The 2019 World Athletics Championships was, unfortunately for the athletes, dominated by a number of controversies involving the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) decision to make Doha the host city. However, despite, difficult conditions, there were some brilliant performances on display, including Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
The major talking point of the championship concerned the low attendances in the stadium. In the first eight days of the competition at the Khalifa International Stadium – which holds 48,000 at full capacity – there was an average of only 20,000 in attendance. It was very discouraging to see athletes performing at the highest level in front of, at times, less that 10,000 people. The day of the women’s 100m final, saw only 7,266 people in attendance.
To make matters worse the IAAF announced that they purchased many of the tickets and distributed them to “embassies, employees, schools and higher education”. This was clearly an act of damage control by the organisers to combat the low interest from those in Doha.
The excessive heat, which is unsuprising for Qatar, added to the problems for the organisers.
Both the men and women’s marathon races were affected by the heat, even though the races were ran in the early hours of the morning when the temperature was at its lowest. The women’s marathon saw almost half the competitors unable to make it to the finish line, with some collapsing due to the sweltering heat. Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich was the eventual winner, though her time was the slowest winning time in the history of the championship.
Lord Coe, president of the IAAF and key orchestrator in the London Olympics, defended the event: “It is pretty clear to us on athlete performance this is the best World Championships we have ever had.”
Controversies aside, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for those watching back home.
Dina Asher-Smith was the standout performer for British team after becoming the first Brit to win three medals at a major global championships.
Asher-Smith’s first target was the 100m, which saw her sail through the rounds to grab a place in the final. Her time of 10.88 in the final – a British record – got her the silver medal. This was the first world sprint medal for Britain in 36 years. Despite putting in a record-breaking performance, it was not enough to pose a threat to Jamaica’s Shelley-Ann Fraser-Price, who posted a scintillating time of 10.71 to take home the gold and her eighth world title.
The Brit managed to go one better in the 200m final, however, cruising home in a time of 21.88 – another British record – to become world champion. Second-placed Brittany Brown could not challenge Asher-Smith with her time of 22.22, neither Mijinga Kambundji with her time of 22.51. Following the event Asher-Smith couldn’t contain her joy, saying: “I’m lost for words. I dreamed of this and now it’s real. I don’t think it’s properly sunk in.”
While being ranked number one in the world this year, Asher-Smith will face stiff competition at the Tokyo Olympics next year. Notable absences from this race include Barbadian Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Jamaican duo, Elaine Thompson and Shelley-Ann Fraser-Price, who will, alonside Asher-Smith, also be on the hunt for the Olympic title in Tokyo.
Following Dina Asher-Smith’s success, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, another big hope for the Tokyo Olympics, gave an impressive performance to take home the gold in the women’s heptathlon. After personal best scores in four of the seven events – 100m hurdles, high jump, shot-put, and, the final event, 800m – KJT performed at her best when it mattered the most. Her points total of 6981 overtakes Jessica Ennis-Hill’s previous British record and, despite falling just shy of the coveted 7000, is the 6th highest total in the history of the event.
KJT managed to beat her rival, and the favourite for the gold, Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam, who came into the event as the reigning world and Olympic champion. Thiam finished the competition in second despite, most likely due to an elbow injury she was carrying, struggling in some of her favoured events.
KJT has suffered some major, and high profile, disappointments at the previous two world championships but the liverpudlian has finally managed to put together a complete programme on the world stage.
Britain’s medal haul was completed with two silver medals in the men and women’s 4×100 relay, giving Asher-Smith her third medal of the championships and sealed her place, if it was ever in doubt, as one of the all-time greats in British sprinting.
Despite this strong showing, however, this was still the lowest medal total for Britain at the World Championships in 14 years. The disappointment for both the men and women’s 4x400m relay teams, typically a strong event for both, meant that Britain fell short of their total from the last world championships (6).
While they were not in the thick of things challenging for medals, the mens 4x400m relay team faced further disappointment in their race as the baton was bungled on the final leg. In the women’s race, following the disqualification of the Jamaican team, the British women initially had grabbed the bronze medal. However, a successful appeal from the Jamaican’s saw the Brits drop down into fourth.
There were other close calls for the British team as Holly Bradshaw (pole vault), Callum Hawkins (marathon), and Adam Gemili (200m), also finished in fourth.
So, despite an undwhelming medal tally, there is still plenty to look forward to for British team at the Olympics next year.
Elsewhere in the championships there were some standout performances from the rest of the world. Allyson Felix broke Usain Bolt’s record of the most World Championship gold medals (12), winning two gold medals, bringing her total to thirteen, in the mixed and women’s 4x400m relays. Felix was competeing just eleven months after giving birth.
Other impressive performances came from Dalilah Muhammed (USA) who set another world record in the 400m hurdles; Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) who completed an unprecedented 10,000m and 1500m double win; and Timothy Cheruiyot’s (Kenya) commanding win in the men’s 1500m.
The 2019 Athletics World Championships proved to be controversial but the athletes didn’t let these circumstances put a damper on their performances.
Let’s hope Tokyo can put on an event that matches the talent of these athletes.