Christine Ohuruogu

Straight talk about Qatar


They held a track meet Friday on a typically warm and balmy evening in Doha, the opening Diamond League event of the 2013 season. It was sensational. American long jumper Brittney Reese, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, sailed out to a personal best, 7.25 meters, or 23 feet, 9 1/2 inches. It was the best jump by an American in 15 years.

Another London gold medalist, David Rudisha of Kenya, won again, in 1:43.87, considerably slower than his world-record 1:40.91 at the Games. That was to be expected for an early-season outing. Even so, he beat Mohammed Aman of Ethiopa -- who had beaten him last year in Zurich -- by more than half a second.

In the women's 400, Amantle Montsho of Botswana defeated Allyson Felix in a rematch of their thrilling encounter at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea; Felix hadn't lost in Doha in 10 races but, then again, hadn't run the 400 in a meet since Daegu. Montsho crossed Friday night in 49.88, Felix in 50.19. Britain's Christine Ohuruogu, the London silver medalist, took third, in 50.53.

In all, there were 11 world-leading performances. More than two dozen Olympians made the meet.

The focus Friday in Doha was on track and field. Nothing else. It just goes to show -- again -- that when given a chance, the Qataris know how to put on a big-time sports event where the athletes are front and center.

It's a mystery why so much of the world -- still -- views what is going on in Doha with such suspicion.

It's as if having money is a bad thing.

Like, why?

That is stupid thinking and ought to stop.

This is not naiveté.

If there is evidence of misconduct or wrongdoing, then it should be produced, and examined for everyone to see.

If there is not, then what is at issue is stereotyping, or worse -- and that really needs to stop. Because, as Fahad Ebrahim Juma, the director of planning and development for the Qatar Olympic Committee said in a recent interview in Doha, "Believe it or not, the Middle East is part of this earth."

One day, there are going to be Olympic Games in the Middle East.

Maybe they will be in Istanbul in 2020. The International Olympic Committee is going to vote this September on the 2020 site; Istanbul is in the mix, along with Tokyo and Madrid.

If Istanbul doesn't make it, Doha -- which bid for 2016 and 2020 but was cut -- will surely bid for 2024. Maybe even if Istanbul does make it. Who knows?

Of course, Qatar will stage soccer's World Cup in 2022.

Again, if there is documentable evidence of misconduct or wrongdoing in the Qatari World Cup bid, bring it on.

Until then, here is some of the evidence of what is actually going on in Qatar:

The country is being developed, and rapidly, according to a "National Vision 2030" plan that includes sport as one of its key pillars.

Part of the strategy involves international outreach. In 1993, Qatar staged two international sports events. In 2002, 10. This year, 40. The 2020 objective, 50.

Next year, it will stage the world swimming short-course championships; in 2015, the world handball championships; in 2016, the road cycling championships.

The Qataris announced Friday they intend to bid for the 2019 world track and field championships; they tried for 2017 but lost to London.

Another element of the 2030 plan is an internal focus. An Olympic program in the country's schools drew 5,000 students in 2008 -- 1,500 girls and 3,500 boys. This year, roughly 21,900 students -- 7,555 girls, 14,345 boys.

At the London Games, Qatar sent women to the Games for the first time -- four. But it's not as if there aren't Qatari female athletes. More than 200 Qatari women competed at the 2006 Asian Games. The Qataris are, for the most part, trying to get their female athletes to the Games by qualifying them the way every other nation does, not just by accepting wild-card invitations in swimming and track.

The nation's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony in London: female shooter Bahiya al-Hamad.

Yes, you can see women in veils in Doha. But, this spring at the QMA Gallery at Katara, near the upscale West Bay development, you could also have taken in the "Hey Ya!" photo and video exhibit -- shots of Arabic women in swimsuits; gymnastics leotards; sports bras, shorts and track spikes; whatever.

You could also have taken in a production across town of the Greek tragedy, "Medea," put on by Northwestern University in Qatar. Northwestern is one of several leading institutions with branch campuses in Qatar -- others include Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth, Georgetown's foreign service school and Cornell's medical school.

You could have gone shopping at the Villagio mall. It has an ice rink in it. And a food court. And every shop-'til-you-drop outlet you can imagine. It's right next to the Aspire complex, with a 50,000-seat stadium and a sports-specific hospital. They put on the 2010 world indoor track and field championships at Aspire.

Or -- and this is where the Qataris got their latest round of bad press -- you could have taken in the "Olympics: Past and Present" Exhibit in a temporary hall close to the Museum of Islamic Art. The show will run there until June 30; it's due eventually to be housed in a Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum.

The exhibit, which opened in March, is split into two parts, one highlighting ancient Olympia, the other the modern Games. On display are some 1,200 items, including over 600 from Greece and international museums.

