In The End, The Doha Worlds Ended Up Being Pretty Spectacular

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By Robert Johnson
October 9, 2019

The track and field display that was put on last week in Doha at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships was unbelievable. Five years ago, when Worlds were awarded to Doha, many wondered how Doha’s hot weather and the late date of the championships would impact the performances, and some were making dire predictions, particularly for the long distance events.

In actuality, nearly everything about Worlds — minus the crowds and the absurd heat for the women’s marathon — ended up being amazing. The air conditioning in the stadium was a big success as the performances in the long distance races were quite good. The men’s and women’s 10,000s were both fantastic, the men’s 5000 went sub-13:00, the women’s 1500, steeplechase, and 5000 were all won in championship record times, and the men’s steeplechase and 1500 were won with the second-fastest winning times in history.

In looking at just the finals of the 800 through 10,000, those races featured 57 personal bests, 18 more seasonal bests, 15 national records, four championship records, and four world leads. Every single mid-d or distance final on the track featured at least one athlete running a personal best and the women’s 5000 and 10k featured 11 personal bests each. So much for the Doha heat ruining the distance competition.

And while they couldn’t air-condition the marathons, they both ended up being won by very credentialed marathoners in Ruth Chepngetich, the third fastest woman in history, and Lelisa Desisa, a previous winner in New York and Boston.

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But the distance races were far from the only events where the performances were top-notch in Doha. Basically every single running event, male and female, had a great storyline and/or performance attached to it as shown below:

Men’s 100:
Christian Coleman arrives as the world’s fastest man, wins first world title.
Men’s 110h: 21-year-old Grant Holloway completes historic season, which saw him become first collegian to go sub-13, with a world title.
Men’s 200: Noah Lyles wins first world title.
Men’s 400: Pre-race favorite Michael Norman doesn’t even make the final as Steven Gardiner completes an undefeated season at 400 to win gold and give hope to his ravaged homeland (The Bahamas). He does so with a huge pb of 43.48 that makes him the 6th fastest man ever. Anthony Jose Zambrano of Colombia set a South American record in 2nd (44.15).
Men’s 400h: Are we really going to consider this a disappointment just because the WR didn’t fall? In one of the most anticipated races of the year, Karsten Warholm successfully defends title and remains undefeated on the year.
Men’s 800: American Donavan Brazier wins gold in championship and American record time.
Men’s 1500: Timothy Cheruiyot goes wire to wire to win in a race that very well may have been the first sub-3:30 clocking in history without a rabbit.
Men’s steeplechase: Conseslus Kipruto comes from behind to win the thrilling race by .01 at the line in the 2nd fastest winning time in history.
Men’s 5000: Jakob Ingebrigtsen goes for broke, ties up as Muktar Edris repeats in sub-13.
Men’s 10,000: Joshua Cheptegei becomes just 2nd guy to win World XC and track gold in same year as 6 guys break 27:00 and two national records fall.
Men’s 4 x 100:
The US men won it’s first 4 x 100 gold at a global championship since 2007 and they did so in style, running the 3rd-fastest time in history (37.10).
Men’s 4 x 400:
Not only did the US win, they did so in style with the best mark in 11 years (2:56.69) as Belgium won its first-ever medal in third (2:58.78).
Women’s 100: SAFP wins record 10th global title in 10.71 to cap off a historically great season during which she ran 10.75 or faster 4 times, giving her 10 lifetime 10.75s or faster, the most in history (Marion Jones had 8).
Women’s 100h: Mom Nia Ali went into Worlds not having run a PR in the 100 hurdles since 2013. She PR’d in both the semis (12.44) and final (12.34) to move into the top 10 all time (#9) to win gold.
Women’s 200: 23-year-old Brit Dina Asher-Smith wins Britain’s first global individual sprint title in 36 years in style with 21.88 British record.
Women’s 400: Salwa Eid Naser runs 48.14 (#3 all-time) to cap undefeated season at 400 and snap Shaunae Miller-Uibo’s 2+ year win-streak.
Women’s 400h: Dalilah Muhammad broke her 52.20 world record and won in 52.16 as Sydney McLaughlin also almost broke the WR by running 52.23 for silver.
Women’s 800: Ajee’ Wilson – the #1 favorite in all of the women’s running events – was upset and only got the bronze as Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi wins in the biggest upset of the women’s competition.
Women’s 1500: Sifan Hassan runs 3:51 CR from the front to complete unprecedented 10,000/1500 double in a race where 4 national records fell and 7 of the 12 runners ran a pb.
Women’s steeple: Beatrice Chepkoech wins in 8:57.84 championship record in a race where the top 4 women all ran a PB and three national records fell.
Women’s 5000: After disappointing in 10,000, Hellen Obiri successfully defends title with a championship record time of 14:26.72 in a race where 11 of the 15 finalists PR’d.
Women’s 10,000: Sifan Hassan starts her 10,000/1500 double by winning thanks to a 3:59 last 1500.
4 x 100: Running without Elaine Thompson, SAFP and Jamaica got another gold with the 6th best mark in history (41.44) as they were anchored by 400m bronze medallist Shericka Jackson.
4 x 400:
 The US won by nearly three seconds (3:18.92) as Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin got to run on the same team instead of against each other. It was McLaughlin’s first global gold.
4 x 400 Mixed Gender: Allyson Felix won her 12th world gold as the US set a WR of 3:09.34 in the first-ever mixed 4 x 400 at Worlds.

That list is pretty amazing. Seriously, which of those events listed events would you view as a dud? For me, the answer is none of them.

