Before analyzing this year’s championships, here is a couple of questions for you, did you watch the competition? Did you even know it was on? One could be forgiven for answering no to both of these as even the most fanatical of sports fans in the media have admitted to only taking a passing interest in the championships. The fact that RTE had no TV coverage did not help and for those who could stand the BBC coverage for the 10 days would not have learned a huge amount about some of the athletes as it was more akin to “British cheerleading” as Kieran Cunningham, chief sports writer of the Daily Star put it.
Another question to be put forward is why Qatar was chosen to host the championships in the first place. This is a country which has very little tradition in the sport and the searing humidity present does put it at the top of the list when it comes to choosing a host city for an event of this magnitude. These factors were reflected in the attendances which for the most part were very poor. Only 1,500 spectators witnessed the women’s 100m final, one of the most popular events of the competition (in a stadium that can hold 40,000 +). Attendances suffered throughout the 10 days due to fact that many events were held during the early hours of the morning as a result of the brutal heat.
The actual standard of athletics did make up for the paltry crowd. The hosts performed surprisingly well winning gold in the men’s high jump and bronze in the men’s 400m hurdles. One would not have been able to notice however due to the fact there were more fans from outside Qatar present than the natives. Kenya and Ethiopia dominated the distance races winning 19 medals between them. Jamaica’s Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce cemented herself as one of the all-time greats by winning the women’s 100m. American Chris Coleman won the men’s race in 9.76 seconds, a new world lead. His American compatriot Dalilah Muhammad set a new world record in the women’s 400m hurdles in a time of 52.16. Dutchwoman Stefan Hassan became the first woman ever to complete the 10,000m and 1500m double.
Many of the performances were overshadowed however due to the ban of Roberto Salazar, head of the Nike Oregon Project, who is the coach of Hassan and many of the world’s top athletes especially at middle and long distance level. He has received a four-year ban for violating anti-doping regulations following numerous accusations in relation to doping his athletes. It must be stressed however that none of the athletes involved in Salazar’s Nike Oregon project has ever failed a drugs test.
And what about the Irish performances? Although none of our athletes won any medals it was one of the most successful campaigns in recent years. Rob Heffernan coached Brendan Boyce, who was the best of the Irish finishing 6 th in the men’s 50k walk, battling humid conditions to seal his highest ever finish at a major championship. Ciara Mageean was another highlight on and off the track, finishing 10th in a stacked women’s 1500m final with a PB of 4:00.15 which would have been enough to finish on the podium in years gone by. The 2016 European bronze medalist was also a joy to behold in her post race interviews and displayed everything that was good about athletics. Mageean was the first Irish athlete to make the final of a track event since 2011, and an Olympic final berth in Tokyo beckons. Thomas Barr was probably Ireland’s best hope of winning a medal but he failed to reach the final of the men’s 400m
hurdles finishing 4 th in his heat and 10 th overall in another stacked event won by Norway’s Kirsten Warholm. There was disappointment for Mark English as he failed to negotiate the 800m heats but has had a solid 2019 winning bronze at the European Indoors. He has stated that he will take a year out of his medicine studies to focus on the Tokyo Olympics next year.
Overall, the championships were a mixed bag.Aathletics probably needs another global superstar like Usain Bolt in order to force itself into the public consciousness on a regular basis at home and abroad. Drugs and politics have not gone away from the sport. To finish on a positive however, there are green shoots when it comes to Irish athletes who always carry themselves admirably when it would be so convenient not to. Tokyo here we come.