Valiantly living up to expectations, hometown hero Abderrahman Samba blazed to a dominant 400m hurdles victory to highlight the second day of action at the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha on Monday (22).
After pushing through a wind that swirled along the opening turn, the 23-year-old ran hard for the first half, speeding to a narrow but clear lead by the second hurdle. He forged on, making up the stagger on the four runners to his outside midway through the final turn before confidently striding across the line in 47.51, easily the fastest in the world this year in his eagerly anticipated debut.
The 2018 IAAF Diamond League champion arrived in solid form. Thirteen days ago he sped to a 44.60 career best in the 400m flat, suggesting another sub-48 season opener was clearly on the horizon. He implied as much in interviews in recent days, but said his main focus was simply to run relaxed. If he was struggling at Khalifa Stadium tonight, he hid it well.
With everyone already in his wake, he switched from 13 strides to 14 after the seventh hurdle, but said he was pleased with his race rhythm. It was the sixth fastest performance of his career, but no one else has ever run so fast this early in the season.
Lofty 2019 aspirations
I’m so happy about that,” he said, but didn’t seem especially impressed by that statistical tidbit. “It’s fast, but I’m thinking about something much faster than this. But yes, it’s a great start.”
How much faster? A full second, he said, just like last season.
"Last year I started with 47.9 and finished with 46.9. This season I started with 47.5 so I want to end with 46.5."
Such aspirations by the second fastest hurdler of all time - he lowered the Asian record all the way to 46.98 last year - would land him well under Kevin Young’s 46.78 world record set at the 1992 Olympics, more than three years before he was born.
Really, a full second? He smiled, then laughed. “Sure, why not?"
Samba won here by more than a second but did drag four of the next five finishers to lifetime bests.
Chen Chieh of Chinese Taipei took silver in 48.92 for his first foray into sub-49 territory and Indian Jabir Madari Plliyalil the bronze in 49.13, an improvement of 0.40 for the 22-year-old who repeated his position from these championships two years ago.
Eighteen-year-old Qatari Bassem Hemeida, the 2018 World U20 Championships silver medallist who trains with Samba, was next in 49.45, clipping 0.14 from his previous best. The pair will head to Japan next week to prepare for next month’s IAAF World Relays Yokohama 2019.
Abdalla powers to impressive 800m title
There were more home team heroics in the men’s 800m, where a podium sweep was in the making for more than three-quarters of the race.
Abubaker Haydar Abdalla, the bronze medallist at the Asian Games last year, was the most aggressive of the trio, bringing the pack through the first half in 51.09, with teammates Jamal Hairane and Abdirahman Saeed in tow.
But as Abdalla powered on to an impressive 1:44.33 win, his compatriots began to fold badly as they entered the final straight. Hassan was the first to wilt, then Hairane followed suit, leaving an opening for the chase pack. Ebrahim Alzofairi of Kuwait was in best position and took full advantage, passing both to take silver in 1:46.88. Hairane managed to hold on long enough to take the bronze.
“I ran hard gun to tape,” said Abdalla, whose performance was a personal best and another world lead.
Another Kuwaiti, Yousef Karam, did his compatriot one better with a memorable victory in the 400m about 45 minutes earlier.
Arriving in Doha with a 45.63 personal best from last year, the 25-year-old improved to 45.04 in the heats yesterday and to 44.84 tonight, a national record. Abbas Abubaker of Bahrain was a distant second in 45.14, also a personal best.
Kiryu outleans Zohri in 100m battle
In the men’s 100m, world U20 champion Lalu Muhammad Zohri nearly pulled off an unlikely victory here, only to be foiled by Yoshihide Kiryu’s late race charge over the final three metres.
Zohri, who improved the Indonesian national record to 10.15 in the semis earlier in the evening, built a clear lead by the midway point and looked ready to pull away about 70 metres into the race, when Kiryu, the Japanese national record holder at 9.98, began to gradually reel in the rising 18-year-old star. He caught him over the final two strides to secure the win in 10.10 to Zohri’s 10.13.
“I was confident I would win the gold,” said Kiryu, 23, who will be under an intense spotlight at home at next month’s World Relays. “I just stayed focused for the whole race until I did it.”
Zohri, whose training over the past few months was cut in half as he prepared for his high school graduation exams, said he was a little disappointed, but nonetheless content after setting two national records in a span of just over 150 minutes.
“Of course I’m a little bit disappointed,” he said, speaking through an interpreter, “but it’s ok for now. I’ll do better next time.”
Zohri said his confidence has grown since his victory in Tampere last year, so he’s really looking ahead. “Today was a good result. I’ll continue to run faster.”
Cheng outduels Singh in the javelin
The top performance on the infield came in the men’s javelin throw.
Cheng Chao-Tsun of Chinese Taipei, the Asian record holder at 91.36m, unleashed an 86.72m throw in the second round to take the title, holding off Shivpal Singh of India, whose best of 86.23m - a personal best by nearly four metres - also came in the second round.
Cheng, whose heave was also a championships record and early season world lead, only took three throws, deciding instead to take a cautious approach after feeling some soreness in his adductor. He competes next at the Shanghai leg of the Diamond League on 18 May.
Olga Safranova dominated the women’s 100m in 11.17, another championships record, well clear of China’s Liang Xiajing (11.28) and Wei Yongli (11.37), to notch Kazakhstan’s first victory.
Elsewhere, China took two more titles on the infield to add to the pair they won on Sunday. Improving round-to-round, Wang Zheng took the women’s hammer throw, reaching 75.66m in the sixth round to hold off Luo Na, who hit 72.23m in round four. Lu Minjia won the long jump with 6.38m.
India collected its first two titles courtesy of Tajinder Pal Sing Toor, who took the shot put with 20.22m, and Gomathi Marimutu who won the women’s 800m after a fierce homestretch battle with China’s Wang Chunyu, 2:02.70 to 2:02.96.
And Ruslan Kurbanov of Uzbekistan won the triple jump with 16.93m, a personal best, to collect his country’s first title of the week.
Nakamura and Voronina the overnight leaders in the multis
Akhiko Nakamura of Japan leads the men’s decathlon with 4070 points, with Majed Alzaid of Kuwait trailing with 4001.
Ekaterina Voronina of Uzbekistan is the overnight leader in the heptathlon with 3576, 29 ahead of Wang Qingling of China.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF