World Athletics Championships: Lyles ready for Bolt's throne as Doha gears up for Olympics preview

By Sports Desk September 26, 2019

The globe's finest track and field stars have descended on Doha for the 2019 World Athletics Championships, as the competition enters a new era.

The sport's grandest outdoor event outside the Olympics is being staged in the Middle East for the first time in its 36-year history, with 1972 competitors - including all 30 Diamond League champions - from 210 teams in action from Friday until October 6.

The next 10 days will also bear witness to the first world championships since 2005 where Usain Bolt, the man who set world records over 100 and 200 metres 10 years ago in Berlin, will not be competing.

In Qatar, there will be pretenders to Bolt's throne, not only as the fastest human being in history but also as the sport's most charismatic champion.

There will be past winners - including the event's most decorated athlete in history - and old rivalries renewed in the Doha heat in what could be a championships to make or break the IAAF's commitment to putting athletics firmly back on the minds of the masses.

With the Olympics less than a year away, who will take the world by storm?

LYLES OUT TO SURPASS BOLT AS JAMAICA'S GREATEST GO HEAD-TO-HEAD

It sometimes sounds trite to talk of Bolt's 'successor', but athletics may well have found its newest poster boy in American Noah Lyles.

The 22-year-old clocked 19.50 seconds in Lausanne – the fourth-fastest 200m time in history – and will have his eye on Bolt's record of 19.19.

Indeed, this could be Lyle's best chance to go under that remarkable time from a decade ago, as the 2014 Youth Olympics champion plans to double up in the 100m and 200m from next year. In Doha, he will not have so many distractions.

It means defending 100m champion Justin Gatlin, who has gone under 10 seconds four times this season at the age of 37, will face his toughest competition against 2017 silver medallist Christian Coleman. Cleared to compete after United States anti-doping authorities withdrew charges relating to missed drugs tests, Coleman ran a world-leading time of 9.81 in June and is many people's favourite for gold. Nigeria's Divine Oduduru and in-form Akani Simbine cannot be discounted, though.

Perhaps the most enthralling battle comes in the women's 100m, though, where two Jamaican Olympic champions over the distance, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson, will go head-to-head. They share the world-leading time of 10.73 for 2019 and know how to handle the spotlight of athletics' most demanding events, although Dina Asher-Smith and defending world champion Tori Bowie must be considered major threats.

FELIX BACK FOR MORE METAL AS 400M HURDLES HEAT UP

Allyson Felix, the most decorated athlete in world championships history, will seek to add to her 16 medals in the 4x400m relay following the premature birth of her daughter last November.

In the individual race, all eyes are on Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who has put her sole focus on the 400m and whose 49.05 time in Gainesville this year has not been beaten.

With defending champion and world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk absent, expect Michael Norman and Fred Kerley to stage a spectacular showdown in the men's event – although perhaps 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James, beset by injury troubles in recent seasons, could spring a shock.

The real intrigue lies in the one-lap hurdle events, though. 

Dalilah Muhammad broke Yulia Pechonkina's 16-year world record at the US Championships with a time of 52.20 and the Olympic champion is now hoping to add world gold to her collection by withstanding the pressure of rising star Sydney McLaughlin.

Karsten Warholm might be the second-fastest man in history in the 400m hurdles, but Rai Benjamin is ready to push him all the way in Doha, the two having both gone beneath 47 seconds in a thrilling race in Zurich. Abderrahman Samba is also a huge threat.

Warholm, backed by maverick coach Leif Olav Alnes, has compared himself to fictional financier Gordon Gekko of the motto "greed is good", as he targets back-to-back world golds. Benjamin's response? "If Karsten is Gordon Gekko, then I am the IRS."

ECHEVARRIA BACK AND JUMPING FOR JOY

Juan Miguel Echevarria's 8.65m broke the Diamond League record for the men's long jump in Zurich, a distance bettered only by a massive wind-assisted 8.92m he managed in March.

Mike Powell's world record of 8.95m has long been considered out of reach, but Echevarria could at least leap closer to that mark.

Belgium's record-holder in the women's long jump is, of course, the indomitable Nafissatou Thiam, who is favourite to defend her heptathlon title after setting a world-leading 6819 in Talence this year despite having an elbow injury.

