US sprinter Christian Coleman surged to an easy win while a pair of outclassed 5,000m runners drew the biggest roar of the night as the World Athletics Championships got under way on Friday.
Coleman, the favourite for the 100 metres crown in Saturday’s final, shrugged off a drugs controversy to cruise through his heat in the quickest time of the first round at Doha’s Khalifa Stadium.
The 23-year-old American was the only man to duck under 10 seconds, clocking 9.98sec, with plenty left in the tank as he crossed the line.
Coleman was only cleared to compete in Doha earlier this month after an anti-doping case against him which could have led to a long ban was withdrawn on a technicality.
A tight-lipped Coleman later brushed past journalists following his heat, refusing to take questions and muttering only a cursory “Felt great.”
Yet the biggest moment of Friday’s opening day belonged to long distance runners Braima Suncar Dabo of Guinea-Bissau and shattered rival Jonathan Busby of Aruba.
Dabo and Busby had already been lapped and were the only men left on the track at the end of their 5,000m heat, with the rest of the field having finished several minutes earlier.
– Helping hand –
Busby, 33, had slowed to almost a crawl down the back straight on the last lap, lurching forward uncertainly and appearing close to collapse.
It was then that Guinea Bissau’s Dabo came to the rescue, stopping to prop up his fellow racer and leading him around the final 200 metres to the finish line.
It was a scene that was reminiscent of Derek Redmond’s famous hobbling finish at the 1992 Olympics, when the British 400m runner was helped over the line by his father after breaking down.
With the crowd roaring them over the line, Busby collapsed and was eventually led away in a wheelchair.
“I just wanted to help the guy finish the race,” Dabo, 26, said afterwards through a translator.
“I wanted to help him cross the line. I think anyone in that situation would have done the same thing,” added Dabo, a student based in Portugal.
Dabo’s time of 18min 10.87sec was still a personal best. But there was a sting in the tail for Busby, who was disqualified.
The first medals of the championships will be decided in the early hours of Saturday morning when the women’s marathon gets under way in a race that starts at 11.59pm local time on Friday (2059 GMT).
The near-midnight start time was chosen to help shield runners from the furnace-like heat and humidity that envelops Doha during the daytime.
– ‘Like guinea pigs’ –
While competitors in the Khalifa Stadium are shielded by a state-of-the-art air conditioning system, runners and endurance athletes are required to brave the elements.
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 (90 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity of 80 percent.
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.”