Doha 2019: The Nine Things We Learned From 10 Great Days
A total of 143 medals were awarded, Four world records were broken or set, debut for midnight marathon and 4x400m mixed relays climaxed a 10-day World Athletics Championships in Doha.
From the issues with filling the stadium, fear of high temperatures to the impressive lights display ahead of the finals, tournament correspondent George Addo Jnr notes the nine striking things that will live long in the memory of fans, athletes and pundits who witnessed the action.
1. Increased Ghanaian interest
Typically known for following massive football content, Ghanaians showed some love for the competition and were keen on following the progress of its two 4x100m relay teams as well as the 100m qualifier Joseph Paul Amoah. Aside Ghanaians following posts on social media and asking how they could watch the action, the number of journalists and media houses covering the event also meant the impact made by the male relay team - winning gold at the African Games in Rabat - had pushed up interest. For the first time in over a decade, the Multimedia Group, Citi FM/Citi TV, EIB network and Ghana Television were represented at the event. It spoke volumes about what media managers consider to be newsworthy material and to put the money where their mouths are.
2. Qatar passed the Doha heat test with distinction
Heat and humidity in Qatar was the main talking point ahead of the competition, because indeed during September and early October the readings of the thermometer can be simply unbearable in the West Asian country. Many wondered how the athletes were going to cope. How to hold a championship on the edge of a desert was a problem solved with a state-of-the-art cooling system that kept conditions in the Khalifa Stadium at a near-ideal 26 degrees centigrade. There were little or no complaints from athletes at the warm-up area or, indeed, anywhere in the Khalifa International Stadium –although it was really hot and humid outside.
3. From poor crowds to large, vibrant numbers in days.
The start of the competition was marred by sparse crowds, and the viewing audience began to question the IAAF’s decision to hand the hosting rights of such a competition to Qatar. Indeed, the Khalifa International Stadium seats 45000, but after the first four days of the competition, the stadium had barely recorded an attendance of 15000.
The height of embarrassment was when the women's 100m final, won by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, was witnessed by less than 2000 fans in the stadium.
But Qatar reversed the situation in dramatic fashion, after a press conference by the IAAF to officially register their disappointment at the numbers. In the last four days, the vibe transformed, with huge numbers, averaging 30,000 and peaking on Day Eight, when 44,000 came through.
Organizers decided to make it free entry for the last few days. As a result, the stadium was filled. Schoolchildren arrived in big numbers for the final day while still in their uniforms and carrying backpacks. And in end, they were successful at changing the perception that the hosts couldn’t fill the stadia ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
4. Supermums in the spotlight
Another interesting takeaway was how returning mothers stole the show with their performances on the tracks, and displayed with their children in front of the cameras after winning medals. Those pictures will not go away for a long time: Allyson Felix, who became a mother last November, won the mixed relay gold, and now has 13 in all - two more than the record she shared with Usain Bolt coming into Doha. Felix underwent a caesarean section at 32 weeks on 28 November 2018 when her daughter’s heartbeat showed signs of distress.
Fraser-Pryce with her daughter
Fellow new mum Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica won two golds, too. Remember, Fraser-Pryce gave birth to her son, Zyon, the day after the conclusion of the 2017 World Championships. Her gold medal in the women’s 100m is her fourth in the event and eighth overall gold at the IAAF World Championships.
China’s Liu Hong picked up a gold in the race walk. Liu admitted she adjusted her training schedule since becoming a mother. After giving birth to her daughter Xixi in November 2017, she realized she’d have to change her routine to be able to tackle both motherhood and the world of elite sport. American Nia Ali, winner of the 100m hurdles here, added her name to the super mom list on the final day. Earlier this year, the 30-year-old Olympic silver medallist – who has a four-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter – went on record to say that she is no weaker for having had two children.
5. Multiple Records come crashing
Records came tumbling on the mono tracks, such that it was suddenly expected that after every three events on a night, announcers raised their voices because a record was set or broken. Four World records, seven championship records, 21 area records, and over 90 national records were set. Among the world records broken were American Dalilah Muhammad’s improved world record in the women’s 400m hurdles, in 52.16.
The US women's 4x400m relay team blitzed the field with a 3:18.92 world-leading performance. Their male counterparts regained the world title with the fastest time for 11 years in a world-leading time of 2:56.69.
Aside the records, the new stars rightfully took their place. USA’s Noah Lyles became the youngest ever winner of the men’s 200m at the World Championships, with a 19.83 run.
22-year-old American, Donavan Brazier broke the championship records to win the 800m in 1:42.34 and Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi produced the performance of her life to pass the pre-race favourites on the home straight, winning in 1:58.04. Tajay Gayle’s victory in the men’s long jump was another as he jumped 8.69m to win gold. Ethiopia’s 5000m silver medallist Selemon Barega and Ukraine’s high jump runner-up Yaroslava Mahuchikh became the first athletes born this century to win senior global medals.
6. Africa Delight
There was a big statement made by Africa at the championships this year. Kenya finished second on the championship medal table, taking home 11, including five golds.
Second-placed Kenya's Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi (left) celebrates with winner Kenya's Hellen Obiri after the Women's 5000m final
Ethiopian fans inside the stadium were also provided various opportunities to cheer for their compatriots as the country finished fifth with eight medals. There was also joy for Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, all of those featured on the final medals table. In addition to the festive atmosphere inside the stadium, stalls sharing African culture outside witnessed traditional music and dances, especially for those who were unable to get in.
7. Doping controversies
Even before the start of the competition, there were serious concerns for some athletes over doping Issues. Michael Kibet and Daniel Simiyu, who finished first and second in the 5,000m at the Kenyan trials were barred from competing in Doha for failing to meet the AIU's anti-doping rule requirements.
Sprint king Christian Coleman run time of 9.76s to win gold but had to deal with multiple questions on doping, because he had found himself at the center of controversy over the news that he had missed three drug tests due to "whereabouts" failures in the past 12 months.
Dutch double-World champion Sifan Hassan repeated that she was a clean athlete after winning the world 1,500m title because days before that event her American coach Alberto Salazar was banned for four years for breaking anti-doping rules.
8. Doha lights show
There were plenty of pyrotechnics from performers on the track over the last 10 days, but those unleashed before the championships’ ‘showcase events’ attracted almost as many gasps from the crowd and almost as much comment.
For some, the razzmatazz of laser beams and light projections signalled the way to the sport’s future, while for others – including some of the most experienced athletes – all those flashing lights and music pushed tension buttons, and many top athletes admitted they had to calm their nerves before the proper start.
The light shows were grand ahead of the most anticipated finals like the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and the relay events.
9. Night-time road races
No events finished later (or earlier) than the road races, of course, as Doha witnessed the first ever night-time World Championship marathons and race walks, the first to start and finish on different days – presenting a few body-clock challenges for the athletes.
For women’s marathon champion Ruth Chepngetich, the key was to train in the midst of a Kenyan afternoon, and Japan’s Yusuke Suzuki also took it in his stride as he walked away from his rivals at the start of the men’s 50km event and never looked back.
Overall, Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to host the international sporting event, have set the tone for many more competitions to come in the region. Up next for Qatar is the World Beach Games, but many here are looking forward to the Fifa Confederations Cup a year before the 2022 FIFA World Cup.