Talking points: What was new in Doha …

07 / 10 / 2019

… and what they said about it. From nighttime marathons to digital flags, a number of innovations were witnessed at the Doha 2019 IAAF World Championships to enhance the experience of athletes, fans and TV audiences alike.

What will be their legacy for the future of athletics? Which ones will last and which remain as distinctive but fading Doha memories?

Here’s what some of the athletes thought.

  1. An air-cooled Khalifa

How to hold a championships on the edge of a desert was a problem solved with a state-of-the-art cooling system that kept conditions in the Khalifa Stadium at a near-ideal 26 degrees centigrade.

For athletes emerging from the humid warm-up track through the “chilly” call room, Khalifa’s air-con was all too welcome.

As the Czech Republic’s javelin great Barbora Spotakova put it, “I have never seen such conditions before at any championships. We are competing outdoors but it feels like indoors.”

For USA’s world record -breaking hurdler Dalilah Muhammad, who raced here in May at the Diamond League, the conditions were no surprise. “I loved the cooling system. It definitely gives me confidence that we can run fast,” she said with well-placed confidence before the championships

Sprinters don’t much mind the heat, of course. “It’s a lot like Florida, you just sweat a little more,” said Noah Lyles before coolly despatching his opponents in the 200m.

For distance runners the cooled stadium also provided perfect conditions. “Outside is super sweaty but it’s much better on the track. I am very impressed,” said steeplechase silver medallist Emma Coburn.

  1. Empty mornings, full-on nights

Doha’s daytime heat also led to the unusual timetable with no morning sessions and an extended evening programme that sometimes stretched into the following day.

For many, not having to compete in the morning was a welcome change (none of those 9am 100m heats, for example), while for others the long wait to get going each day was hard to adjust to.

Here’s defending decathlon champion Kevin Mayer, for example. “I started at 4pm and woke up at 7.30am,” he said. “I had to wait eight hours.”

As for the late nights, perhaps Norway’s 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm best caught the mood: “Don’t you all want to go home?” he asked the blurry-eyed media before fielding yet another question at his 1am post-race press conference.

  1. Night-time road races

No events finished later (or earlier) than the road races, of course, as Doha witnessed the first ever night-time World Championship marathons and race walks, the first to start and finish on different days – presenting a few body-clock challenges for the athletes.

For women’s marathon champion Ruth Chepngetich, the key was to train in the midst of a Kenyan afternoon, “when the sun is up high”. “It is not easy to run in these conditions, but that gave me strength and power,” she explained for her counter-intuitive strategy.

Japan’s Yusuke Suzuki also took it in his stride as he walked away from his rivals at the start of the men’s 50km event and never looked back. A little over four hours later he was world champion. “It was very hot today,” he said, forgetting momentarily it was night.

  1. Mixed 4x400m relay

It was no surprise, perhaps, that the United States won the first ever mixed gender event at a Worlds. But few could have predicted the manner of their triumph as they smashed the mixed 4x400m world record twice en route to gold, dragging four other teams under the old mark.

The race also provided ever-green sprinter Allyson Felix with a chance to add one more world title to her record collection. “It’s such a different kind of race, more strategic,” she said after collecting her 12th gold medal. “It was a lot of fun.”

The fun will continue at the Tokyo Olympics where the sport’s newest event is on the timetable.

  1. Simultaneous multi-events

Holding both multi-events on the same day makes sense when you think about it. They all need the same equipment after all – high jump mats, pole vault poles, javelins…

And then you get all that brotherly and sisterly love at the same time at the end of day two. As Germany’s latest decathlon star, Niklas Kaul, put it, “It was great because we had a chance to celebrate together for the first time. It was different to other decathlons we’ve done.”

  1. Light-show introductions

There were plenty of pyrotechnics from performers on the track over the last nine days, but those unleashed before the championships’ ‘showcase events’ attracted almost as many gasps from the crowd, and almost as much comment.

For some, the razz-matazz of laser beams and light projections signalled the way to the sport’s future, while for others – including some of the most experienced athletes – all those flashing lights and music was a mite distracting.

Here’s Noah Lyles’s take: “Oh man I was hyped when I saw that intro. I thought whoever did that did an amazing job. That is what the sport needs.”

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, on the other hand, was “trying not to get flustered by it”. “I was just thinking, ‘Nail the start and then we’re in business’,” she said after blasting to a record fourth 100m title.

Warholm, on the other hand, took it all with a Nordic shrug. “Was there a light show?” he joked, when asked whether it had helped or hindered his title defence. “It was probably cool. I will see it on TV later.”

  1. Block cams & other new angles

Whether an underside view of an athlete’s knee caps and nostrils really gives us “that intense moment just before a race” let’s leave to the eye of the beholder. Certainly, for some sprinters the much-hyped block cams were all a bit too close and personal.

But there were plenty of other ways we were taken “closer to the action than ever before”, with more than 130 cameras roaming through every nook and cranny of World Championship space – from front of house to behind the scenes, up corridors and under massage tables. There were body cams, rail cams, drones and zip wires, while we learned instantly about everything from a sprinter’s top speed to a thrower’s trajectory.

“The Qataris are very impressive with all their technology,” said 100m silver medallist Justin Gatlin, a man who has raced in Doha many times. “The technology is world class and cutting edge for both athletes and spectators.”

For pole vault champion Sam Kendricks it points firmly to the sport’s future. “The people in Qatar have done a great job with the cameras and lights,” he said. “This is the championship we should model the next ones after.”

  1. Medal ceremonies with digital flags

Who needs cloth and ropes in the screen age? With technology you can do anything, it seems – turn Doha skylines into giant arches where national flags flutter in a pixelated breeze. You can add a few flares and fireworks too.

Here’s that man Lyles again: “I love the medal ceremonies with all the flashes and the way they are doing the flags and everything. That’s what we need to keep progressing.”

  1. First Worlds in October

Never has a World Championship medal been won in October before Donavan Brazier secured the 800m title with a US and championship record on Tuesday.

Doha 2019’s late-season schedule clearly didn’t bother him, nor US teammate Ryan Crouser, who said: “I’ve found that I liked it more having the last meet of the year the World Championships. Usually there’s a build up to the major champs then it’s all a bit of a grinder afterwards to make some money to pay for the year. You kind of lose that passion and intensity.”

However, Nafi Thiam summed up what many were feeling after losing her heptathlon crown. “It’s been a long season for everyone,” she said.

Qatar’s own high jump hero Mutaz Barshim agreed: “I need to relax, to have a vacation. I need to be fat, eat everything I can.”


27th September to 6th October 2019