World Athletics Championships defied belief, but some people just lapped it up

Events in Doha were mind-blowing – but for all the wrong reasons

 The Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan reacts after winning the Women’s 1500 metres final at the   Athletics World Championships  in Doha. Photograph:  Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

The Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan reacts after winning the Women’s 1500 metres final at the Athletics World Championships in Doha. Photograph: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

 

As a youngster, my sporting hero was Ronaldinho. The way he flicked the ball, turned opponents inside out and defied every physics law known to man was enough to make me swoon. He also played with an infectious smile that would make anyone fall in love with football. But I discovered recently he supports incredibly right-wing politics and is a strong supporter and lobbyist for Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro. As the kids would say, he was officially cancelled.

Sports stars, when I was growing up, were always seen as role models, people to aspire to and weirdly, a gauge in morality that reflected the world at the time. Watching the World Athletics Championships in a hotel, I prepared to witness future hero Ciara Mageean tear it up on the track. What was supposed to be a race of celebration (watching Mageean become the first Irish athlete to make a dent in the 1,500 metres final since Sonia O’ Sullivan) turned into something that left a sour taste in my mouth.

Dutch runner Sifan Hassan completed her double gold in the 10,000 metres and 1,500 metres. To even an untrained and naive eye, it all seemed a bit funny. Hassan was a Nike Oregon Project runner, someone Alberto Salazar, the now disgraced coach who ran the whole project, believed in. He trusted she could run her personal best. Hassan did that and so much more.

Shattered records

Hassan smashed the 1,500 metres championship record by nearly seven seconds at 3:51.95, and was just two seconds slower than Genzebe Dibaba’s world record of 3:50.07. In the 10,000 metres race just the week before, Hassan shattered records that, according to various coaches and athletes, were humanly impossible for a female runner. Hassan went through five miles (8,047 metres) in 24:45 and 8,500 metres in 26:18, before closing with a final 1,500 metres that was within four seconds of Laura Muir’s British record for the metric mile. Eyebrows and concerns were all raised simultaneously.

But Hassan was adamant that all of our concerns and suggestions were complete and utter bulls**t. She almost begged Wada, Usada and any other anti-drug agency to test her immediately. She said her belief still remains with Alberto, despite everyone knowing that he’s a cheat and used his sons as test subjects for future athletes.

The numbers are there, statistics apparently do not lie, so are we supposed to just take Hassan for what she claims she is? A total freak of nature who only comes along once in a blue moon? An athlete that solely relies on hard work, perseverance and dedication to win these medals and smash records that no athlete, male or female, has ever touched before?

Freak of nature

If you were watching on the BBC, then quite frankly, yes, that is precisely what Hassan is. Just a freak of nature that we should totally believe. Any self-respecting journalist, analyst or commentator would ask questions. The BBC doesn’t have time for questions, though. Gabby Logan tried asking about IAAF’s morals but was shut down by Sebastian Coe, who believes sport belongs to everyone and was not at all swayed by Qatari briefcases. Laura Muir, who is a 1,500 metre darling for Team GB, came fifth and did hint at her opinions after the race, but the BBC wasn’t interested.

And as bad as it is to suspect blatant cheating on the track, it’s even worse to see a broadcaster completely disregard everything that’s gone on. Paula Radcliffe, who championed clean sports and stood behind banners demanding more action, resembled an eerie porcelain doll you would find in horror films. The lights were on, but nobody was home. Instead, Radcliffe babbled on about racing technical and just ignored outside voices.

That’s the world of athletics right now. More questions, no answers, plenty of dismissals. Suspicions raised but too many people to point fingers at.

Mageean was incredibly proud to wear the green vest on an international stage and record a new personal best. The top nine in that 1,500 metres final all broke four minutes. And Hassan led the whole way going 63.51, 62.42, 61.44, and with a final 400 metres of 59.43, for a 3:51.95 front run. Salazar said he believed Hassan could do it. Mageean clocked 4.00.15, which would have won her gold in seven of the last eight finals.

Mind-blowing, said every commentator in Doha. Yes, it was, for all the wrong reasons.

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