Mutaz Essa Barshim

From the heart, Doha wins for 2019

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MONACO — Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim is just 23, a bronze medalist in the men's high jump at the London 2012 Olympics, silver medalist in the event at the 2013 world championships, gold medalist at the 2014 world indoor championships. Speaking here Tuesday with real passion and soul to the 27 members of the ruling council of international track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, Barshim said, on behalf of Doha’s bid for the 2019 world championships, “Are you willing to expand the sport that we love?”

Doha had it all Tuesday: facilities, resource, ambition, the advantage of coming back humbled after losing to London for 2017. With Eugene, Oregon, pressing hard, plainly presenting for one and all the question that dared to be asked — was the IAAF willing to entertain the notion of going, finally, to the United States — Doha played the trump card.

Mutaz Essa Barshim.

The jubilant Qatari team as "Doha" is announced for 2019 // photo courtesy IAAD

The IAAF awarded its 2019 championships to Doha in a close vote, the Qatari capital winning over Eugene in a second round of voting, 15-12.

In a first round, Doha had gotten 12 votes, Eugene nine. The third city in the mix, Barcelona, got six votes and was eliminated.

It is entirely typical in bid contests, whether for the Olympic Games or otherwise, for bid cities to put celebrity athletes front and center to troll for votes. Usually, these athletes read from cue cards or look uncomfortable and the whole thing seems forced and weird.

When it works, however, it really works.

Three years ago, for instance, the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games bid committee relied on Toby Dawson, the U.S. skier who had been born in Korea, then adopted by an American family. His heartwarming story tugged at emotions as Pyeongchang rolled to a landslide victory.

On Tuesday, the U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix was — as always — elegant in advancing Eugene’s case. Giving of her time on her (29th) birthday, she said, “Putting your event in Eugene will launch a revolution of throwing, running and jumping in our country."

U.S. sprint star Allyson Felix urging a vote for Eugene // photo courtesy IAAF

The Americans had made it abundantly clear that they saw the 2019 vote as a defining moment for the IAAF. If not now for track and field in the United States, when?

“Destiny is calling us,” bid leader Vin Lananna said. “America is waiting. Eugene is ready. Let’s tell our story together.”

From the American view, there was so much positive about this Eugene candidacy:

A re-done Hayward Field. The potential of packed stands, morning and night, a marked contrast to the worlds in 2013 (Moscow) and 2011 (Daegu, South Korea), which suffered from empty stadiums.

As the Americans told the council in the last question to be asked, a 2019 Eugene championships would be broadcast live on NBC. As Felix and others made abundantly plain, the worlds would re-energize the sport in the United States — the engine for much more to come in bigger cities.

What was left unsaid but nonetheless clearly understood, meantime, were other factors. Consider:

— Doha would put on the 2019 worlds from Sept. 28-Oct. 6. For contrast, the 2015 worlds will be Aug. 22 in Beijing, the 2017 edition Aug. 5-13 in London.

Doha 2019 would be just 10 months before the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. How would that affect athlete training?

That time frame, moreover, lines up in the middle of other peak broadcast seasons, including the NFL.

— This was the rare circumstance in which the U.S. could actually be seen as the developing market.

In his remarks to the council, Lananna said, “Really, what is the takeaway? The United States promises to you today to deliver an unbelievable world championships.”

The challenge for Eugene: Doha promised the same thing, albeit in so many words.

While the U.S. is still climbing back into the international bid game, Doha — and Qatar — are by now seasoned veterans.

Over the next year, Qatar will play host to 43 international sports events. It will stage world championships in swimming and team handball, among others. In 2018, it will put on the world gymnastics championships. Of course, in 2022 it gets the soccer World Cup.

Perhaps of most relevance to the IAAF, Doha bid three years ago for the 2017 worlds. London won, 16-10, amid a pledge from Sebastian Coe, the leader of the London 2012 Games, to keep track and field at Olympic Stadium after those Games.

“When you lose, you should be humble,” Sheik Saoud bin Abdulrahman al Thani, the Doha 2019 bid leader and general secretary of the Qatar Olympic Committee, said. “Not every game will you win.”

