World Athletics Championships not a “disaster”

The World Athletics Championships faced a vast amount of criticism this year. There was much discussion about the lack of fans at the event, especially when Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took her 100m victory lap in front of a virtually empty crowd on the first Sunday. However, the championships were not a total “disaster” as decathlon record-holder Kevin Mayer claimed.

There were many history-making moments that made this event one to remember for me as a spectator. Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith put on a phenomenal display as she not only won three medals, but became the seventh British woman ever to win a gold medal at a global championships and she broke the British record in the 100m and 200m. Asher-Smith’s compatriot, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, also made a huge statement following setbacks in previous World Championships, as she claimed her first global gold medal in the heptathlon and also set a British record.

Meanwhile, Allyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made impressive comebacks from maternity to win gold medals in their respective races. Both added to their already incredible legacy, as Fraser-Pryce secured a record fourth World Championships gold in the 100m and Felix surpassed Usain Bolt’s record for the most gold medals won at a World Championships.

For the first time in a decade, three world records were set and six championship records were broken in Doha. So, in spite of the fact that the championships were hosted quite late in the season, many athletes were still able to bring their best to the big stage and this made for entertaining viewing.

While the championships were filled with remarkable performances, there were disappointments for some of the big stars of track and field. Double Olympic champion, Elaine Thompson, entered the championships with an Achilles injury and failed to win a medal in both the 100m and 200m. Defending 200m champion, Dafne Schippers, withdrew from the women’s 200m final because of an injury. Olympic champion, Nafissatou Thiem, too faced fitness concerns and had to settle for sliver in the heptathlon. This sparks the question: How will these athletes respond and recover for the Olympics next year?

As well as poor attendance being a major problem of the event, Doha also faced backlash due to a disastrous 10,000 women’s marathon on the second day of the championships. Nearly half of the women dropped out of the race because of extreme heat, and this was despite chairman of the IAAF, Sebastian Coe, saying that extra caution would be taken to protect the health and safety of the athletes.

This catastrophe may have created a negative atmosphere early on, but as the championships progressed, we saw the breakthrough of some relatively new faces to add to the historic moments. Grenada’s Anderson Peters, 21, shocked the world to win the javelin. Peter’s finished 20th at the  World Championships in 2017, but he scored big to give Grenada their second ever World Championships gold medal. Uganda’s Halima Nakaayi caused an upset by defeating favourite Ajee Wilson to win the 800m. There was delight for the home crowd when Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim became champion in the high jump.  

On the final night at Doha, commentator Michael Johnson slammed the choice to bring the championships to Doha. He said: “I think that the decision to bring the championships here, there were far more negatives than there were positives. I think that it was a mistake and I think most of the fans and athletes say the same thing.”

Former long-distance runner, Haile Gebrselassie coincided with this view. He said: “It was a mistake to conduct the championships in such hot weather in Doha.”

Regardless of Johnson’s and Gebrselassie’s view, there is no question in my mind that the athlete’s performances saved this competition. Heading into the event, there was debate around who would replace Usain Bolt as the face of the sport and there now appears to be many contenders.

Sebastian Coe was pleased with how this year’s championships turned out. He said: “The world’s athletes have put on the best show in the history of the IAAF World Athletics Championships. Just look at the depth and breadth – 43 countries on the medals table and 86 national records set.” Although one would expect Coe to back the event as chairman of the IAAF, Doha produced not only plenty of notable moments, but several questions which will generate enough interest for the Olympics.

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