Noah Lyles celebrating his men's 200-meter final victory at the 2019 IAAF Diamond League Memorial Van Damme on Sept. 6, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium.
DOHA, Qatar – The track is pink, the outdoor stadium is air-conditioned to combat the desert climate and the marathons and race walks will start just before midnight and end in the wee hours of the next morning. Oh, and there are cameras in the starting blocks for the 100-meter races and shorter hurdles races.
Welcome to the 17th edition of the IAAF World Championships, which begin Friday at Khalifa International Stadium. This is the first track and field world championships held in the Middle East and the first to have all evening sessions.
Team USA, which won a record 30 medals two years ago in London, is composed of 141 athletes including 55 Olympians and 78 world championships veterans.
With less than a year to go until the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, this is a chance for well-known athletes to re-establish themselves as favorites and for new faces to emerge.
The 10-day meet is the culmination of a very long season, which has taken a toll on collegiate athletes who also competed indoors. Worlds was pushed into late September because of the extreme heat in Qatar, with daytime temperatures about 100 degrees for the seven sessions starting in late afternoon. At night, the temperature drops into the mid-80s.
Khalifa International Stadium, which holds about 40,000 spectators, is the first outdoor stadium to install an air-conditioning system. In tests last year when it was 104 degrees, air conditioning nozzles lowered the temperature to about 77.
The air blowing from nozzles should not affect the athletes since it is supposed to go up instead of straight during competition. For the javelin, however, the system has to be shut off. Qatar has also promised air conditioning in all of its stadiums for the FIFA World Cup in 2022, so the world will be watching to see how this turns out.
Here are 10 storylines to follow:
1. The men’s 400-meter hurdles could be the hottest event on the track.
Kevin Young’s world record from the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992, one of the longest-standing records in track and field, is in serious jeopardy. Young, of Team USA, ran a blistering 46.78 seconds to break Edwin Moses’ mark of 47.02 set nine years earlier. No one else could even break 47 seconds until Abderrahman Samba of Qatar clocked 46.98 in June 2018. The hometown crowd will certainly be cheering for him. Karsten Warholm, the reigning world champion from Norway, ran 46.92 at the Diamond League Final in Zurich on Aug. 29. He barely edged Rai Benjamin of Team USA, who posted a time of 46.98 – tying Samba on the world list and becoming the second-fastest American of all time.
2. Hey, wait a minute, the women’s 400 hurdles could be even better.
Not only could it flirt with a world record, there could possibly be a Team USA sweep. With Kori Carter the defending champion, the United States has four entrants including Dalilah Muhammad, who set the current world record of 52.20 seconds at the national championships in July. Muhammad is the reigning Olympic champion and was the silver medalist at the 2017 worlds. She’ll be challenged by Sydney McLaughlin, who burst onto the scene as a teenager and made the 2016 Olympic team. McLaughlin’s best time is 52.85. They are 1-2 on the world list, followed by U.S. Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer (53.11).
3. Who will be the next big sprint star in the post-Usain Bolt era?Justin Gatlin training prior to the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Sept. 24, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
The Jamaican sensation, who won eight Olympic gold medals, always planned to retire after the London world championships, but Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman of Team USA ruined his going-away party by finishing 1-2 in the 100 ahead of Bolt. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, and Coleman are back, with Coleman trying to reverse their order of finish. Coleman has the world-leading time of 9.81 seconds this year, followed by American Noah Lyles at 9.86. However, Lyles chose not to compete in the 100 at worlds. He is throwing all his efforts into the 200-meter basket, where he has posted a blistering 19.50 seconds. Lyles won both events in the Diamond League. Divine Oduduru of Nigeria is next on the world list at 9.86, followed by Gatlin (9.87), who tweaked his left hamstring earlier this month. Veteran Mike Rodgers and Christopher Belcher round out the U.S. team in the 100.
4. Can Ajeé Wilson and Donavan Brazier win the first Team USA gold medals in the 800?
Wilson, who won the bronze medal in 2017, could have a clear path to the top of the podium. Wilson has the second-fastest time of the year, 1:57.72, bettered only by Caster Semenya’s 1:54.98. But Semenya won’t be competing in the wake of the IAAF ruling on athletes with Differences of Sexual Development. Neither will Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who is ranked third on the world list. In fact, none of the three medalists from the Olympic Games Rio 2016 will be in Doha. In the men’s 800 Brazier will be seeking the American record in addition to the gold. Brazier almost eclipsed Johnny Gray’s American record of 1:42.60 from way back in 1985 with a time of 1:42.70 in Zurich last month. He’ll be challenged by Nijel Amos of Botswana, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist who has come back from an injury in mid-July. Brazier has lost only once this year and has beaten Amos twice, including at the Diamond League Final.
