Shocks were the order of the day at the DKB-ISTAF Berlin - ÅF Golden League - meeting on Sunday 1 June 2008, and none greater than the upset in the Discus Throw where the unsung Iranian Ehsan Hadadi muscled aside the Olympic and World champions, Virgilijus Alekna (LTU) and Gerd Kanter (EST).
The surprise result set the tenor for the afternoon as favourite after favourite was toppled in the opening meeting of the ÅF Golden League in Berlin’s Olympic stadium.
But Hadadi’s performance could be more long reaching in Olympic year as he opened up the battle for Olympic gold that until now was assumed to lie between defending champion Alekna and Kanter.
Surprise it may have been, but Hadadi has been inexorably creeping up on the big two this year. Only the previous week, in Hengelo, he had broken his own Asian record with 68.52, downing Kanter and Alekna (in that order) there too. So to repeat the dosage in Berlin with yet another Asian record of 69.12m is beginning to look like a trend rather than a flash in the pan.
Then on Tuesday in Tallinn 3 June, in his final competition before heading for two months of training camps in Belarussia and Portugal in preparation for Beijing, Hadidi did it again, improving the Asian record for the third time in ten day to 69.32m! Kanter was second this time, but a metre and a half down on the young challenger.
World Junior champion
It was in Grossetto 2004 that, as a 19-year-old, Hadadi made history when he became the first Iranian to win an athletics World title of any kind when he collected World Junior gold.
In a country which excels in traditional Olympic sports like wrestling and weightlifting, it was like a gift from the Gods that Iran should have a World champion in one of the quintessential classical events, the Discus.
A stone the first cast of what’s set to be a distinguished career
Born and raised in the Iranian capital, Tehran, Hadadi’s father was a football player in his youth and now owns a sports shop while his mother is a teacher. The eldest of three siblings, Hadadi came to the sport at the age of 16 when, according to what is already legend in his own country, he threw a rock through a window.
Hadadi was originally coached by Seyed Mohsen Shahrokhi, a former javelin thrower, who moved from Khoramabad to the national sports centre in Tehran. But already in 2004 Hadadi was also travelling to Minsk to improve his discus throwing.
Now he is coached by 76-year-old Russian Kim Buhhantsev and he has already spent enough time in Minsk to become a fluent Russian speaker. Hadadi started training in Minsk a year before he lifted the World Junior title, often spending three-month stints there before returning to Teheran for a few days and then making the return journey for a further tour of three months.
A different plateau of form in 2008
Hadadi has all the requisites for a discus thrower. An imposing 1.93m tall and a comparatively slim line (125kg) he is very strong as a half-squat 400kg and 245kg bench press proves. An engaging personality he has been quick to gain admirers amongst his fellow competitors.
After Grossetto,Hadadi went on to lift the Asian title in 2005 before finishing second to Alekna in the 2006 World Cup held in the Athens Olympic stadium.
In the Osaka World championships, he finished seventh in 64.53, but this year has seen him move to a different plateau. Either of his wins in Berlin or Tallinn would have been good enough to give him gold in Osaka and if he could reproduce that form in Beijing it would take something special to dislodge him. Alekna and Kanter have got company.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF