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It was the night of the upset after seven days at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
No one could have predicted by the end of the night that three dominant athletes – Shaunae Miller-Uibo (400m), Kevin Mayer (decathlon) and Nafi Thiam (heptathlon) – would be stripped of their supremacy.
In their places, 21-year-old Bahraini Salwa Eid Naser (400m), Germany’s European U23 champion Niklas Kaul (decathlon), and long-standing champion-in-waiting Katarina Johnson-Thompson (heptathlon) ascended to the respective thrones.
If the combined events unfold like an Icelandic saga over two days, the 400m is gone in 50 seconds. Or less in the case of Naser, who ran the astonishing time of 48.14 for one lap, the fastest time in the world for 34 years and the third-fastest in history, to defeat the prohibitive pre-race favourite Shaunae Miller-Uibo.
Undefeated at any distance for the past two years, the tall Bahamian also ran her personal best time of 48.37 but on this night it was not enough.
Naser attacked the first 200m with what seemed like reckless intent, storming past Miller-Uibo before they entered the home straight. Such exceptional early pace would normally cost an athlete dearly on the run home, but Naser held her form and repelled Miller-Uibo’s valiant effort to close the gap in the final metres.
Both women called the race “crazy”, which was a fair summation.
Naser was clearly stunned to take almost a second from her previous best time (49.08).
“I didn’t want to chase because I’m so used to chasing all the time, so I had to go out fast, and I just kept going,” she said.
“To cross the line and see that I am world champion in that amazing time, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Frenchman Mayer’s bid for a second world title ended in tears, when his hamstring failed him during the pole vault competition, as he led the competition in the eighth of the ten events.
When he realised his leg would not give him the power to attempt the bar, he fell face forward into the mats, disconsolate.
But that created an opening for someone in the closely-bunched chasing pack to grasp the opportunity and it was the youngster Kaul who stepped up. He set a pole vault personal best of 5.00m, then went to the javelin runway and launched the spear an enormous 79.05m (a championship decathlon record) which put him within striking distance in third place, and allowed him to take advantage of his superior running in the final 1500m event.
He finished with a total of 8691 points to become the youngest world decathlon champion in history.
Estonia’s Maicel Uibo (8604) matched his wife Miller-Uibo’s silver medal, while veteran Canadian Damian Warner (8529) took the bronze.
Olympic and world champion Thiam had not lost a combined events competition for more than three years before tonight but the Briton Johnson-Thompson has been edging closer with every competition and she finally struck in Doha.
She opened with a personal best in the 100m hurdles yesterday (13.09) and kept the pressure on the defending champion throughout the competition, setting four personal bests in the seven events.
She finished just shy of the magical 7000-point barrier (6981) but broke the British record of 2012 Olympic champion Jessica Ennis (6955).
Belgium’s Thiam, who was impeded by an elbow injury, claimed the silver medal with 6677.
It was left to China’s Gong Lijiao to defy the trend by successfully defending her world title in the shot put. Gong was less than her best but still good enough to win with a best throw of 19.55m.