Having leapt to within nine centimetres of Inessa Kravets' 15.50m from 1995, defending world triple jump champion Yulimar Rojas is another targeting a world record - assuming the hi-tech cooling system in the Khalifa International Stadium can keep the intense heat at bay.

The conditions in Doha have prompted concerns around athlete welfare and there will be extra medical staff, water stops and ice baths available for the marathon races that get underway at 23:59 local time (20:59 GMT) to avoid the worst of the weather.

It takes more than heat and humidity to put off Jesus Angel Garcia, though. Spain's maestro race walker will become the World Championships' oldest ever competitor at the age of 49 when he gets going in the 50-kilometre event on September 28.

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  • Manchester City v Manchester United: Sterling following footsteps of Barnes and Regis, says Townsend Manchester City v Manchester United: Sterling following footsteps of Barnes and Regis, says Townsend

    Few, if any, Manchester City players will receive a bigger roar of approval than Raheem Sterling when the teams are read out before kick-off at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

    The England forward will aim to inspire victory in the Manchester derby against United for his adoring public, before basking in its glow the following day – his 25th birthday.

    Whatever the result, Sterling's quarter-century also marks the one-year anniversary of bleak but life-altering day.

    "The way they were looking at me, I had to see where all this anger was coming from," he told the New York Times, remembering how he observed a small number of irate fans in the Matthew Harding Stand at Stamford Bridge, while retrieving the ball for a corner during a Premier League match City would lose 2-0 to Chelsea.

    "I was listening in to hear what they were saying… 'Nah, that can't be what I heard'."

    Television replays that quickly went viral on social media suggested Sterling's suspicions he had been subjected to racist abuse were correct.

    This July, Chelsea also reached that conclusion as they banned one supporter for life and handed out sanctions from between one to two years for incidents at the same Premier League match. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to initiate criminal prosecutions.

    By this stage, Sterling had long since altered the conversation.

    'Have a second though'

    "Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game, as you can see by my reaction, I just had to laugh because I don't expect no better," he wrote in an Instagram post the day after the game, in what remains a damning assessment of the atmospheres and sickening attitudes too often allowed to fester in football stadia – supposedly places of celebration and work for young athletes.

    But Sterling was keen to turn the focus outwards, taking the opportunity to highlight the contrasting tones with which the Daily Mail reported on two of his young team-mates Phil Foden and Tosin Adarabioyo – one white, one black – buying houses for their mothers.

    "This young black kid is looked at in a bad light, which helps fuel racism an aggressive behaviour," Sterling posted, before imploring news outlets to "have a second thought about fair publicity"

    Troy Townsend, head of development at anti-racism and discrimination organisation Kick It Out, felt this reframing was particularly timely given the events a week earlier at the north London derby, where a Tottenham fan threw a banana skin at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

    "My response was, literally, 'Well done, Raheem'," Townsend told Omnisport.

    "The week before, [the Aubameyang incident] wasn't racism to many. That wasn't racism to people who have never experienced the act of the banana being thrown at them or being called a monkey.

    "So, Raheem's was a massive, great step. It let the media look at each other and I think that's massive. In one post he's made elements of the media change."

    Far from being hindered by the increased focus upon him as an eloquent and reluctant role model, Sterling has gone from strength to strength on the field.

    That treble feeling

    A brace in May's FA Cup final saw him conclude last season with 25 club goals in all competitions as City claimed an unprecedented domestic treble – the first part of which, the EFL Cup, came as Sterling steered the decisive kick in a penalty shoot-out against Chelsea into the top corner.

    There have been hat-tricks in the Champions League and for England, who he captained in June's Nations League Finals semi-final versus the Netherlands. Now a reliable goalscorer for his country, he netted eight in qualification for Euro 2020.

    The industry he urged to take a look at itself honoured Sterling, the 2018-19 Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year. The BBC's Sports Personality of the Year gong could be added to his collection this month.

    "It's all about mentality. Mentality, maturity and growing up," Sterling said ahead of the showdown with United.

    "I'm obsessed with football, obsessed with scoring goals, obsessed with recovering quicker and obsessed with improving myself."

    Spiralling numbers show how fruitful that obsession has been, while Sterling's maturity – a scuffle with Joe Gomez on international duty aside – is frequently evident.

    Every time he intervenes on issues of racism, be it responding to he and England team-mates receiving abuse in Montenegro and Bulgaria, defending Italy striker Moise Kean or supporting Newport County Under-14 goalkeeper Ethan Ross, Sterling strikes at the heart of the issue and is a force for good.

    He covered the funeral costs of Crystal Palace youth player Damary Dawkins, who tragically lost his battle with leukaemia, having dedicated an England goal against the Czech Republic to the 13-year-old.

    Raheem the role model

    Other examples of Sterling's community mindedness could be found when he arranged tickets to City's FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and Hove Albion for 550 pupils from his old school, while last month he urged those able to among his 2.2million Twitter follows to register to vote in the upcoming UK general election.

    "He's a young, black role model for so many young people. His status will go far and beyond football, that's for sure," said Townsend, who feels Sterling can align with some of British football's true pioneers and icons.

    "You will have young people not just wanting to be Raheem Sterling the footballer, but who will want to be Raheem Sterling the human being.

    "I take that as the kind of impact John Barnes had, when he was almost fighting racism by himself. Or Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson when they were at West Brom.

    "With those forefathers, the generation before him, he will be recognised as someone who's had a massive influence and impact.

    "That's probably the most powerful legacy of that post a year ago. He will have empowered many people to stand up for themselves, stand up for their rights and stand up for who they are as human beings."

    Townsend is at pains to point out Sterling cannot be the "be-all and end-all" in the fight against racism, and that burden must never be placed upon any single person.

    But, as Manchester United look to repel the City star's on-field obsession, it is to his immense credit he has managed to shed so much light a year on from that dark day.

  • Manchester City v Manchester United: Rashford ruling the roost as Reds' big-game talisman Manchester City v Manchester United: Rashford ruling the roost as Reds' big-game talisman

    It's March 2016. Excitement and expectation are through the roof for one particular teenager ahead of his first Manchester derby.

    The local lad had already risen to the occasion in the Europa League and against Arsenal, but this was a far bigger deal for the 18-year-old who'd grown up a Manchester United fan.

    Marcus Rashford started in attack with Antony Martial and their pace and mobility proving a lethal combination, particularly with respect to the former.

    Highlighting his ice-cold mentality on the big stage, Rashford was decisive. Roasting Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis in the 16th minute, the striker nutmegged him at pace and left the experienced centre-back for dead before clinically dispatching past Joe Hart.

    If onlookers hadn't sat up and taken notice already after his heroics against Arsenal and Midtjylland, they were now. Rashford proved he was no mere flash in the pan.

    A leader's mentality

    Since that bright debut derby, Rashford has gone on to feature another seven times against City and he'll be desperate to leave is mark in Saturday's clash. It is the sort of occasion that has started to typify his status as a big-game player with an elite mentality.

    Rashford's most recent Manchester derby came in April, as City comfortably dispatched of United 2-0 at Old Trafford. It was this encounter that seemed to suggest their wretched form after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's permanent appointment was anything but a blip.

    More than anyone, Rashford was scathing of United.

    "It was quite clear who the better team was," Rashford said to Sky Sports. "We didn't play like Man United and the last few weeks it hasn't felt like Man United. It's not right. The bare minimum should be to work hard and give your all for the supporters and the badge.

    "We need the mentality and willingness of running for your team. We never call each other out but we have to be real with each other. It's a matter of trying to improve each other."

    While some may have put Rashford's comments down to 'holier than thou' posturing in an attempt to win a new contract, which duly arrived in July, there's little doubt he is now the talisman that should be speaking out.

    Motivation an issue?

    Rashford has become the player many fans are still hoping Martial will develop into. With nine goals in 15 Premier League matches, the England international is already just one behind his personal best for a full campaign.

    With 12 goals in his past 13 matches for club and country, Rashford is in the form of his life – yet even as recently as this season he has been a target for criticism.

    It has been suggested he struggles to make the difference against opponents who sit back, the games United are expected to control and data backs this up.

    In 85 matches against teams not in the current top four or traditionally part of the so-called 'big six', Rashford has scored just 19 times, an average of one every 275.9 minutes.

    It's a record that does raise valid concerns – after all, the best strikers score against pretty much everyone and anyone.

