“It’s my last race of the season so I’m going to do something big.”
By now we’ve learned not to doubt Abderrahman Samba, who has taken the world of one-lap hurdling by storm this year, and as the laid-back Qatari sits relaxing under the Czech sun, one day out from the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018, only a fool would question his intent.
Samba turned 23 earlier this week and when he settles into his blocks for the 400m hurdles tomorrow afternoon, taking on world champion Karsten Warholm and IAAF Diamond League winner Kyron McMaster, he’s intent on giving himself a belated birthday gift.
“I want to celebrate it tomorrow,” he said. “I always think about something big in races and I want to give myself a big present here.”
Samba has been unbeaten this season in eight finals, dipping below 48 seconds in every one of them, most recently at the Asian Games in Jakarta where he clocked 47.66 to take gold. He hopes that hot streak has one last flicker in it tomorrow when he toes the line in front of a sold-out stadium in Ostrava.
“Everything until now has been perfect, this will be my last race and I hope it will be great.”
To earn maximum points for the Asia-Pacific team, however, he will have to overcome McMaster and Warholm, but Samba plans to use their presence to push him to new heights.
“For sure, when you have strong athletes running together it will always be a good result,” he said.
It will be Samba’s first time competing at the IAAF Continental Cup, and with new innovations for this year’s event he’s excited to see how it plays out, one of the latest being to allow each team captain select one male and female joker who will earn double points for their team. Might that be Samba?
“Who do you think will be a good joker?” he responds, with a laugh and a knowing nod. “I don’t know who the captain is going to choose but I hope they choose me.”
While Samba arrives off a sizzling run of success, his fellow team representative with Asia-Pacific is in the dark about her form. That’s because Dani Stevens has not competed since May, the Australian taking flight back home early in the European summer to rehab a long-running wrist problem.
The 30-year-old had taken gold at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast with a huge throw of 68.26m, but after the Doha Diamond League meeting in May she decided to go back to the drawing board in a bid to be fully healthy for this weekend.
“I had surgical consultations but if I wanted to keep throwing, that wasn’t really an option because the success rate of that surgery is not that great. So I’ve had to rehab, get it stronger and get a lot of splints made to protect my hand.”
In Ostrava she will take on world champion Sandra Perkovic, who will lead the European team, and Yaime Perez, who will lead the challenge from the Americas.
“I’m going to go out there, take them on and see what happens,” said Stevens. “I’ve got the strength back and I’m able to do things I haven’t been able to for the last two years so it’s going in the right direction.”
The format of the discus will be a step into the unknown for Stevens, with the event divided into three phases. The first phase, qualification, will see all eight athletes have three attempts after which they are ranked, with the highest ranked from each team proceeding to round four, the semi-final, where the two athletes with the longest throws in this specific round proceed to the final.
In the deciding round, the athlete with the longest throw will take maximum points for their team, with countback to round four used to decide a winner in the event of both fouling, though the individual prize money will be awarded using typical IAAF competition rules to the athletes with the biggest throws across the entire competition.
“It’s an interesting new concept so my goal is obviously to make it to the fifth round to get as many points for Asia-Pacific as possible,” said Stevens. “I haven’t competed in such a long while that I don’t know what to expect. My hope is to throw something pretty decent.”
If Samba or Stevens need any extra advice, they’ll have the perfect person to turn to in Asia-Pacific Team Captain Jana Pittman, a two-time world champion at the 400m hurdles.
“I love our sport and I’ve been involved in it since I was very, very small so to be on the other side of the fence and motivating my team is such an honour,” said Pittman. “I love the innovation these guys have come up with and I think it’s going to get more fans to engage with the sport.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF