Qatar’s athletes soar high above the unjust siege
February 27 2020 12:51 AM
In this June 30, 2018, picture, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba (right) is on his way to become only the second man to run the 400m hurdles in under 47 seconds, ahead of British Virgin Islands’ Kyron McMaster and Norway’s Karsten Warholm (left) in Paris. (Reuters)

In the June of 2018, this newspaper published a creative visual of the country’s star high-jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim in his all-maroon ‘Qatar’ outfit clearing a bar called ‘Blockade’.
It had been a year since an unjust blockade was imposed on Qatar, and the visual was as strong in its message as it was nuanced in its use of sport to convey the same.
It was as much about the resilience of Qatar as a country to overcome the immediate hurdles that the blockade caused, as it was about the country’s ability to fly higher.
Just as the country, Qatar’s athletes too have soared higher and raced faster.
A little more than two months after the Gulf was plunged into crisis, Barshim won his first world championship medal at a packed London Stadium, much to the delight of those in attendance and millions at home.
“My first big World Championships gold and I was so determined to win it,” Barshim had said after winning his first world title.
Five days earlier, compatriot Abdalelah Haroun had opened Qatar’s account on the medals table racing to a commendable bronze in the men’s 400m.
A month earlier in July that year, Arab Athletics Championships saw Team Qatar win two golds with Ahmed Amgad Seifi and Mohamed Ibrahim Kida topping the hammer throw and javelin throw competitions respectively.
As Qatari officials and athletes asserted that the nation was “not going to mix sports with politics”, on track and field the country’s stars were bringing in glory and adulation.
The year closed with two more golds at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, including Haroun (400m) and Jamal Hairane (800m), even as Barshim was adjudged the 2017 Athlete of the Year by the IAAF, in the presence of Qatar Olympic Committee President HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani.
In the March of the 2018, Barshim jumped to a silver at the World Indoors in Birmingham, UK.
However, it was the year of Abderrahman Samba, the star hurdler. While Barshim and Samba sent the Qatar Sports Club stadium into an applause winning the high jump and the 400m hurdles competition at the Doha Diamond League event, the latter was unstoppable on the track.
He became the first athlete since world record holder Kevin Young of the US to dip under 47 seconds in the 400m hurdles event, when he blitzed to 46.98 seconds in Paris Diamond League that year. In all Samba won six Diamond League event and was unbeaten.
Barshim went on to win in Eugene and Oslo, while Haroun topped the 400m flat at London Diamond League.
At the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, Haroun and Samba both won gold in their respective events, while the Qatar 4x400m men’s relay team and hammer-thrower Ashraf Amgad El Seify too added the yellow metal to the count. Tosin Ogunode and Yaser Bagharab won silvers in the 100m and 3000m steeplechase event, while Abubaker Haydar Abdalla stepped on the third step on the podium in the 800m competition.
But 2019 was the big year for Team Qatar athletes; the IAAF World Championships were coming home and for the first time to the region at large.
It was going to be a slow start to the year for Barshim after he suffered an ankle injury midway through 2018 when he attempted a world record jump of 2.46m at the Gyulai Memorial in Hungary, and while he returned to the track for training sessions ahead of the Asian Athletics Championships, a competitive return had to wait.
The Asian Athletics Championships in April was to be the test event for the Worlds in September-October.
Abdalla ran a world leading time of 1:44.33 to win the men’s 800m gold, while Samba blitzed to a championship record 47.51 for his 400m hurdles win. El Seify won the hammer throw silver, Hairane, Adam Ali Mousab and the men’s 4x400m relay team won a bronze each.
As the World Championships got closer, Samba suffered an injury putting in doubt his participation, even as Barshim won a few minor events in preparation for the big day at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Samba’s sub-47second time had spurred Norwegian Karsten Warholm and American Rai Benjamin to dip under the barrier too, and that only filled the competition with anticipation.
When Samba did race to a bronze behind the two, given his return from a huge injury, he reckoned it was “just like gold” for him.
Four days later, the stadium was filled to its capacity and Barshim soared over 2.37m to become the only high jumper to successfully defend his title.
“I was not 100 percent ready but when I came here and see all those people cheering for me, even if I was dying, if they take me from the wheelchair or ambulance I would do everything I can,” he had said after the victory on October 4 last year.
It’s that resilience that has kept Qatar, its people and its athletes in good stead during the 1,000 days that have passed since the unjust blockade was imposed on Qatar.

Last updated: February 28 2020 06:48 PM

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