By Aseel Bardawil, Doha, May 3, 2018: Doha’s City Center Mall came alive this morning as lucky members of the public were offered the rare opportunity to interact with global athletics icons ahead of Friday’s Diamond League opener (Delight Qatari Public).
Seven Olympic and World Champions, including Qatar’s national high jump treasure Mutaz Barshim, Germany’s Diamond League javelin record-breaker Thomas Röhler, Greek pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi, who is the reigning World, Olympic, Diamond League and European Champion, triple jump Olympic, World and six-time Diamond League Champion Christian Taylor and Kenyan reigning World Champion and Olympic silver medallist over 5000m Hellen Obiri gathered to answer questions, pose for selfies and sign autographs, in a fun and lively session designed to bring the excitement of athletics to a wider audience.
Passersby, members of the media and the public, were provided a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of the global superstars who were invited up on stage for a wide-ranging group conversation. The discussion was anchored by two further athletics icons in the roles of MC, British World Champion Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and American reigning 1500m World silver medallist Jenny Simpson.
The athletes and public were also welcomed by President of the Qatar Athletics Federation and Doha Diamond League meeting organizer, Dr Thani Abdulrahman Al Kuwari, and Oceania Area President and IAAF Executive Board and Council Member, Geoff Gardner.
General Secretary of the Qatar Athletics Federation (QAF) expressed his pride at bringing the athletes and Diamond League directly to the wider public. He said:
“This is a pivotal time for athletics in Qatar as we prepare to host the World Championships in just 17 months from now. It is our ambition to use this unique opportunity to inspire and engage a new generation in a new region through the power of athletics.
We are very grateful for the trust and support of the IAAF in helping us achieve our goals and ambitions.”
“One key way that we will achieve our vision in 2019, is by showcasing the contagious excitement of athletics to new audiences, just as we do every year through the Doha Diamond League. Each year the atmosphere gets better and better – and I am certain that this year is going to be the best yet!”
Kicking off the conversation with the athletes, Jenny Simpson asked Qatari athletics star and local legend Mutaz Barshim on his success and its impact on the Qatar community. He responded:
“A few years back the well-known athletes would be in running, like with Usain Bolt. Now, I’m honoured to be part of this drive to bring attention to field events and we love growing alongside the wider track and field community. This will in turn inspire the best, as young people now follow field athletes as they compete.”
For his part, triple jump Champion Christian Taylor spoke about how his loss in the 2015 Doha Diamond League drove his goals forward:
“In 2015, I was the biggest loser of one of the greatest competitions of triple jump, I went 18.04. It was a very proud moment for because it was my first time over 18 metres and I was just so grateful and happy, but I lost.
This only made me realize that your downfalls and defeats can be your strengths! From then I was very determined and a few Diamond Leagues later, I proved that I could become a better version of myself.”
The conversation shifted to Hellen Obiri who was asked if she was concerned with fellow panel member Simpson’s move up to the longer 3000m distance. She responded:
“I can’t be worried, all I can do is focus on being my best and giving my best. That’s exactly what I’ll do tomorrow night on the track.”
Looking ahead, Mitchell-Blake asked Thomas Röhler for his thoughts on last year’s incredible 93.3m throw and if he could go further tomorrow night:
“I do believe I can throw further; the question is where and when. I’ve proved myself in the past in Doha, but the competition in javelin continues to rise each year and it only motivates me more to start the season well here in Doha.
I welcome the competition, I’m happy for a moment where the field is challenging and I can show I’m the best.”
Geoff Gardner spoke on Qatar’s vital role in the Diamond League series:
“Doha has been the starting point of the IAAF Diamond League since it was established in 2010, evolving from the IAAF Golden League which had been running for over a decade before.”
“One of the things I love most about outdoor meets, the Diamond League and particularly the meet here in Doha, is the unpredictability of ‘athlete vs nature’.
Some years, athletes need to adjust to the heat, others the sea breeze that whistles through Doha’s skyscrapers which sparkle in splendor against the night sky, and some years – this may be one of them – athletes, especially those in the field events, who are out on the track for several rounds and attempts, have to adjust between the early evening warmth with stiff late-night winds.”
Following the culmination of the event, fans in City Center Mall were delighted to rub shoulders with their heroes, snapping selfies, taking autographs and savoring a moment that will live in the memories for a long time to come.
The ninth Doha Diamond League kicks off tomorrow evening and promises to be one of the best-ever with almost 160 of the world’s best athletics stars competing from 5-9pm at Qatar Sports Club.
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