DOHA: There’s little doubt that no athlete will command as much attention and crowd support at tomorrow night’s IAAF Diamond League series kick-off than Mutaz Essa Barshim, the recently-minted world indoor champion.
The admiration is certainly deserved. It’ll be the first home appearance for the 24-year-old since his triumph at the World Indoor Championships two months ago and his world championships silver medal a year ago.
With his 2.40 personal best, he’s already one of the finest jumpers in history and certainly among the most well-known athletes in Qatar.
He’s not making any predictions, but he hinted that he is aiming high for tomorrow night.
2009 world champion Jesse Williams, who is also in the field, set the meeting record of 2.33 in 2011. That mark is a clear target, Barshim said.
“We have a very strong field and many jumpers have been jumping well,” he said. “I think it’s going to fall.”
But Barshim isn’t the only local athlete to watch. Behind the local giant another half dozen athletes will be looking to make their presence felt at the Qatar Sports Club.
Femi Ogunode may have captured his first international accolade over 60 metres with his bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships two months ago, but has already built solid credentials in longer sprints that will suit him admirably in tomorrow’s 200m contest.
The 22-year-old captured the 2010 Asian Games title at both 200 and 400 metres and was the Asian champion over 200 metres in 2011. He’ll be making his outdoor debut.
In the 800 metres, 2013 Asian champion Abdulrahman Musaeb Bala will ride strong career momentum into the weekend. The 25-year-old ended last season with a victory in Rieti in 1:43.93, a national record. He kicked off 2014 with a 1:46.82 national record indoors clocking in Stockholm and took the Asian indoor title in Hangzhou.
Mohamed Al Garni will lead Qatar’s two-pronged attack in the 1500 metres. The 21-year-old, who took world junior bronze in 2010, clocked his 3:34.61 career best on the Doha track at the 2011 Arab Games where he won bronze.
Indoors this year he captured the 1500/3000 metres double at the Asian Indoor Championships. Meanwhile, Hamza Driouch, the world junior champion in 2012 and still just 19, has a runner-up 1500m finish from Hangzhou to his credit this season.
In the 3000 metres steeplechase, Ali Abubaker Kamal, a finalist at the 2007 and 2009 world championships and 2008 Olympic Games, will make his outdoor debut. In his only indoor appearance, he finished second the 3000 metres in Hangzhou.
And finally, back to the high jump where Mutaz Essa Barshim will have his younger brother Muamer watching his back.
Just 20, he is two and a half years his brother’s junior, but aiming continually to climb from behind his sibling’s shadow. The Asian junior champion in 2012, Muamer’s 2.20 career best came in this meeting two years ago. He’ll be looking to the stands for support in climbing higher yet again tomorrow.