2018 Doha Diary: Doha DL shows Qatar's commitment to athletics

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doha DL .jpgDoha DL, photo courtesy of Diamond League

This is Stuart Weir's second preview for the Doha DL, the first of the Diamond League meetings for 2018. Watch for more stories on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Stuart covers 20 events for @runblogrun each year, and we are grateful for his coverage.

The 2018 Diamond League program gets under way in Doha, Qatar on Friday evening. Qatar has a strong commitment to hosting international sports with an annual international golf, cycling and tennis tournaments. In 2022 Qatar will host the FIFA Soccer World Cup.

mutaz barshim .jpgMutaz Barshim,

The country's commitment to track and field is strong. The Doha Grand Prix was first held in 1997 with only men's events included in the programme. Women's disciplines were added the following year. The Doha meeting rose quickly to firmly establish itself among the finest single-day track and field competitions in the world. Elevated to Grand Prix II level just two years later, by 2005 it was one of five meetings granted Super Grand Prix status. By 2010 it had grown to become arguably the strongest international early season fixture, marking it as an ideal opening competition for the newly-formed Diamond League series. The first ever Diamond League meeting was staged at Qatar Sports Club stadium in May 2010.

Doha has also hosted the IAAF World Indoor Championships in 2010 when winners included Dayron Robles, Brian Clay, Bernard Lagat, Jessica Ennis, Blanka Vlašić, Brittney Reese and Veronica Campbell-Brown. A young Kenyan called Vivian Cheruiyot took silver in the 3000 meters - I wonder what happened to her.

In 2015, Doha hosted the IPC World (Disability) Athletics Championships. While the event attracted few spectators, it was well run and there was a particular effort to encourage women from the region to compete and to raise to the profile of disability sport. The 2019 IAAF World Championships will be held in Doha at the end of September in the renovated multi-purpose Khalifa International Stadium.

If there is one athlete who has put Qatar athletics on the map it is Mutaz Essa Barshim, who won a gold medal at the 2017 World Championships , a silver medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

He has declared his aim for this week as "to achieve new records" on the road to "winning more Diamond Trophies". Looking back on his incredible achievements in 2017, Barshim said: "2017 was extraordinary for me. I didn't lose anything - it was the perfect season, everything came together and we were jumping very well. We made history!" In particular, winning the IAAF World Athlete of the year award was a special moment. "When I was young, I used to watch athletes winning this award and I wished I could be in their place or even just be nominated for the award. Now I won it so it is a dream come true."

Commenting on what his future targets are, Barshim is clear in his answer. "Winning the Olympic gold is the ultimate goal for me. I have already won Olympic silver and bronze but still not the gold." However, the 2019 World Championships at home in Doha are also at the forefront of his mind. "I will not go for anything less than the gold. When you compete in your home town, you want to make a spark, which will later become a legacy." When explaining further what he hopes that legacy will be, he says:

"I feel that I'm inspiring people by doing what I'm doing and by always trying to be the best of the best and even better. Families bring their children to the stadium because their kids watched me there and they want them to be an athlete!"

Finally there is the question of the world record, set by Cuba's Javier Sotomayor in 1993. Barshim last year became the first athlete in history to clear over 2.40m for five consecutive seasons and in 2014 came just 2cm short of the world-record setting his personal best of 2.43m. He still believes that he can achieve it. "If I don't believe that I can, it is going to be a waste of time coming to the stadium and trying to achieve something there." Describing what it will take, he says:

"You need the perfect day! First of all, you need to be in good shape, you need to have good conditions because if it is rainy, windy or cold it is not going to be ideal to try to achieve the world record. Also, you need a strong competition where everybody pushes each other. I have been in a good shape for the world record a few times but I just need to be patient and wait for everything to come together in a competition, like the good weather and the good atmosphere."

Let's hope Friday is a perfect day for Barshim and the home crowd.

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