Track leaves Qatar still looking for a new star

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — If the goal of this year's track and field world championships was to find a fresh face, a vibrant personality, a one-of a-kind talent to replace the mile-wide void left by Usain Bolt's absence, then consider it still a work in progress.

The 10-day run in the desert had its moments — a world record in the 400-metre hurdles , a hometown high jumper taking gold, female sprinters and hurdlers striking a blow for new moms everywhere. But the main message coming out of Doha very well might have been “Wait 'til next year.”

The Tokyo Olympics, the first that will take place without Bolt since 2000, start in less than 10 months, and the “worlds” provided some clues as to what's ahead — and also about the problems this sport still faces.

There were a few athletes with the star power to shine for at least a couple of days, including a pair of double gold medalists: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a vibrant new mom from Jamaica who established herself as the woman to beat, again, in the sprints; and Noah Lyles , the American with the silver hair who won the 200 and anchored the US to a long-awaited victory in the 4x100 relay.

There were also problems aplenty for the sport that anchors the Olympic programme over the final week of the games.

Doping reared its head, as usual.

It came in the form of the latest developments in the long-running Russian scandal , leading to the question: Which athletes from the world's second-biggest delegation will be allowed to compete next year, and under what conditions?

And in the form of 100-metre champion Christian Coleman's confusing, and ultimately dismissed, whereabouts case.

And then by the sudden removal of Alberto Salazar, the famed distance coach who received a four-year doping ban based on evidence that he ran experiments with supplements and testosterone, all as a way of trying to build a stronger, better runner.

One of Salazar's protégés, Sifan Hassan, pulled a first-of-its-kind double, winning gold medals in the 1,500 and 10,000 metres.

She came under scrutiny, not only for associating with Salazar but for her romp in the 1,500 metres — a wire-to-wire runaway that makes her the favourite at any distance she tries next year.

“Sadly, it is the world we live in,” IAAF president Sebastian Coe said. “It is inevitable that outstanding performances, given the broader nature of trust, is permanently a question.”

That wasn't Coe's only problem.

The debate about the wisdom of bringing the IAAF's biggest competition to a country that is admittedly still gearing up to host the biggest in any sport — the 2022 World Cup — haunted this event from the get-go.

It put Coe on the defensive about the thin crowds that suddenly — magically? — got much bigger toward the end, as the criticism mounted; and also about the road races run in the middle of the night in stifling conditions that sent dozens of athletes off the course and into the medical tent.

But next year in Tokyo the weather could be even hotter .

So, consider this a warm-up for the main event.