High Jump. Brandon Starc (AUS) had started to come good near the end of the season, and knows how to perform well on the big occasions. His duel with local hero Mutaz Essa Barshim (QAT) was to have been special. Mutaz is slowly recovering from injury, which hampered his preparation for his home championships, but he looked great in the qualifying round.

Wow – what a final. It lived up to all expectations and more. Not for Brandon, however, who finished in 6th position with a season’s best height of 2.30m.

The story of the night, and for the local people, the story of the championships, was the resurrection of Mutaz Essa Barshim. He was badly injured last year and after a slow rehabilitation process he gradually started to regain his top form. He had a glitch at 2.33m when he had two failures and only cleared this height on his third attempt. He then went on to clear 2.35m and 2.37m quite easily on his first attempts. The Khalifa Stadium erupted.  When I got home to the hotel, the television was playing the final stages of the competition again and again – on many different channels. This is how legends are born. Barshim has competed only three times this year. The way he handled the pressure was truly impressive.

Australia was in the first heat of the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay.  With late season injuries to many top athletes, we will not know who was going to actually represent their nation in the struggle for medals until just before the event. 

In the second heat Germany would be the favourite, with normally strong Jamaica reduced in potential because of injury.

Australia was in the first heat, and up against the USA, Trinidad and Tobago and Switzerland, all of who qualified. Australia, however, never made it to the finish line as the baton never made it to the anchor leg runner. I was preparing to photograph the final exchange and never saw the baton exchange malfunction! No doubt there will be a lot of analysis and re-analysis of what happened.

The fastest qualifiers, all from heat 2, were Jamaica, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and China.

In the Women’s Discus Final the big question of the day was – will the Cubans unseat the two-time champion, Sandra Perkovic of Croatia? The qualifying round indicated that it might be a possibility. The short answer is yes. 

The final followed the form guide and the qualifying round with the gold being won by Yaimé Pérez (CUB – 69.17m) from Denia Caballero (CUB – 68.44m) and Sandra Perkovic (CRO – 66.72m). It looks as though a new dynasty has usurped the throne in the Women’s Discus. Pity Dani was not here to challenge the status-quo. We look forward to seeing her in Tokyo.

In the Men’s 4 x 100m Relay heats, the USA and Great Britain should fight out the honours in heat one. Normally I would say Jamaica would also be there in the mix, but they are only a shadow of their former greatness. In the second heat I would look to those who have had good baton changing this year, and opt for the Netherlands, japan and Canada. Forget the comic juggling change that Japan had at the World Relays in Yokohama this year. That could not possibly happen again even if they practiced it for a thousand years! (Have just watched the video again of that famous baton change, and am still amazed that Kiryu caught the baton – but sadly outside of the zone – DQ).

Well now, this is what actually happened.

Great Britain and NI, easily won the first heat in a world leading time of 37.56 seconds, from Brazil (37.90 – an Area Record) and the USA (38.03 for a season’s best). Jamaica finished in 5th and did not qualify.

There were five qualifiers in the second heat, led by South Africa (Area Record of 37.65 seconds) and then Japan, China, France and the Netherlands.

Many favoured teams had poor quality execution of the baton changes. No matter how fast your runners are, the changes frequently decide the ultimate outcome.

Looking back over the results since 1983, there have been periods when the USA has dominated, and then for a brilliant period recently it was Jamaica on top. In between, however, we have seen superbly trained and disciplined teams cause major upsets. The French win in Helsinki in 2005 in particular comes to mind. It is amazing how top teams like the USA can botch changes and bow out of the competition either DQ or DNF.

The disciplined teams in earlier eras from the USSR and Cuba did incredibly well with their slick baton changing, even though other teams had faster men. It is how fast you get the baton round the 400m track that matters, not how many superstars you have in your team. Some nations do forget this and do not allocate enough time for baton changing drills.

Sydney or Dalilah – Dalilah or Sydney? Whatever the result, we can expect a cracker of a Women’s 400m Hurdles Final, with the two US women battling it out for late-season global supremacy. After the Men’s 400m Hurdles Final, I am not brave enough to guess who will win it.  Will just enjoy the tension and atmosphere. Superb athletes and records threatened. Here is how it played out.

