DOHA, Qatar – The atmosphere inside the Khalifah International Stadium on the 8th night of the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 was ideal for track and field action.
The venue was almost full to capacity as hometown hero Mutaz Essa Barshim was competing in the men’s high jump final. However, he had to share the spotlight with 400m hurdles world record holder Dalilah Muhammad and Bahamian Steven Gardiner.
The men’s 400m final brought the curtains down on the track, and it was another historic night for the Caribbean. Perhaps it was destiny for the victor who had gone through trials and tribulations just weeks before arriving in Doha.
Gardiner brings joy to Abaco
Gardiner, who hails from the island of Abaco in the Bahamas, which recently felt the brunt of Hurricane Dorian, produced the race of his life to bring joy to his people.
The race got off to a cracking start with Grenada’s Kirani James and Trinidad & Tobago’s Machel Cedenio apparently on a mission, leaving their blocks in a hurry and powering through the back straight as if intent on lowering their national records. While it remained highly unlikely they could maintain such a frenetic pace, it was nevertheless an intriguing strategy.
With 150m to go, the long-striding Gardiner flicked a switch and began his assault. In no time, he was in complete control of the race showing his competitors a clean pair of heels in the home straight and continued unchallenged before bursting the tape in a national record of 43.48 seconds.
“It’s been incredible, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Gardiner. “I felt no pressure, I went through the rounds perfectly each day, and I can’t believe I am a world champion now. It feels pretty good. It’s so big to win two medals for The Bahamas after the hurricane. I have no childhood right now, just memories, and I did not want to think about it too much.
“I spoke to my family, my friends earlier who told me whatever I do out there tonight to give of my best, and I know everybody back home is just blowing up right now. They are excited. I wanted to do something special for them, and I dedicate this victory to them. We did it for our country. Thank God, we were able to get two medals,” he said.
His closest pursuer was Anthony Zambrano of Colombia who grabbed silver after being hauled to a South American record of 44.15 seconds ahead of the fast-finishing American Fred Kerley in 44.17.
Zambrano has improved leaps and bounds. It was only four years ago (2015) that he ran in the IAAF World Youth final in Cali, Colombia won by Jamaica’s Christopher Taylor. Zambrano finished seventh on that occasion. It is safe to say that he has pulled off a massive upset in Doha.
Jamaica’s domestic champion, Demish Gaye, who entered the home straight in seventh, finished like a formula one car to claim fourth in a personal best 44.46 seconds. Gaye looked in every way as he felt – exhausted. His legs could barely support the rest of his body after the race, and he did not make it through the mixed zone.
Kirani James registered 44.54 seconds to finish fifth, his fourth sub-45 clocking since returning to competition this year. Machel Cedenio faded to seventh in 45.30, and Jamaica’s Akeem Bloomfield finished one place lower in 45.36 seconds.
In the women’s 400m hurdles, Jamaica’s Rushell Clayton, who created a stir throughout the rounds, showed that it was no fluke charging over the last barrier ahead of more illustrious competitors to claim bronze in a lifetime best of 53.74 seconds.
“Going into this race I know it was going to be fast,” said Clayton.
“And in order for me to secure a medal or run a personal best, I knew I had to run my own race, and that’s exactly what I did. I had to get out for the first few hurdles, maintain my composure and just run off that turn, and that is exactly what I did. It is my first world championships, and I am going home with a medal. It feels awesome.”
Muhammad lowers world record in 400H
The women’s 400m hurdles winner, American Dalilah Muhammad joined an elite club, which includes Great Britain’s Sally Gunnell and Jamaica’s Melaine Walker, as the only women to hold Olympic and World crowns at the same time. Muhammad broke her own 400m hurdles world record of 52.20 set at the US trials on 28 July 2019 shaving 0.04 seconds.
It was the third time that the world record in this event was broken at a world championship. First by Sally Gunnell (GBR) in 1993 (52.74) and then by Kim Batten (USA) in 1995 (52.61).
It was evident that Muhammad was on world record pace from the moment she covered the field on the back straight like a drone. Only one athlete could go with her, and that was world junior record holder Sydney McLaughlin.
Both athletes separated themselves from the field and made it a two-horse race. It became a stirring duel with Muhammad having two-metre when she scaled the tenth barrier; however, Mclaughlin closed fast, but the finish line came in time for Muhammad. McLaughlin ran a lifetime best of 52.23 seconds.
“This means so much. It is difficult to describe. I just wanted the world title so much but to break the world record again is fantastic,” said Muhammad.
“I just decided to go for it from the start, and I felt Sydney (McLaughlin) coming at me around hurdle nine, then I just gave it everything I’d got. It has not really sunk in yet, but it feels good. I did not expect to break the world record today; I was definitely just trying to win that race. Two world records that sound quite crazy, now that it is done. My coach told me that it is possible and I just had to go there and believe in it. I believe that we can drop under 52s, the race was so tight, and that was anybody’s race tonight. It was so close; we will continue to push each other. It is definitely possible.”
Big night for Barshim
In the highly anticipated high jump final, Mutaz Barshim overcame the pressure of two failures at 2.33m, before regaining his rhythm and confidence to clear on his final attempt before moving on to first clearances at 2.35m and 2.37m.
Barshim, who felt the weight of a nation on his shoulders throughout, was the only competitor who did not dislodge the high jump bar when it reached 2.37m giving him victory and sending his supporters into euphoria.
“For me, it was just a dream. At home, it was just amazing,” said Barshim.
“Everybody was there – my family, friends, the Emir himself. They lifted me up. I was not 100 per cent ready, but when I came there and saw all those people cheering for me, even if I was dying or if they take me out with a wheelchair or with an ambulance, I would do everything I can.”
The 4x100m relays brought its usual excitement, drama and despair. In the women’s section, Jamaica led by the majestic Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce displayed clinical baton exchanges to advance to the final after winning heat two in 42.11 seconds. Trinidad & Tobago joined Jamaica in the final with a season’s best 42.75.
The men’s 4x100m heats were like a blind date gone horribly wrong for Jamaica, with the team suffering the indignity of not making the finals at a world championships, for the first time since 2001. The team of Oshane Bailey, Yohan Blake, Rasheed Dwyer and Tyquendo Tracey finished fifth in their heat in 38.15 seconds.