5. Will we see Allyson Felix on the track?Allyson Felix competing in the women's 400-meter heats at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships on July 25, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Felix, who gave birth to her first child in late November, was sixth at nationals in the 400-meter, earning a spot in the 4x400-meter pool. Felix has a record 16 world championships medals and has also won nine Olympic medals to make her the most decorated woman in track and field history. With two months to train since U.S. championships, Felix could be faster than her 51.94-second final effort. Team USA could have a maximum of six runners in the relay, with two in the preliminary replaced in the final. However, there are four entrants in the 400, three more runners, including Felix, in the relay pool, and coaches could also choose to use Muhammad and McLaughlin, who have speed in the flat event as well as the hurdles. This is the first world championships with the new mixed-gender 4x400, so there is a possibility Felix could appear in that event.
6. It’s hammer time for the Team USA women who – believe it or not – hold the top three places on the world list.
And this is an event in which American women have never medaled! DeAnna Price, the American record holder and national champion is first, followed by Brooke Andersen and Gwen Berry. However, Zheng Wang of China, who has the fourth-best performance this year, could spoil the potential U.S. sweep. Wang, the silver medalist from 2017, defeated Price twice early this year, although Price kept throwing better while Wang did not. Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland, the four-time gold medalist and defending champion, had knee surgery and is not competing.
7. The men’s pole vault should go sky-high.Sam Kendricks celebrating after setting the American record in the pole vault final at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships on July 27, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Defending champ Sam Kendricks of Team USA has company in the 6-meter club, including the former American record holder Armand Duplantis, who was born in the U.S. but competes for Sweden. Kendricks, who leads the world list at 6.06 meters, has faced Duplantis six times this year and they are 3-3, although Kendricks captured the Diamond Trophy. Piotr Lisek of Poland is also in the mix, but trails Kendricks 11-5 in their matchups. Duplantis holds a 4-3 edge over Lisek. Although every vaulter that has cleared 6 meters at worlds has won, that may not be enough this year.
8. Will Da Beast be back on the podium?
Brittney Reese is going for her fifth title in the women’s long jump. She won her first 10 years ago in Berlin and the only time Reese did not win the gold was 2015, when she failed to make the final. In that span, she also won an Olympic gold medal in 2012, an Olympic silver medal in 2016 and three gold medals and one silver at the indoor world championships. Reese is ranked third on the world list at 7.00 meters behind Malaika Mihambo of Germany (7.16) and Ese Brume of Nigeria (7.05). Tori Bowie, the defending champion in the 100-meter, placed fourth in the long jump at nationals, earning a spot in her second event in Doha.
9. The men’s 400 title could be back in American hands, but whose?Michael Norman celebrating his men's 400-meter final win at the 2019 IAAF Diamond League Memorial Van Damme on Sept. 6, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium.
In 2017, Team USA was shut out of the medals in the men’s 400 for only the second time in history, the other being 2001. This season, Michael Norman and Fred Kerley are the only runners in the world who have gone under 44 seconds. Norman, the Diamond Trophy victor, posted a 43.45 in April while Kerley ran 43.64 at nationals to edge Norman’s 43.79. Kerley leads their lifetime series 3-2, but has won only one of their three meetings this year. The U.S. has won this title 10 times out of 16 world championships, with Michael Johnson winning four times in a row, including 1999 when he set the American record of 43.18 seconds.
10. The duel in the sand could be epic, and maybe hold a U.S. sweep.
Team USA’s Christian Taylor has won three of the last four titles in the triple jump and the last two Olympic gold medals. Teammate Will Claye was second to Taylor in London two years ago, while also finishing behind him at the Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016. Claye also has claimed two world bronze medals. But could this be the year Claye beats his rival? He is the only triple jumper over 18 meters with a leap of 18.14, followed by Taylor at 17.82 and Omar Craddock at 17.68. However, Donald Scott won nationals with a wind-aided leap of 17.74, eclipsing Claye, while Taylor just ran through his first jump – fouling – to qualify. All four will compete in Doha, trying to hold off Pedro Pablo Pichardo of Portugal. However, when it comes to clutch last jumps, no one is better than Taylor.