After a day when most coverage, chatter and even athlete interviews focussed on the large swathes of empty seats at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha on September 30, order was restored. It may have taken a few hours and a fair few events before the stands filled up, but by the time of the men’s 5000m final, there was a punch in the air, helped no doubt by the large Ethiopian fan base, for whom a trip to a Gulf country was easier than to Europe.
Those few thousand — who sounded like and cheered like they were at Old Trafford thousands of miles away — were duly rewarded, as their countrymen Mukhtar Edris and Selemin Barega completed an unexpected front two lockout in the event. The surprise was Edris, who has finished 11th and 18th in his two Diamond League races this year, and had come into the event with question marks over his form and his selection on the team.
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But Edris’ surprise victory was far from the only eyebrow raiser of the day. A lot of field athletes — particularly in the throw events — have struggled in Doha over the past few days. The travails of a long season, combined with Doha’s fatigue inducing climate has meant the throw events have seen winners and qualifiers registering marks that would otherwise be passed with ease.
Say that to India’s Annu Rani. The javelin thrower broke her own national record with her second throw, to earn herself a spot in the finals on October 1 — the first Indian woman to do so in the event. With Neeraj Chopra — a key highlight in modern Indian athletics — giving the Championships a miss, the country’s interest in the javelin may have been waning, but Rani in the finals provides a new hope.
Her record throw of 62.43m bettered her own mark of 62.34m from earlier this year, but what makes Rani’s throw even more worthy of acclaim is that she found her best when all around her, the competitors were finding her worst.
In the women’s javelin, the official qualifying mark of 63.50m was only breached by two women, neither of them in Rani’s group. It was an underwhelming qualifier, where even the reigning Olympic champion, Sara Kolak, managed a best throw of 60.99m. Surprisingly — and unsurprisingly considering the lack of real quality — only four women bettered Rani’s mark on the day. It may require another National record attempt and another wilting of her competitors, but for Rani, the finals is a golden opportunity to put her name in the history books.
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Qatar as a choice of venue has, over the past days, provoked harsh criticism from athletes — most notably decathlon world record holder Kevin Mayer — because of harsh weather conditions and the heat that has caused much consternation among endurance athletes competing in events outside the air conditioned stadium. But, for the ten minutes that Kenza Sosse was on track at the Khalifa International Stadium on Monday, the IAAF’s view that athletics needed to breach new boundaries and expand, was justified.
Sosse became the first Qatari woman athlete to participate in an event in the World Championships’ long and proud history. She took to the track in the 400m, in a heat that was dominated by the reigning Olympic champion and favourite Shaunae Miller Uibo from start to finish.
Sosse’s timing may not have inspired much awe, seeing as it was the kind of mark college athletes in India could knock off with ease. The inspiration was in the applause and the cheer she got as she finished her lap, before racking up the congratulations from her competitors. “I was terrified,” the 19-year-old later said, “I’m used to giving presentations to 20 people in school, and now running in front of a thousand….”
It was perhaps even more. And, with the competition heating up and several finals slated for October 2, it won’t be a surprise to see Doha embrace the event the way everyone had projected. In the meanwhile, for Annu Rani, history beckons. It may be a long shot, but in the javelin, that’s all it takes.
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