Throwers took centre stage as the 23rd edition of the Asian Athletics Championships got underway in Doha on Sunday (21).
Gong Lijiao and Lyu Huihui of China and Iran’s Ehsan Hadadi admirably lived up to their roles as favourites in the shot put, javelin and discus throw, respectively, as they scouted the facilities in the Qatari capital five months before Khalifa Stadium will host the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
Hadadi, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist, controlled the competition from the opening round and, with victory secured as he entered the ring for the competition's final throw, the 34-year-old gentle giant released a 65.95m championships record to collect his sixth continental title.
"I'm not so young anymore, so I'm taking it step by step," said Hadadi, whose early-season 67.19m effort in Chula Vista, California, ten days ago has him sitting third on the world season's list. "I'm still waiting on who will succeed me in Asia."
His compatriot Behnam Shrijabilou came closest, hitting 60.89m in round two. Still, each of Hadidi's five measured throws sailed further, underscoring his Asian dominance.
Meanwhile, reigning world champion and Diamond League winner Gong Lijiao was equally dominant. Her opening round 18.52m effort was enough to secure her first continental title - and her 17th straight victory - but that was just a rust-buster for the 30-year-old Chinese. She reached 19.18m in the second round to blast the competition out of reach, and backed that up with further throws of 19.13m and 19.00m.
Well back, Noora Jasim was second at 18.00m, a national record for Bahrain, with Gong’s teammate, Song Jiayuan, taking bronze with 17.70m.
Lyu captured the first title of these championships, and it didn’t take her long. The 29-year-old warmed up with a 64.92m effort in the opening round, adding nearly two metres to the previous championships record to effectively secure her first continental crown. She put it well out of reach in the second round, reaching 65.83m.
“I changed a basic element of my technique in my final step - trying not to rush and be as smooth as possible before releasing the javelin,” said Lyu, who extended her own Asian record by three centimetres to 67.72m nine days ago.
Annu Rani of India, the bronze medallist at these championships two years ago, moved up a step tonight, courtesy of a 60.22m throw, also from the first round.
No one else breached the 60-metre line. Natta Nachan came closest, reaching 56.01m in the fourth round to finish third with Thailand’s first medal of the championships.
Naser on cruise control
Salwa Naser was another emphatic winner, returning to the track exactly ten hours after her opening round heat to dominate the final in 51.34.
Running in lane four, the 20-year-old world silver medallist built a clear lead just 40 metres into the race and extended it with every stride until she began to ease up over the final 20 metres. She still finished nearly two seconds clear of Elina Mikhina of Kazakhstan (53.19) and Poovamma Raju Machettira (53.21).
India’s Hima Das, the 2018 world U20 champion, pulled up midway through her first round heat, hobbled by a back problem. The extent of her ailment doesn’t appear to be serious enough to rule her out of the 4x400m relays later this week.
Naser’s was the first of four titles Bahrain captured on the opening day of these championships.
Winfred Mutile Yavi led a 1-2 for tiny Gulf state in the women’s 5000m, breaking away for good from teammate Bontu Rebitu with just under 600 metres to go en route to her 15:28.87 victory. It was a personal best for the 19-year-old, a finalist in the 3000m steeplechase at the 2017 World Championships who then took the continental title in the event the following year. She’ll return to action in her specialty on Tuesday (23).
Nozomi Tanaka of Japan, whose aggressive front-running tactics reaped a gold dividend over 3000m at the World U20 Championships last July, once again took the lead early on, but it lasted just over seven minutes when she was passed first by Rebitu and then Yavi. She gradually drifted back further, eventually crossing the line a distant eighth.
India’s Sanjivani Baburao Jadhav hung on with the leaders for a few more laps, but she too was dropped with just over three laps to go. That made way for teammate Parul Chaudhary’s rally in the waning stages to take the bronze in 15:36.03, more than six seconds behind Rebitu, who clocked 15:29.60.
Dawit Fikadu led another 1-2 for Bahrain in the evening-capping men’s 10,000m, taking the crown in 28:26.30, exactly five seconds ahead of teammate Hassan Chani. It was the first international laurel for the 23-year-old who led for most the race’s second half.
Earlier, John Kibet Koech collected another title for Bahrain with his convincing victory in the 3000m steeplechase, leading for much of the race before crossing the line in 8:25.87, an early season world lead.
Behind him Indian record holder Avinash Mukund Sable turned in a spirited late race charge, passing Japan’s Kazuya Shiojiri as the pair approached the final barrier. With his first international medal in hand, the 24-year-old let out a roar and punched the sky as he crossed the line.
That sky above Khalifa Stadium, and the conditions in general, were not only unseasonably cool - chilly even - thanks to the stadium’s state-of-the-art air-cooling system. The crowd attending the opening night of the test event for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 was even treated to a rare if brief rain midway through the evening session.
Elsewhere on the infield, Ernest John Obiena had a good night in the pole vault, first equalling then breaking his own Philippines national record to collect his first major title in the evening's closest competition.
The 23-year-old worked hard for it too, topping 5.56m and 5.61m with his third tries, but still trailing China's Zhang Wei and Huang Bokai who sailed clear at 5.66m on their first attempts. After missing on his first go, Obeini topped 5.71m on his first try, a lifetime best by five centimetres. It was a bar too high for the Chinese pair, who were forced to settle for silver and bronze after bowing out at 5.71m.
Twelve titles will be decided on day two which will be capped by the finals in the men's and women's 100m.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF