The first two National Records of the 2019 World Championships

The first two National Records of the 2019 World Championships

Runners from Malawi and Bhutan make the most of their chance to race with the best in the world.

Doha Moments
A Løpe Magazine Special, September 2019

By Liam Boylan-Pett

On Saturday night in Doha, Qatar, Christian Coleman bolted from the blocks with remarkable power and proceeded to run away from seven of the best 100-meter runners in the world, reaching the finish line 9.76 seconds after the crack of the gun to win the world title. The time made Coleman the sixth-fastest 100-meter runner of all time, and third best on the all-time U.S. list. 

It was the third race of Coleman’s world championships. That is how things work at a meet with the magnitude of a global competition. About three-and-a-half-hours earlier, Coleman had won his semifinal in 9.88 seconds. Before that, on Friday night, Coleman ran in the prelims, winning the sixth of six heats in 9.98 seconds. He won that race from Lane 4 of the ten-lane straightaway in Khalifa Stadium, easily defeating his six competitors. There was supposed to be seven, but Ngan Ngoc Nghia from Vietnam did not make it to the start line, leaving Lane 9 empty. It would not have been Ngoc Nghia’s first race of the world championships. 

In the 100 at the world championships, forty-eight competitors qualified for the the prelim. Only thirty-eight athletes were given automatic entry, however. The final ten athletes had to earn their way into the competition. So, ninety minutes before the 100-meter heats in Doha, thirty men ran for ten qualifying spots. That’s why Ngoc Nghia was supposed to be racing Coleman in the heats on Friday, but apparently an injury kept him out of that race. He took second place to South Korea’s Kukyoung Kim in the second heat of qualifying, running a season’s best 10.67 seconds. 

That pre-qualifying round of the 100-meter dash was the first event held on the track at Khalifa Stadium at the world championships, and in the fourth, and final heat, two athletes set national records—the first of the championships. 

In the fourth heat, Ebrima Camara of Gambia won in 10.36 seconds. Behind him, Fiji’s Ratu Banuve Tabakaucoro ran 10.56 seconds to take second. Then, crossing the line in third, Stern Noel Liffa set the Malawi national record, running 10.72 seconds. Malawi is an African country of about eighteen-million people sandwiched between Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. The country is not known for its track and field—although Catherine Chikwakwa was a junior world silver medalist in 2004 in the 5,000 meters—and Liffa was the only athlete the nation sent to Doha to compete. 

Three spots and less than one second behind Liffa in sixth, Dinesh Kumar Dhakal set a Bhutanese national record of 11.64 seconds. Bhutan, located in South Asia, is the country that pioneered the idea of Gross National Happiness. On Friday, Dhakal had to have been happy to set the national record for a country that, until 2012, had sent only archers to the Olympic Games. 

Neither Liffa nor Dhakal ran fast enough to qualify for the prelim heats held later Friday evening in Doha. And perhaps they never will qualify for a prelim or a semifinal. Countries are eligible to send wildcard athletes to the world championships and the Olympic Games even when those athletes have not reached the stringent—and confusing—qualifying standards.

On this day, Liffa and Dhakal made the most of their situation. Whether either will be selected for future world championships or Olympic Games simply depends.

That is the beauty of track and field. Athletes like Liffa and Dhakal were able to make the most of their short trip to the 2019 world championships. 

Now, they’re the best in their country to ever do it.

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National Records from Stern Noel Liffa of Malawi in third and Dinesh Kumar Dhakal of Bhutan in sixth. National Records from Stern Noel Liffa of Malawi in third and Dinesh Kumar Dhakal of Bhutan in sixth.