The World Athletics Championships get underway in Doha on Friday.
Here are three athletes who could prove to be star turns in the first global showpiece event since 2003 not to feature Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt:
Noah Lyles (USA)
A precocious talent who dabbled with gymnastics and then the high jump but has become one of the most feared 200 metres runners, highlighted in 2018 by joining Bolt as the only sprinters to go under 19.70 four times in their careers. Like Bolt in 2009, Lyles did it in one season.
Bolt, for his part, does not doubt Lyles’s talent but wonders if he can cope with the pressures and expectations of a world championships. “It all comes down to the championship. Is he confident to come into a race after running three races and show up?” Bolt told the New York Tmes. “For me, he has shown that he has talent, but when the championship comes, we will see what happens.”
Karsten Warholm (NOR)
Despite the heat in Doha the young Norwegian could well break Kevin Young’s 400 metres hurdles world record of 46.78sec that has stood since 1992.
The charismatic 23-year-old and defending champion went under the magical 47-second barrier in Zurich in August, pushed hard by Rai Benjamin who also timed under 47sec. Warholm described the time as “crazy” but promised that there is more in the locker.
“It’s just amazing and still the best will come. In a way, I’d like to say goodbye and see you next season but it’s the World Champs, the biggest thing this year.”
Warholm’s hunger for success is crystal clear in the choice of his role model, fictional financier Gordon Gekko, the anti-hero of Oliver Stone’s film “Wall Street”. “I live by the words of Wall Street movie character Gordon Gekko. He says ‘Greed is good’,” Warholm told IAAF’s Spikes.
Behind the sublimely-talented Warholm there is 63-year-old coach Leif Olav Alnes who pushes the young athlete to his limits. “It’s like we’re the same age mentally – whatever age that is, whether it is five or 50, that is up to you to decide,” said Warholm.
Sifan Hassan (NED)
Sifan Hassan would provide quite a back story if she at last wins a major global title having arrived in her adopted country as a 15-year-old refugee from Ethiopia.
The dichotomy facing the two-time European champion (1,500m in 2014 and 5,000m in 2018) is that she is so good at so many distances. She broke the 23-year-old mile record in Monaco in July and could easily tackle the 10,000m and then size up the 5,000m or the 1,500m in Doha – she is entered for all three distances.
Hassan, 26, discovered her aptitude for running whilst she was training to be a nurse and controversial coach Alberto Salazar has seemingly worked his magic on her like he did with British distance great Mo Farah.
However, Salazar says she is the one who really pushes the limits, not him.
“She will routinely throw up after half a hard workout,” Salazar told the FloTrack website. “But, she’ll throw up four or five times and then she’ll say, ‘All right, I want to keep going, next interval.’ She’s very tough.”