And for the second time in this report – WOW.  It took a world record from 29-year old Dalilah Muhammad (USA) to turn back 20-year old youngster Sydney McLaughlin (USA) – 52.16 to 52.23 seconds. Dalilah had a good lead coming into the home straight, but Sydney was closing the gap rapidly. Fantastic race. Dalilah will also be happy with the USD100,000 bonus that accompanies the world record.  Sydney’s turn will come, and I expect her to soon get the world record down into the 51 second range. What great additions to the US 4 x 400m Team.

The Men’s 3000m Steeplechase is another one that should bring the crowd on the back straight to a frenzy. We have three Kenyans representing Kenya, two more Kenyans representing the USA, three crack Ethiopians, El Bakkali from Morocco and Bedrani from France. Will the Kenyan-born stranglehold on this event since 1991 be broken? So many questions and we just have to wait until just before 10.00pm for an answer. Fasten your seat belts. Expect to see much noise and flag waving from the enthusiastic crowds along to support either Kenya or Ethiopia.

It looked as though this was going to be an Ethiopian victory to bring to an end the run of 14 Steeplechase gold medals for Kenyan-born athletes from 1991 to 2017.  Lamecha Girma (ETH) led over the final water jump and the last hurdle, before the defending champ, Conseslus Kipruto (KEN) made a last minute drive for the line. The last second lunge won him the gold by 1/100th of a second – 8:01.35 to 8:01.36  –  to everyone’s surprise. Where I was sitting I could not tell who had won, until the official result was posted and Conseslus started to celebrate – not as entertaining as Ezekiel Kemboi used to do, but pretty good nevertheless.  The Kenyan record continues. The Kenyan crowd joyously celebrated too.

In the bronze medal position was Soufiane el Bakkali (Morocco) who deserves some of the credit for the fast pace.

This race delivered everything that the fans could have hoped for. The fastest time in the world this year, a photo-finish needed to allocate the gold and the silver, national records and personal bests all over the place.

Like Barshim, Kipruto was recovering from a serious injury and did not have his first race until late August. Guess he did not leave his 2019 form back in the early part of the year, as (sadly) many of the athletes have done. This is late for a championship of this calibre.

The last final of the evening is the Men’s 400m. Will Fred Kerley (USA) show us his early season form, or will the rewards go to the Caribbean – Gardiner (BAH), James (GRN), Cedenio (TTO) or either of the two Jamaicans? Tantalising race to bring down the end of Day Eight on the track.

Did not see the emphatic win by Steven Gardiner (BAH) coming. He was always one of the main contenders for gold, but he destroyed the field winning in a national record time of 43.48 seconds. This will bring some joy to the Bahamas slowly trying to recover from Hurricane Dorian a few months ago, and their surprise defeat in the Women’s 400m.

Second position went to Anthony José Zambrano (COL) who ran a South American Area Record of 44.15 seconds, just 2/100th ahead of world leader, Fred Kerley (USA) with 44.17 seconds.  My pick, Kirani James (GRN) came in 5th with the time of 44.54 seconds.

At 11.30pm two Australian athletes were on the Corniche for the Men’s 20km Walk. They were Dane Bird-Smith and Rhydian Cowley. 

Dane is the current Commonwealth Games Champion in this event and won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics and finished in 6th position in the London World Championships in 2017. Don’t expect a fast time for Dane, and his best of 1:19:28 should remain intact after tonight. The conditions are just not conducive for fast outdoor endurance events.

Rhydian has competed at the World Junior Championship in 2010, the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, the 2016 Olympic Games and numerous IAAF World Race Walking Cup competitions. His pb for the 20km Walk is 1:22:07.

Dane finished in 15th position with a time of  1:32:11 and Rhydian was one of 7 who did not finish. The event was won by Japan’s Toshikazu Yamanishi in 1:24:36 – a time in keeping with the trying conditions.

Stay tuned for Day Nine with four finals, and Tom Walsh of New Zealand going for gold in the Shot Put. The last Pacific Islander in action will be Adrine Monagi (PNG) in the 100m Hurdles.

If you did not see any of these events, just Google the IAAF YouTube Channel, and watch them at your leisure. It is a great way to keep in touch with out sport.

Until tomorrow – tusbah ala khair (good night and a good morning when you wake up).