For 2019, the Qataris promised a 100-meter video board atop the stadium. Five-star accommodations. A night marathon along the Corniche.

The late September start, they said, means that futuristic air conditioning systems in the stadium won’t be needed — but they have it and, they declared, can get temperatures down in two hours.

A Be In TV executive, Yousef Al Obaidly, promised “the most comprehensive promotional package ever.”

There’s a new mega-airport in Doha. Qatar Airways rocks.

And on and on.

“Today,” Dahlan al Hamad, president of the Qatar Athletics Federation and an IAAF vice president told the council, “we have the choice to make a deep impact, in a place where our sport can really grow, with a partner that can help us to make it happen.”

To critics of Doha, Sheikh Saoud had this to say in an interview: “We tell them to come and witness for yourself. Come and see. A lot of people don’t have the financial power [that Qatar does]. Not a lot of people choose to use sport … for everything. We believe in sport.”

Last week, at a major Olympic meeting in Bangkok, the feeling was Eugene was looking at five -- maybe eight -- votes maximum, in the first round. It wasn’t clear whether the Oregon city would even make it through to the second round.

The Eugene presentation Tuesday was, in every way, first rate. That clearly helped.

But so, too, Doha.

And only one of the two had Mutaz Essa Barshim.

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“We need you to be the spark,” he told the IAAF council.

“We need everybody’s help. We need to make an impact. We need to take athletics to a new place. I’m not the only one sharing this dream.”

He added for emphasis a moment later, “We need everybody to come together for the sport that we love.”

None of this was rehearsed. Barshim spoke without notes. He did not pause or need for an instant to collect himself. “No script,” he said.

“Almost I had tears,” Sheikh Saoud, who has seen it all, said later. “The way he spoke — he was not just a star athlete. He was a star of expression.

“Most council members,” the sheik reminded, “were athletes. They were in his shoes. They know how it is.”

“From the heart,” Barshim would say later.

It’s a lesson worth remembering. For all the resource, it always comes down to this: sport — even, perhaps especially, the bidding for the events at which high-level sport is contested — is about emotion, about human connection.

On this day in Monaco, Doha had it. See you in 2019 in Qatar.

Rainbow fingernails stir it up

There was a terrific track meet Thursday at Luzhniki Stadium at Moscow. But the central action came -- unsurprisingly -- courtesy of Russian pole vault diva Yelena Isinbayeva, underscoring the controversy over Russia's new anti-gay law. It all started when Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro posted an Instagram picture of her fingernails painted "in the colors of the rainbow," with the hashtags #pride and #moscow2013. Also, Swedish sprinter Moa Hjelmer ran in the heats of the 200-meter heats with her nails painted in rainbow colors as well.

Isinbayeva, who got her gold medal Thursday after Tuesday's captivating pole-vault action, told reporters, in English, "If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people. We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys.

"Everything must be fine. It comes from history. We never had any problems, these problems in Russia, and we don't want to have any in the future."

Green Tregaro is one of the world's best jumpers, a consistent top-10 performer; she is due to return to the track Saturday for the high jump finals. Isinbayeva said even painted fingernails were out of place.

14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 - Day Six

"It's unrespectful to our country. It's unrespectful to our citizens because we are Russians. Maybe we are different from European people and other people from different lands. We have our home and everyone has to respect (it). When we arrive to different countries, we try to follow their rules."

Isinbayeva's comments in defense of the Russian law, which prohibits the promotion of homosexuality to minors or holding gay pride rallies, need to be fully understood in context.

Who thinks that someone of her stature made such remarks without the full support beforehand of the leading authorities in Russia? After all, she is due to be the honorary mayor of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games athletes' village.

This, too: the demonstration by the Swedish athletes makes for an interesting test. There were no immediate reports of Green Tregaro being arrested. Nor, for that matter, Hjelmer.

Back to the track:

In the same way that Isinbayeva captivated fans Tuesday night with her victory in the pole vault, the men's high-jump thrilled fans Thursday, with Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko coming out on top in a duel with Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim, Canada's Derek Drouin and Russia's Ivan Ukhov.

For the first time since 1995, a 2.35-meter clearance in the high jump -- 7 feet, 8-1/2 inches -- would not even be good enough for a medal.