There's a mini-Olympic stadium. There are Olympic posters and mascots. There is every Olympic torch -- including the super hard-to-find Helsinki 1952 torch.

The display, put together by Dr. Christian Wacker, a German historian, is genuine. It is engaging. Most important, it doesn't skirt the truth -- it confronts the honest realities that, for instance, the Games have had boycotts and been shadowed by doping problems.

All that, and the one thing that the European press bothered to write about -- which then made the English-language wire services -- is some nude statues?

A compromise -- a fabric six feet in front of the statues -- didn't suit the Greek Culture Ministry. So the antiquities were a no-go, and reportedly shipped back to Athens, where it somehow became a story.

Why? Because cultural sensitivities in Doha are, on some level, different than in Athens? Who got together and decided that cultural standards in Athens make the world go around?

The controversy is all the more incredible given that this exhibit is -- again -- literally in the shadow of one of the world's finest exhibits of Islamic art.

Beyond which -- there is nudity in the exhibit, including a lovely small bronze.

Four Olympic champions, meanwhile, were among those touring the show on Wednesday: Felix, Reese, American triple-jumper Christian Taylor and Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

It was normal.

Then they, and a bunch of other top athletes, went out Friday night and ran. Normal.

"I love racing in Doha," said Kellie Wells, the London bronze medalist in the women's 100 hurdles, who finished second Friday, behind London silver medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson.

Harper-Nelson ran a world-leading 12.6; Wells ran a season-best 12.73. "It's always great to run here," Wells said. "Every single time."


Sanya's Super déjà vu times two?

Four years ago, after David Tyree had somehow super-glued the football to his helmet and the New York Giants escaped with a crazy 17-14 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, it all seemed possible under the stadium tunnel that Arizona evening for Sanya Richards-Ross. Her husband, Aaron Ross, a Giants defensive back, was now and forever a Super Bowl champion.

And she was on her way to the 2008 Beijing Games, the IAAF's 2006 female world athlete of the year with an American-record 48.7 in her specialty, the 400-meters. Nine times in 2006 she ran under 50 seconds. That year she literally went undefeated.

Ross' Super Bowl ring had to be an omen, right? Surely she would now be an individual Olympic gold medalist herself?

Fate works in funny ways.

Sanya Richards-Ross is indeed an Olympic gold medalist. She would go on to win gold in the 4x400 relay in Beijing with a stirring anchor leg.

The thing is, she had already won Olympic gold in that same relay, in Athens in 2004.

In the open 400 in Athens, she was not favored to win, and didn't, coming in sixth.

In the open 400 in Beijing, she absolutely was favored to win but did not. She came in third. She went out of the blocks hard, too hard. She was overtaken down the stretch by both Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain and Shericka Williams of Jamaica.

In 2009, however, at the world championships in Berlin, Sanya won the open 400 decisively, in 49 flat.

Again, though, fate works in funny ways.

This past summer, at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Sanya struggled to even make the 400 final. She was hurt. And there was a lot on her mind -- a lawsuit with a former agent, contract issues, distractions.

In that Daegu 400 final, Sanya finished seventh. Amantle Montsho of Botswana won the race, in 49.56; American Allyson Felix came in second, just three-hundredths of a second back in one of the most thrilling finishes of the 2011 championships.

Sanya came home in 51.32.

Underneath the tunnel that night in Korea, Sanya vowed 2012 would be different.

A couple days ago, running indoors at a little meet in Fayetteville, Ark., Sanya opened her season with a 23.18 in the 200 and a 51.45 in the 400. Both were world-leading times, though Vania Stambolova of Bulgaria would run a 51.26 three days later in Vienna in the 400.

It's not that important that Sanya's times are world-bests in January. Nobody's giving out Olympic medals in the dead of winter.

What's telling is that she's turning out fast times while bearing a heavy training load -- the same way swimmers like Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte can win races in mid-winter even while churning out thousands of yards.

What's impressive, too, is that she decided to run in Fayetteville pretty much at the last minute. She hadn't done any real speed work and had, to tell the truth, been planning -- is still planning -- to run next Saturday in the Millrose Games in New York.

"To be ready to run that well, with the load I have right now in my training … is very exciting and it's how I hope to be able to model my entire season," Sanya said in a very quiet voice.

The reason Sanya was speaking so quietly was that she was in a hotel room in Indianapolis, and Ross -- that's what she calls her husband -- was taking a nap, resting a couple days before Super Bowl XLVI, and she didn't want to disturb him.

Ross has been a rock for Sanya, showing her -- yet again -- how to handle the ups and downs of being a professional athlete. This season, for instance, he was benched in Week Two after giving up two big pass plays to Danario Alexander of the St. Louis Rams. But with injuries to Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara, Ross got another chance to start. And he has been in the lineup since, opposite Corey Webster.

