For its third stage, the IAAF Grand Prix I travels to Doha, the capital of Qatar, where exactly one year ago major innovation occurred: for the first time ever women were aloud to participate, as athletes and spectators, in an athletics meeting.
This evolution in a tradition, which had seemed immutable, has rapidly led to other innovations: a few months ago on the occasion of the administrative elections, women allowed to stand for election.
The IAAF, who last year in Doha had organised a seminar – "Towards the Third Millennium – the Growing Role of Women in Sport and Society", to celebrate "The Year of Women in Athletics" –decided to recognise the Royal Family and the Qatar Athletic Federation’s involvement in favour of the sporting movement by giving the meeting of Doha Grand Prix I status.
The 1999 edition, which will take place on Thursday afternoon, will be an exciting competition, with more than 150 athletes representing 39 countries from all 5 continents.
All eyes will be on Frank Fredericks’ comeback in the 100 metres. The Namibian sprinter has already run very fast in Sydney, on 20 February, where he clocked a legal 9.94 (1,3m/s tailwind). Fredericks then decided to concentrate on the 200m, marking 19.92 on 25 February in Melbourne, conquering the world indoor crown in Maebashi, and finally recording a time of 19.87 into a headwind (-1.2), last weekend in Osaka. The 31 year-old sprinter seems to be in excellent shape, if we recall Fredericks’ conclusion to the 1998 season, in the World Cup in Johannesburg, where he walked away with gold for Africa in the 200m with 19.97.
Fredericks seems likely to improve on his previous best performances, which peaked in 1996 with a 9.86 clocking in the 100m 19.68 in the 200m. And this may happen in Doha, where he’ll face strong opposition from a quality field including Bruny Surin (CAN), Vincent Henderson (USA), Koji Ito (JPN) and Deji Aliu (NGR).
The men’s 800m will offer a great battle between Kenyans Patrick Ndururi, Robert Chirchir, David Kiptoo, Kennedy Kimwetich, South African Hezekiel Sepeng and American Mark Everett.
Mubarak Faraj Al-Nubi, competing on his home ground, will be the local favourite in the 400m hurdles, where he will face stars of the level of Samuel Matete (ZAM), Calvin Davis (USA) and Kevin Young. The world record holder is desperately trying to regain his 1992 form, when he clocked an incredible 46.78.
James Beckford (JAM), overall leader in the Grand Prix with 16 points, will be the man to beat in the long jump, where he will be competing against another Qatari, Abdul Rahman Al-Nubi, Mubarak’s brother. Finally, in the discus throw, German superstar Lars Riedel will make his first appearance of the season.
The women’s field of participants includes world class athletes like Susanthika Jayasinghe (SRI), who has clocked a personal best in the 100m (11.17) in Osaka. In Doha, Jayasinghe will compete in the 200m – distance at which she was second in the last IAAF World Championships, in Athens – with Jayasinghe’s strongest opposition coming from her compatriot Dmauanthi Darsha and Romanian Ionela Tirlea, the world indoor champion. Tirlea will then compete in the 400m hurdles against Olympic champion Deon Hemmings (JAM). The meeting will also schedule a world class high jump contest with Slovenian Britta Bilac, Russia’s Yelena Yelesina, Monica Iagar-Dinescu from Romania and reigning world champion Hanne Haugland, with all having performances better than 2m to their credit.