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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Hurdle Race To Highlight Turbulent World Championships

Karsten Warholm looks to shock the world next week with a new 400H world record(Getty Images)

by Harry Cummins

     Amid sluggish ticket sales and excessive heat that threatens cancellation of the men's marathon, the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Athletics will open a spectacular 10-day run this week in Doha, Qatar.

     More than 1,800 athletes from 150 countries are expected to take part in these championships which will be held in the Middle East for the first time.  The marquee event could well be the men's 400m hurdles which will feature 3 of the fastest 4 men in recorded history, including defending world champion Karstan Warholm who has reeled off five consecutive victories at IAAF Diamond League meetings this year.

     The 23 year old Warholm raced to a European record 46.92 in the recent Diamond League final in Brussels to move into 2nd place all-time behind Kevin Young of the United States.

     In third place on the all-time world list is 22 year old U.S. athlete Rai Benjamin, who clocked a sensational 46.98 time in Brussels.  Benjamin's breakthrough calling-card came in 2018 as a USC Trojan when he ran an impressive 47.02 in the rain to capture the NCAA title at Eugene's Hayward Field.

     The third member of the select sub 47 second club is Qatari hero Abderrahman Samba whose 46.98 time in 2018 stamps him the sentimental favorite in front of his home town fans in Doha this week. Kevin Young didn't have company in the sub 47 second club until Samba's clocking last year.  Samba has battled injuries this season and his current racing form is in question since he has not competed since May 18.

     Slow ticket sales have caused event organizers to already cover the top section of the 40,000 seat Khalifa International Stadium to make the event look better on TV.  Reports say that local migrant workers and children will be bused in to prevent the stadium from appearing half empty. These are the same migrant workers, one presumes, who as construction workers on the Stadium site, complained to Amnesty International about having their pay withheld for months The boycott of Qatar by other gulf states have made it difficult, as well, for many fans in the region to attend the championships.

     The men's marathon race, already scheduled to start at midnight, is rumored to face last minute cancellation due to excessive heat.  In this age of global warming, if staged, the event could be on par with some of the hottest world-class distance events ever staged.  High temperatures next week in the Persian/Arabian Gulf are predicted to be in excess of 100 degrees, only dropping to the upper 80's at night with 80% humidity.

     Adding to the list of woes facing these world championships is the fact they are being held in late September to early October, long past the normal conclusion to the traditional track and field season.  Although the 10 day event will be live streamed in the U.S thru the NBC family of networks and the Olympic channel, it must also now compete for viewership with MLB baseball playoffs and NFL and college football.

    Despite all the troubles facing these World Championships, including the clouded bidding process itself to host the event, there will be great drama and stories that will surely emerge from track and field's biggest event.  None bigger than the men's 400 meter hurdle final set for next Monday, where the oldest world record in men's track (Kevin Young's mark of 46.78 from the 1992 Olympics) is still intact.  To this day, It may be the most under-publicized, under-celebrated mark in T & F.

     With a wandering eye also on Gerrit Cole's fastball next week in the MLB playoffs, I will be closely watching the 3-man assault on this hallowed mark. It will be contested in an air-conditioned stadium. It should not take much of your time!




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