"It's funny," she said, speaking softly when asked to compare the experience four years ago with this year's Super Bowl week. "My hubby -- he is a man of few words. Nothing really gets to him. That is what I admire about him. He is always a happy camper.

"… That has helped me a lot this season. I am more emotional. I wear my heart more on my sleeve. He reminds me that is a business and that I shouldn't take things so personally. I shouldn't take these things to heart. That has helped me tremendously -- helped me a whole lot, not just going into this year but, I hope, the rest of my career."

Who knows what fate holds? It's a fact that when Sanya Richards-Ross is healthy she's as good as anyone.

"My training is right on schedule," she said, adding with a laugh, not too loud so as to be sure not to wake up her husband, "I don't want to make any predictions. We didn't make any predictions about Ross going to make it this far," and who would have predicted the Giants beating the Patriots four years ago?

"I'm just going to take it easy and have fun," she said. "I really, really want to claim my first individual gold medal. That is my target for sure."

Usain Bolt awaits

DAEGU, South Korea -- American Walter Dix, running in sunglasses at night, was so in command and control that he could look left and right as he cruised down Lane 2 to a strong and easy victory Saturday night in his heat of the men's 100-meter dash. He said afterward that he had come to Daegu "to win three gold medals," in the 100, the 200 and the relays. In his heat, another American, Justin Gatlin shook off freezer burn around his ankles to earn an automatic qualifier spot. He declared afterward that Sunday night's 100 final would "probably be one of the most epic world championship we have ever seen."

Confidence is of course a good thing when you have to run against Usain Bolt.

The issue is whether confidence, or anything, matters.

The 2011 version of Bolt is not 2009 or, for that matter, 2008. Even so, the Bolt who was on display Saturday night looked lethal enough. He ran the night's fastest time, 10.10 seconds, and did so though he jogged the final 50 meters.

The men's 100 heats capped a thoroughly full first day here at the world track championships that also saw Americans Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee standing 1-2 halfway through the decathlon, Eaton with 4446 points, Hardee with 4393.

In other performances:

-- All four American women moved through to the next rounds of the 400, led by  Sanya Richards-Ross, in 51.37, and Allyson Felix, in 51.45.

"I feel really healthy, the best I've felt in a long time," Richards-Ross, the defending world champion, said.

"I felt controlled," Felix said of the first race in her 200/400 double. "I wanted to establish a fast 150, then go from there. It was a little bit quicker than what I hoped for but I wanted to make it as easy as possible. I feel good, and excited to get started."

-- Britain's Christine Ohuruogu, the 2008 Beijing gold medalist and 2007 world champion in the 400, false-started and was disqualified. She sat on the stairs leading down into the alley called the "mixed zone," where athletes meet the press, for nearly 20 minutes. She just sat there, in disbelief.

When she came through the zone, she said, "I'm broken. You can all see I'm broken. I have nothing else to say. I false-started. I have worked really hard. I came here. I false started."

-- Incredibly, Kenyan women swept the medals, six-for-six, in the marathon and 10,000 meters.

Edna Kiplagat, who had won the New York marathon last fall, won here in 2:28.43. Priscah Jeptoo took second, Sharon Cherop third.

No nation had ever swept the medals at a worlds or Olympics.

Prior to the Kenyan finish in that marathon, none had even managed a 1-2 finish.

Then came the 10k.

The Kenyans didn't just go 1-2-3.

They went 1-2-3-4:

Vivian Cheruiyot won in 30:48.98, a personal best, followed by Sally Kipyego, then by defending champion Linet Masai. Priscah Cherono finished fourth. Ethiopia's Meselech Melkamu, the African record-holder, took fifth.

All of that, and then came the men's 100 heats.

Jamaican Asafa Powell is not here, purportedly with a groin injury. American Tyson Gay is hurt. Further, American Mike Rodgers and Jamaican Steve Mullings are out because of doping-related issues. The field isn't what it could be.

"Epic" remains to be seen.

Dix, it must be said, looked solid, in 10.25. He said, "I wanted to come out of the blocks well so I could finish easily. That was a great race for me," and it was.

Bolt, it must also be said, remains Bolt.

Dix raced in Heat 2, Bolt in 6.

Before Bolt lined up in Lane 4, he pretended to brush back his hair in an imaginary mirror, to make himself prettier for the cameras. He shot both index fingers as if they were guns. He smoothed his hair back again.

He settled his silver shoes into the blocks, his sponsor logo trimmed in gold. The gun went off, he exploded out and, essentially, the race was over.

Dwain Chambers, over in Lane 8, who came in second in that heat, in 10.28, was asked later if he thought Bolt might be vulnerable.

He said, "I don't think so."