Midnight marathon takes centre stage as World Championships open

A total of 1,972 athletes from 208 countries will compete in the championships, which are seen as an important staging post.

Alysha Newman of Canada competes in the Women's Pole Vault qualification during day one of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The 17th edition of the World Athletics Championships got under way in Doha on Friday with organisers vowing to protect marathon runners from sweltering heat and humidity as the 10-day extravaganza began.

A total of 1,972 athletes from 208 countries will compete in the championships, which are seen as an important staging post as Qatar prepares for the challenge of hosting football’s World Cup in 2022.

With the bulk of the competition taking place at the fully air-conditioned Khalifa Stadium, most athletes will be shielded from the sizzling heat in Doha, where temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Marathon runners and endurance athletes, however, will be required to battle through the challenging climate alone, stoking safety fears and drawing criticism from athletes.

The marathon and race-walking events have been scheduled for late at night to avoid the hottest part of the day, with Friday’s women’s marathon - where the first medals of the championships will be decided - starting under floodlights at 11:59pm (2059 GMT).

International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe said he is confident marathon runners will be able to cope with temperatures forecast at around 32 degrees Celsius and humidity of 80 percent.

- Nothing to chance -

Organisers however are leaving nothing to chance, with larger than usual teams of paramedics on hand and an abundance of water stations populating the course on Doha’s Corniche waterfront.

“The overwhelming thrust of this is the welfare of the athletes,” Coe said.

“We will have more water on the course than we’ve ever had in any marathon, we will have more medical support and more paramedics out there as well.”

But the fact that competitors in the race-walk event are being required to compete outside the climate-controlled Khalifa stadium has infuriated France’s world champion Yohann Diniz.

“I am disgusted by the conditions,” the 41-year-old world record holder said.

“They take us for idiots... I am extremely upset. If we were in the stadium we would have normal conditions, between 24-25 degrees, but outside they have placed us in a furnace, which is just not possible.

“They are making us guinea pigs.”

While the women’s marathon brings the curtain down on the first day of action, the Khalifa will play host to the opening track and field events.

- Coleman makes bow -

The highlights of the first day will include the first round of the men’s 100 metres, where U.S. sprinter Christian Coleman will aim to shrug off the missed drug-test controversy which threatened to derail his career.

Coleman, the fastest man in the world over 100m this season, faced being barred from the championships last month after it emerged he had registered three anti-doping “whereabouts failures” in a 12-month period.

However the charges against the 23-year-old American were withdrawn earlier this month because of a technical loophole.

Coleman is amongst a crop of young American sprinters hoping to fill the void created by the retirement of Jamaican sprint icon Usain Bolt, who hung up his spikes after the 2017 worlds in London.

Beat The Heat: A general view from the Torch Doha during day one of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The likeliest candidate to replace Bolt however could turn out to be Noah Lyles, the charismatic 22-year-old who is the favourite in the 200m, with the final taking place next Tuesday.

In the women’s sprints, meanwhile, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is chasing a record fourth 100m gold at the age of 32, two years after skipping a season for the birth of her son in 2017.

Elsewhere during the championships, world records could come under threat in the men’s and women’s 400m hurdles.

Norway’s Karsten Warholm is set for a battle royale in the men’s event with American champion Rai Benjamin.

In the women’s race, Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad is hoping to improve her new world record of 52.20sec set at the US trials in July.

There is no place in Doha though for South Africa’s 800m star Caster Semenya.

The double Olympic champion misses out after losing a long-running battle against regulations requiring her to take medication to lower her naturally-elevated testosterone levels.