DOHA: Doha’s City Center Mall came alive on Thursday as lucky members of the public were offered the rare opportunity to interact with global athletics icons ahead of Friday’s Diamond League opener.
Four Olympic and world champions, including Qatar’s national high jump treasure Mutaz Essa Barshim, Jamaica’s sprint sensation Elaine Thompson, Germany’s Thomas Rohler and Dutch athlete Dafne Schippers came together to answer questions, pose for selfies and sign autographs, in a fun and lively session designed to bring the excitement of athletics to a wider audience.
Transforming the pre-competition press conference format, unsuspecting passersby including excited kids, were provided a unique behind the scenes glimpse into the lives of the elite athletes who were invited up on stage for a wide ranging group conversation. As a further twist, the discussion was anchored by two athletics icons, with Olympic champions Christian Taylor and Michelle Carter asking a number of entertaining questions, which provoked a real insight into the strong camaraderie that exists amongst the very best in the sport.
Kicking off the conversation, Christian asked local hero Mutaz on how it felt to once again line up in front a home crowd:
“I’m really excited to kick off the season here at home in Doha. It’s been a while as I haven’t been competing in the winter. I love high jump, I can’t stay away from it that long! I’m really excited, I’ve been working really good and I hope this is the year that I’m going to break the world record!”
When invited to share the inspiration for his hats slogan ‘what gravity eh?’ he added:
“For me it’s all about interacting with the fans in environments like this. The slogan came to me in 2014 when I was walking in New York City and I thought I need something that fans can wear that is fun and will keep me motivated. Although I designed the hats myself it’s great to now see the crowd wearing them wherever I go. Together we can defy gravity!”
Olympic gold medallist Rohler was equally vocal in his desire for athletics to appeal to new audiences. Commenting on his New Unlimited video that he has just released, he said:
“I think I need to say that you can see four German guys shirtless with jeans on carrying javelins and doing some more stuff in training camps. We wanted to attract more track fans, especially in Germany. The video went viral around the world and this is what we wanted to do!”
With members of the public inquisitively looking on, discussion jumped across topics with performance targets for tomorrow’s meet on everyone’s mind. Thompson said:
“It’s good to be the fastest woman in the world. Even though everywhere I go in the world, everyone says I’m so tiny! It’s also a wonderful feeling to be here in Doha. It’s my first time and I’m really looking forward to some excitement tomorrow night”
On returning to Doha for the season opener Schippers added:
“I love the atmosphere here. The weather’s perfect for quick running and I feel good so I just can’t wait to get stuck in”
After further contributions, Christian and Michelle were asked if the role of presenter was more difficult than their day jobs as athletes. In a lighthearted response Michelle said:
“I’ve been training for years to be an athlete and this is my first time in this role so I’d definitely have to say that it is more difficult than being on the track!”
Mohammed Eisa Al Fadala, General Secretary of the Qatar Athletics Federation expressed his pride at bringing the athletes and Diamond League directly to the wider public. He said:
“We are hosting the Diamond League opener in Doha this Friday with a new and refreshed ambition to share our passion for sport and our culture with Qataris and the world. This ambition is rooted in our ability to reach out and engage communities so what better way than to inspire them in advance with the world’s very best athletes.”
“Athletics has the power to connect people in common purpose, create lasting friendships and inspire people through exceptional human endeavor in a way that few other sports can. We hope that people will be inspired by meeting these fantastic athletes today and they’ll be encouraged to attend tomorrow’s meeting and hopefully take up the sport.”
Following the culmination of the event, fans in City Center Mall were delighted to rub shoulders with their heroes, snapping selfies, taking autographs and savoring a moment that will live in the memories for a long time to come.