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Sometime around 2:10 AM on September 28, I will be standing on a Middle Eastern waterfront watching a marathon finish.
The conditions dictate that we won’t have any idea when the first man will cross the finish line in Doha Bay. Or how many will finish the race at all. A midnight start — actually 11:59 AM on September 27 — will spare the runners from triple-digit temperatures and put them in more reasonable, but in no way ideal, conditions of high-80s as they complete a series of seven-kilometer loops along the Doha Corniche, illuminated by floodlights.
It’s a marathon suited for these World Championships — where the host site’s incompatibility to a traditional championship has caused ripple effects throughout the meet. It’s why the meet won’t begin until late September and daily sessions won’t start until the late afternoon and will be run on a pink (!) track in a climate-controlled stadium. It’s also why I’ll be standing in Qatar next to a bunch of boats in the middle of the night waiting to see how fast someone can run a marathon without the presence of the sun.
Just as we don’t know how a midnight marathon will unfold (did anybody train at midnight for this thing?), we have no idea of how these championships as a whole will unfold. Here’s a run-through of the other interesting aspects of the meet.
Crank That AC
According to the local organizing committee, Khalifa Stadium’s cooling system can keep the track and stands at 70 degrees Fahrenheit even when the outside temperature is as high as 104. They will do this through cooling units positioned throughout the stadium (no roof here, this is outdoor track after all), to ensure everyone isn’t subjected to heat exhaustion. If it gets above 104, I’m not sure what happens. If you are HVAC-certified, stand by.
There have been assurances that the AC won’t be blowing at the sprinters' backs during the race, though if they could get a nice 2.0 m/s, it would certainly help with the times.
Of course, 70 degrees is great spectating weather, but it’s a bit warm for the 10,000m and 5000m. Sprinters might like it a few degrees warmer so this won’t be perfect, but remember the old saying: "Don’t let perfect be the enemy of a whole bunch of air conditioners at a track meet."
Then there’s the color of the track. It’s a distinct pink, a turn away from the red, orange, and blues that make up the traditional pallet. There’s never been a pink track before. This won’t have any impact on the competition, but I love new track colors.
Portland’s green track for the 2016 World Indoor Championships was iconic, and Madrid debuted a green track this year.
No Morning Sessions
The new location meant the death of morning sessions. Other than the road events, the action begins on the track in the afternoon; the earliest start time is 4:15 PM. That’s good for those watching in the U.S. With a seven-hour time difference to the ET, that at least makes it possible to watch the full session without waking up in the middle of the night.
It’s not especially convenient if you have to work or attend class during the day, but it’s better than the alternative. It also means that, on the weekends, if you don’t have to work, you could watch a ton of track between 9 AM and 5 PM.
Mixed Gender 4x400m
This will be the first global championships with the mixed-gender 4x400m relay. Two men and two women will compete to see which country has the most depth in the 400m. They’ve run this event at the World Relays and it was fun. Men trying to chase down women on the anchor leg, coaches strategizing what the best order is, general relay frivolity.
But how will it fit in a meet with more gravitas? The heats are on day two and the finals are on day three, presumably to not conflict with the open 400s or the 4x400m. It’s still hard to imagine that many of the top runners would want to race an extra 400m before the individual event.
Further, the best individuals don’t always come from nations with the most depth, so the line-ups for the mixed-gender relay could be devoid of marquee names.
It’s not as hyped as the midnight marathon, but the conclusion of the decathlon and heptathlon will both take place early morning on Friday, October 4. Very early. The heptathlon 800m kicks off at 12:05 AM, while the decathlon goes at 12:15 AM. It’s yet another by-product of the hot temperatures and the late start to the meet (the first event of the decathlon’s second day doesn’t start until 4:35 PM, the heptathlon gets going at 6:15 PM).
Yes, the athletes will be in the temperature-controlled comfort of Khalifa Stadium, but multi-events take their toll even in the best of conditions. Typically, the multis occupy opposite ends of the meet schedule, another wrinkle in the 2019 program.