    At home on the big stage

    But what highlights Rashford's true ability and gives a clear insight to his mindset is the forward's record against the biggest clubs.

    In 41 Premier League meetings against the 'big six' and Leicester, he has an impressive haul of 17 goals, one every 163.4 minutes.

    Rashford's effectiveness in front of goal increases remarkably in such matches. Even though his shot frequency goes down from one every 28.8 minutes to 39.1 minutes, his accuracy is boosted significantly.

    Against the biggest sides, Rashford's shot accuracy rises to 48 per cent from 40 per cent, while his chance conversion increases from 10 per cent to 24 per cent.

    Rashford proved his decisiveness last time out against Tottenham and former manager Jose Mourinho, who often did little good for his confidence.

    He suggested United generally do better against teams who don't invite pressure on to themselves – backed up by the fact they've only lost two of 11 matches against the rest of the 'big six' and Leicester.

    And with a City side that hasn't kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for nearly two months next up, Rashford has another chance to prove any lingering doubters he's worthy of being regarded United's new talisman.

  • Talking Point: Can Jamie Vardy break his own consecutive Premier League goals record? Talking Point: Can Jamie Vardy break his own consecutive Premier League goals record?

    Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy has 14 goals for the Foxes this season with nine in his past seven Premier League games.

    Vardy's form has sparked talk of a title challenge for Brendan Rodgers' side, with Leicester currently occupying second place - eight points behind leaders Liverpool.

    The 32-year-old's current sequence has also drawn comparison with another of his hot streaks when Leicester last won the league. 

    Vardy's incredible run of scoring 11 matches in a row, which broke Ruud van Nistelrooy's record of 10 goals in consecutive matches, was one of the most memorable moments of Leicester's championship-winning campaign of 2015-16.

    "I don't think he is," Rodgers said, when asked if Vardy was thinking about breaking for the record again. "I think he just looks to the next game."

    VARDY'S GOALS ECHO 5000-1 TITLE SEASON

    When Vardy is flying, so are Leicester. There is something more than reminiscent about his current ruthlessness in front of goal. Or is there?

    Vardy seems to be attempting fewer dribbles this time around – his tally of 13 so far is proportionally lower than the 33 he made in those record-breaking 11 matches. A sign, perhaps, his style is not quite as tenacious and direct as a few years ago.

    He is marginally down on the number of shots on goal, too. He has attempted 24 shots in the past seven games versus 49 in 11 during 2015.

    Vardy does, though, have two assists to his name during this streak against none last time around. An indicator of his experience, intelligence and awareness.

    "I love his energy," said Rodgers. "I love his passion. He actually loves football, which helps. He knows the game."

     

    HIGH-OCTANE VARDY STILL HUNGRY FOR GOALS

    The well-documented pre-match routine has remained the same for Vardy under Rodgers.

    Vardy still downs three cans of Red Bull, sips a double-expresso coffee and munches on a cheese and ham omelette ahead of kick-off.

    He also remains as committed and hungry as ever, even though he turns 33 next month. It was only eight years ago he was working in a factory before turning professional for Fleetwood Town.

    In the build up to the campaign, Vardy came back leaner and meaner than he has ever been. The Telegraph reported his pre-season his fitness statistics were 21 per cent better his best score in 2012, the year he joined the Foxes.

    He has also been more accurate during this goalscoring streak. Vardy has a shooting accuracy of 72.7 per cent and a shot conversion of 37.5 per cent in his present run compared to 62.2 and 26.5.

     

    FIVE GOALS FROM GREATNESS

    Five goals in five games would see Vardy break the record he set in November 2015.

    Leicester's next five games are Aston Villa (a), Norwich (h), Manchester City (a), Liverpool (h) and West Ham (a) and Vardy will be a near-certain starter provided he does not pick up an injury or suspension.

    On paper, Liverpool and City might present Vardy's biggest test but he actually boasts an impressive record against the Premier League's top clubs.

    His seven goals in 10 games against Liverpool is only bettered by the nine he has scored facing Arsenal in the same number of matches – no wonder they wanted to sign him in 2016! 

    Against defending champions City, he has four goals in 10 appearances, one in four against Villa, one in two versus Norwich and three in nine against West Ham.

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