And while I’m not field event expert, even a non-expert can realize they were also pretty special. I won’t recap them all for you but the men’s high jump featured an ending worthy of a Disney movie and the men’s shot put and women’s pole vault competitions were the greatest in history. All told, here are my favorite 12 field events in Doha.

Women’s Heptathlon: Katarina Johnson-Thompson wins first world title with British record of 6981.
Women’s Pole Vault: Anzhelika Sidorova wins gold by moving to #3 all-time (4.95m) as best marks for places are recorded for 2-6.
Women’s Long Jump: Malaika Mihambo wins with a huge 14 cm pb of 7.30 – the 2nd longest jump recorded in the last 15 years.
Women’s Triple Jump: Yulimar Rojas won her second world title with a 15.37 – the 4th longest jump in history. Had it not been for a foul on another jump, she might have had the WR.
Women’s Hammer: DeAnna Price won gold, America’s first hammer medal of any color and America’s first gold in a women’s throwing event at Worlds.
Women’s Javelin: Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber went from 4th to 1st on her final throw.
Women’s HJ: Mariya Lasitskene 3-peated as the world junior record fell (2.04) and the top 3 all cleared two meters.
Men’s Decathlon: After the WR holder pulled out with injury, Germany’s Niklas Kaul went from 11th after the first day to 1st to become the youngest champ in history (21).
Men’s HJ: The hometown poster boy Mutaz Barshim delivered a performance that seemed more like a Disney movie than real life as he won gold to the delight of the packed stadium with a 2.37m clearance.
Men’s Pole Vault: Sam Kendricks used clutch third-attempt clearances at 5.87 and 5.97 to edge Armand Duplantis for gold as both cleared 5.97 (and Kendricks was clean at 5.92).
Men’s Long Jump: Jamaica’s Tajay Gayle stunned the world by winning gold with an 8.69 jump – the longest wind-legal jump in 10 years. He PR’d by 37 cm (that’s more than a foot – 14.5 inches) and that was after barely making the final. He made the final as the 10th of 10 qualifiers by just 3 cm (1.18 inches) when he jumped 7.89m on his final attempt in the preliminaries. In the final a day later, he jumped more than 2.5 feet farther.
Men’s Triple Jump: Christian Taylor’s 4th WC gold (and 6th global title outdoors) didn’t come without drama as he fouled his first two jumps.
Men’s Shot: The greatest shot competition in history — period. Ryan Crouser started the competition with a world championship record of 22.36 on the very first throw of the night. When the event was over, that was only tied for the 7th best throw in WC history. American Joe Kovacs went from 4th to 1st on the final throw to win with a 22.91 as the top 3 were separated by just 1 cm. It was the first competition with 4 throwers over 22m and produced 4 of 7 best throws in history.

The production of the event in Doha

The in-stadium light show that preceded most of the sprint finals was simply amazing and worth every penny the Qataris spent on it. It was better than anything we have seen in an indoor stadium.  Every pro sports league in the US should be contacting them and trying to emulate their light show.

The pre-race lights show was spectacular

Also, the television production of wWrlds finally regularly featured something fans have been begging for, seemingly forever — the split screen. As a result, we were able to follow the terrific men’s high jump final and the men’s steeplechase final at the same time. Watching the drama of the field events live makes them much more enjoyable.

The split screen finally seemed to be used with regularity

Also I must admit that while I privately mocked the IAAF when a few days before the meet got underway they released a press release bragging about their innovative new camera angles that they’d be employing, I ended up loving some of the camera views produced by the wire cameras on the back straight and the overhead camera on the finishing straight. I thought the camera work was superb (and for the record, I like the block cam).

The only real negative? And it was a big one — the crowds for the first half of the championship were embarrassingly bad. That being said, once tickets were made free, the crowds were pretty darn good for the final four days of the competition, with the lower bowl full or mostly full and the crowds pretty boisterous for certain events (they loved the high jump and distance events). Admittedly, it’s hard to overcome first impressions so while the New York Times was publishing on Saturday an article entitled “In Qatar, Track and Field’s Championships Limp To The Finish”, the reality is the World Championships were ending with a flourish.

Some of the final few nights featured loud crowds

Some of the final few nights featured loud crowds

Now that it’s all said and done, I know one thing. World Cup fans have little to fear for 2022. Anyone worried that heat is going to kill off the quality of play in 2022 clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about.  The 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships showed that the concept of an air-conditioned outdoor stadium works. Granted, using air conditioning to bring down the temperatures on the center of a soccer pitch has to be harder to do than bringing down the temps on the track, which is closer to the air vents. However, the crew reported that when they ran the media 800m race in Doha the “Feels-Like” temperature was 115°F (36°C), and they jogged across the middle of the infield and didn’t feel hot at all. They are firm believers in the air conditioning system. Throw in the fact that it’s going to be WAY cooler at the World Cup in 2022 than it was at the World Athletics Championships, and it’s clear that football fans have little to worry about. The World Cup final is going to be played on December 18 and the average high in December in Doha is just 76 degrees F (24.4 C) compared to 102 F (38.9) in September.

Soccer/football fans travel better than track fans, especially if the Qataris allow beer at the World Cup. But if they don’t travel well enough, the Qataris hopefully realize they need to give away tickets well in advance.

Don’t get me wrong, the World Athletics Championships should never have been held in Qatar given the corrupt bid process that occurred. Seb Coe may talk about having the championships in Doha to spread the sport around the globe, but the championships were mostly held in Qatar because of money. And I’ve got no problem with events going to the place that wants to pay the most, but that’s assuming that the money goes back to the sport, and in this case, at least $3.5 million dollars went to to the Diack family in the form of a bribe. As unfortunate as that may have been, the performances in Qatar were amazing, and the sport should consider having its World Championships at the end of the year every year.

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