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The 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, are 11 days away. We’ve weathered the longest track season ever and now all eyes turn to the Qatari capital as the first-ever Middle Eastern host of a track and field global championship. From the air-conditioned track and pink surface to the midnight marathon, there will be plenty that makes this year’s marquee event completely different from anything that’s ever come before it.
As the championships rapidly approach, I’ve outlined 10 people (or, more accurately, nine people and one mascot) who will most define the 2019 event, both on the track and off it.
1. Seb Coe
The IAAF president will be re-elected for his second term on Sep. 25 as he is running unopposed. Coe’s first four-year tenure has been a mixed bag of controversy — the Semenya debacle, Russian ban, criminal remnants from the previous administration — and promise, as Lord Coe has sought to revamp the Diamond League and championship programs to make track and field more visible.
But the success of this year’s event, the first without Usain Bolt, could be critical for Coe’s legacy. If the midnight marathon turns into a farce and overall attendance numbers are low, the governing body’s president will be the first person to blame.
2. Noah Lyles
As the most exciting sprinter on the planet, Lyles will be the star of the show in Doha. As he told us at USAs, his hair will be silver — for Goku’s final form, of course — and the sock lineup will be similarly compelling. The 22-year-old has already notched the fastest 200m time since 2012, 19.50, with the 19.32 American record not outside the realm of possibilities in the Oct. 1 final.
3. Christian Coleman
The 100m favorite will be under an intense microscope at the World Championships even after USADA dropped their case against Coleman for whereabouts failures. Last week, the 23-year-old released a lengthy video blasting the anti-doping agency for initially citing him since his filing failures technically were not within a year window. We’ve heard from Coleman, now we get the chance to see the world’s fastest man race for the first time since USAs in July.
4. Falah the Falcon
The Doha mascot has a cape, plays hoops, cooks and overall appears to be a bird of the people. Most importantly, Falah the Falcon is a big improvement over Hero the Hedgehog from the 2017 World Championships.
5. Dahlan Al Hamad
The IAAF vice president and head of the local organizing committee, Dahlan Al Hamad says he expects to exceed 400,000 spectators over the course of the 10-day event. For a stadium with a 48,000 seat capacity, that would seem to be an ambitious goal given the low attendance numbers at the Asian Championships and the Doha Diamond League earlier in the year. With Doha being the first Middle Eastern city to ever host a World Championships, the pressure is on Al Hamad to deliver a successful event.
6. Dalilah Muhammad
The 29-year-old reigning Olympic 400m hurdles champion will look to validate her July 28 world record (52.20) with a world title in Doha. That won’t be easy, however, as Muhammad has been beaten in two of her last three races by a certain 20-year-old phenom...
7. Sydney McLaughlin
The Diamond League 400m hurdles champion will reach a new stratosphere of superstardom if she can accomplish two difficult but attainable feats in her first World Championships: winning the world title and breaking the world record. McLaughlin was dusted by Muhammad when the latter ran 52.20 at USAs, but otherwise, the rookie pro has not lost a hurdles race in 2019. McLaughlin hasn’t come close to the 52.2s, but her consistency — she’s run in the 52.8s the last two races — and raw speed suggests a record could happen in the final on Oct. 4.
8. Abderrahman Samba
Last year’s 400m hurdles star has not raced in his premier event since May and has not competed at all since July. Samba entered the season as the host country’s best shot at gold in 2019, and he still may be, but the 24-year-old has a herculean task in front of him with Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin both firing on all cylinders. Even if Samba can get back to his sub-47 ways in Doha, that may not be enough to win gold against two all-time greats at the peak of their powers.
9. Mutaz Essa Barshim
Like Samba, Qatari high jump hero Mutaz Essa Barshim will be one of the headliners in Doha. The question is if the reigning world champion can recapture his past form despite enduring a down season that has included a lowly 2.27m best. The 28-year-old’s last competition was not a promising sign, as Barshim only cleared 2.20m on Aug. 29 in Zurich.
10. Shaunae Miller-Uibo
The 200m-400m dual-threat is only running the longer event in Doha because of a mistake in scheduling that the IAAF should have corrected. A 21.74 and 48.97 performer should be able to run a double over a 10-day event, but unbelievably, the semifinals are just 45 minutes apart. Miller-Uibo is petitioning the IAAF to make the 2020 Olympic schedule more accommodating, an argument that will surely be considered if the Bahamian crushes the 400m field in Doha. The 25-year-old hasn’t lost at either distance in over two years.