This was the night it all came gloriously together at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
Home hope Mutaz Essa Barshim retained his high jump title amid thunderous acclaim from a full stadium, Conseslus Kipruto retained his 3000m steeplechase title in a stupendous finish – and Dalilah Muhammad improved her world record in the women’s 400m hurdles, holding off US rival Sydney McLaughlin in 52.16.
Barshim was the poster boy for these championships as soon as they were fixed on Doha, but ruptured ankle ligaments ruined his competition last year and the man who stands second on the world all-time list with 2.43m had arrived for the big home event having competed only three times this year, with a best clearance of 2.27m.
With two authorised neutral athletes, Mikhail Akimenko and Ivan Ilyuk, and Maksim Nedasekau of Belarus accompanying his soaring and seamless progress through the heights, Barshim hit a pinch point at 2.33m, which he cleared –to ear-buzzing general approval – at his third and final attempt before making 2.35m at his first attempt.
Akimenko and Ilyuk responded with their own first-time clearances at 2.35m to send the competition spiralling up to 2.37m – which Barshim cleared first time again.
Form is temporary; class is permanent. Qatar had a gold to add to their earlier bronze through 400m hurdler Abderrahman Samba.
With that effort the gold was retained. Neither of his opponents looked remotely like matching him, and Akimenko took silver on countback, with Nedasekau finishing fourth with 2.33m.
Muhammad had no option but to set a world record if she wanted to withstand the driving finish of her 20-year-old US rival.
The latter was rewarded with silver in 52.23 – just three hundredths of a second off Muhammad’s original record – after a performance that hinted at riches to come in future years.
“This means so much”, said Muhammad, the 29-year-old Olympic champion who, at the US Championships in Des Moines, bettered the 2003 world record of 52.34 set by Russia’s Yulia Pechonkina, recording a time of 52.20.
Like Barshim, Kenya’s Olympic and defending steeplechase champion Kipruto was returning after serious injury – in his case one which had delayed his season’s debut until the end of August, when he had finished fifth at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris.
The small combative figure of Kipruto had already shown his spirit was undiminished in qualifying for the final, taking time during his race to tell off an Ethiopian rival for bumping him, and a Kenyan rival for doing whatever it was he knew he shouldn’t be doing...
At the end of a pulverising final lap, Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali had settled for bronze, which he duly collected in a season’s best of 8:03.76, and the gold was destined either for Ethiopia’s leader down the straight, Lamecha Girma, or the little figure dogging his steps.
As he staggered on landing after the final barrier, it seemed that Kipruto had taken on too much this time. But he stirred himself for one more desperate drive, and while he appeared to cross the line exactly level with the Ethiopian, one somehow knew that he would have the edge.
He did – champion by one hundredth of a second in 8:01.35 – the fastest time run this year.
In a men’s 400m final rendered intriguingly open by the power failure suffered in the semi-finals by event favourite Michael Norman, Steven Gardiner came home to claim gold emphatically in a Bahamian record of 43.48 ahead of Colombia’s fast-finishing Anthony Zambrano, who earned silver in a South American record of 44.15.
Fred Kerley, winner of the US trials ahead of Norman, slipped from silver to bronze in the final metres, clocking 44.17.
In the women’s discus final there was an expected triumph for the Cuban who has ruled the circle this season, Yaime Perez. The Diamond League champion, who tops this year’s standings with 69.39m, responded in champion fashion after her compatriot Denia Caballero had seized the lead off her with a fourth-round effort of 68.44m.
Next round – 69.17m. Boom. Job done.
In the rounds…
Earlier in the evening Poland’s wily European indoor champion Marcin Lewandowski had found the way to negotiate heavy traffic and become the fastest qualifier for tomorrow’s men’s 1500m final in 3:36.50, with Kenya’s Ronald Kwemoi and Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen keeping him close company in 3:36.53 and 3:36.58 respectively.
Kenya’s world silver medallist Timothy Cheruiyot had won the opening semi-final in a marginally faster version of 3:36.53. In a tight round, just 0.35 separated the 12 qualifiers to the final.
Britain’s men opened the defence of their 4x100m title in commanding fashion as their quartet of Adam Gemili, Zharnel Hughes, Richard Kilty and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake won the opening heat in 37.56, the fastest time in the world since their gold medal in London in 2017, from Brazil, who equalled the South American record of 37.90, and the United States, who had individual champion Christian Coleman on lead-off and recorded a season’s best of 38.03.
Italy, anchored by 100m finalist Filippo Tortu, was fourth in a national record of 38.11.
There were outstanding performances in the second heat too as South Africa, anchored by Akane Simbine, won in an African record of 37.65, with Japan second in a season’s best of 37.78, and China third in a national record of 37.79. Tomorrow’s final promises to be scintillating…
Britain also qualified for tomorrow’s women’s 4x100m final despite giving a rest to their 100m silver medallist and 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith, with Daryll Neita anchoring them home to a season’s best of 42.25 behind Jamaica, with 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce running the second leg, who clocked the fastest qualifying time of 42.12.
The United States won the opening heat in 42.46. Italy qualified by time in a national record of 42.90.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF