What could have been a historic day of glory for Nigeria was rubbed off the West African nation at this year’s IAAF World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar, as former Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu stormed to global recognition and gold under the flag of Bahrain … with a new name, Salwa Eid Naser…
Born in Lagos to a Nigerian mother and Bahraini father, Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu changed her name to Salwa Eid Naser upon moving to the Gulf country and, although Bahrain is engaged in an economic blockade by Qatar, she got the nod to run at the IAAF World Championship in Doha.
Rather than Ebele of Nigeria, the celebration was for 21-year-old Eid Naser, who destroyed the field and stunned Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo as she became the first Asian to win the women’s 400 metres world title on Thursday.
Now a naturalised Bahraini, streaked to a stunning 48.14 seconds in Doha and blew the possibilities over one lap apart. The result, representing an improvement of almost a second on her personal best, was the most astonishing moment of the championship.
Miller-Uibo, the pre-race favourite from the Bahamas, looked as if she could scarcely comprehend what happened, as she had just taken more than half a second off her own Caribbean record of 48.97 sec, only to see the performance yield just a silver medal and she was still being physically sick half an hour afterwards.
Naser set off like a woman possessed, tearing through the second 100 in just 11.1 secpnds, but none of her displays indicated that she was capable of this and, while Miller-Uibo closed her down over the final strides, she had already done the damage with her extraordinary early pace.
The time was doubly extraordinary given that this had been Naser’s fifth race in five days, after helping Bahrain to a silver medal in the mixed 4x400m relay. She was asked whether, given the operation of Eastern European doping systems in the mid-Eighties, she considered her time the fastest legal mark in history.
Kratochvilova, who ran 47.99sec in 1983, has been the subject of allegations associating her with Czechoslovakia’s secret and systematic doping programme, referred to by the euphemism of “Specialised Care,” but she has firmly denied the accusations, ascribing her heavily muscled physique to weight training, vitamins, and the demands of farm life.
Miller-Uibo took silver in 48.37secs, as the Bahamian suffered her first defeat over the distance since she inexplicably stumbled with victory in her grasp in London two years ago.
After running the fastest 400 metres since 1985, Eid Naser seemed to be in a state of shock as she sat on the track and covered her mouth with her hand at the end of the race. “This is crazy,” she said. “I was just hoping for the best but now I’m world champion.”
Miller-Uibo managed to close the gap down the back straight but left it too late to catch her rival, despite herself running the sixth-fastest time in history.
“I still can’t believe the time,” Naser said. “When I saw it, I went completely crazy. I was training so hard but I never expected to run this fast.”
USA Olympic champion and former men’s world record-holder over 400m, Michael Johnson was one left stunned by Naser’s speed, explaining how any runner over one lap usually needs to back off the pace at some stage to save up for the finish.
Naser, however, sustained her effort from the gun, recording 100m splits of 12.1, 11.1, 11.9, before fading in the dying stages in 13.1.
She concluded: “I wasn’t really looking to see if someone was beside me. I was pushing so hard to the finish, it was only on replay that I saw Shaunae. Once I used to chase her, now I was being chased. It’s amazing. Back in Bahrain, children will now look up to me.”