Bondarenko's winning jump: a championship-record 2.41 meters, or 7 feet, 10-3/4 inches.

Barshim and Drouin tied for bronze last year in London; here, Barshim took silver, Drouin, bronze. Ukhov, last year's gold medalist, settled for fourth. American Eric Kynard, the 2012 silver medalist, took fifth.

With a huge contingent of fans from Ukraine on hand, in their blue and yellow shirts, Bondarenko, seventh last year in London, made three tries at a new world record -- 2.46 meters, or 8 feet, 3/4 inch -- but no go. It was quite a spectacle; he wore one yellow shoe and one red.

In the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase, Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi continued his dominance with an 8:06.01 victory.

14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 - Day Six

If track and field were more of a mainstream sport, particularly in the United States, Kemboi would be a dream. As it is, in many precincts, he is a virtual unknown. Amazing, considering he has two Olympic golds and, now, three world championship golds.

For this race, Kemboi showed up with a Mohawk. He is a character and celebrated his win -- which he ensured with his typical kick into overdrive down the homestretch -- with, per usual, a dance, using the Kenyan flag as a makeshift skirt.

Under his singlet, it turned out, he was wearing a shirt that proclaimed he was wearing his victory -- he had a certain confidence, apparently -- to Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy William Ruto, "my heroes my kings I love Kenya."

Kenya's Conseslus Kipruto -- he's just 18 -- took silver, in  8:06.37, and France's Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad bronze 8:07.86.

As a measure of their county's dominance in the event, check out the rank of Kenyans in top 10 in the order of finish: 1, 2, 4, 7.

Meanwhile, Evan Jager of the United States ran fifth in 8:08.62, the best finish for an American man since Mark Croghan in 1993. Jager's marked the fastest fifth-place time, ever, in a 3,000-meter steeplechase at a world championships.

Jager now has the three fastest 3k steeple times in American history. And he has only run the event 12 times.

"I'm definitely happy with how far I've come, and I'm excited for the future," Jager said. "But I really wanted a medal. I wanted it real bad."

Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago became the island nation's second-ever world champ -- behind sprinter Ato Boldon, now an NBC analyst -- winning the men's 400-meter hurdles, in 47.69, the fastest time in the world this year. American Michael Tinsley finished in a personal best 47.70.

Both men ended up sprawled on the blue track just after the finish line, the race too close to call for a few moments.

Serbia's Emir Bekric, the European under-23 champion who almost seems too big and too tall to be running track -- he looks like a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, or something -- took bronze, in a national-record 48.05.

Felix Sanchez, the 2004 and 2012 Olympic champion, got fifth, in 48.22.

In the women's 400 hurdles, Zuzana Henjova of the Czech Republic, who had served notice all week that she was the one to beat, came through for the gold in 52.84, the best time in the world this year.

Americans went 2-3, Dalilah Muhammad catching Lashinda Demus at the line for the silver. Muhammad finished in 54.09, Demus in 54.27.

Caterine Ibarguen's win in the triple jump marked Colombia's first-ever gold medal at the worlds.

Finally, in the women's 1500 -- the start of which was held for 10 minutes while the men's high jump wrapped up -- Sweden's Abeba Aregawi kicked past American Jenny Simpson, who had led for most of the race.

Aregawi -- who ran for Ethiopia at the 2012 Olympics, finishing fifth -- crossed in 4:02.67, Simpson in 4:02.99. Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba took their in 4:03.86.

Simpson's silver proved emphatically that her victory in the event two years ago at the worlds in Daegu, South Korea, was no fluke.

"I think the last 200 I was almost unconscious," Simpson said. "I just kept telling myself, just run as hard as you can."

Mary Cain, the 17-year-old from Bronxville, N.Y., finished 10th, in 4:07.19.

She said, "I think later tonight I'm going to be really, really angry in a good way, and I think I'm going to be really motivated. I think you guys are probably a little scared. Normally you see me like, 'Oh, ducks, puddles,' but I'm going to go home and I'm going to get into this. I think this is going to motivate me so much for next year.

"Next year there are no worlds. It's just me and learning how to race."