It’s a safe bet to say that Salwa Eid Naser came to the 17th International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Championships just to beat The Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller-Uibo.
She practically said as much when she came through the mixed zone where she was interviewed by various journalists last Thursday.
The petite but powerful Bahraini athlete ran a stunning 48.14 seconds in the women’s 400 meters (m) final of the championships last Thursday in Doha, Qatar.
Miller-Uibo was second in an area and national record of 48.37 seconds, listing her as the sixth-fastest of all-time.
Naser came there to run a 48-low or even 47-high and win the gold medal. She knew that’s what it would have taken to defeat The Bahamas’ Olympic Champion who had not lost a race in over two years. Miller-Uibo came to the championships in the best shape of her life, prepared to run a 48-low. She did everything she set out to do, in terms of execution and time, but it just so happens that Naser, who is four years younger than Miller-Uibo at just 21, was on another level that day, running the third-fastest time ever.
“I was training so hard and I expected to win. I just kept going and when I crossed the finish line and saw that the time was so fast, I was happy,” said Naser.
Running out of lane five, Naser blasted out of the blocks, quickly making up the stagger on the runner out on lane six ahead of her, Wadeline Jonathas, of the United States.
Miller-Uibo was out fast as well, but it appeared that Naser was slightly ahead on the back stretch. As they came into the second bend, Naser pulled closer and was clearly ahead at about the 250-meter mark. Miller-Uibo maintained her form, but in an effort to not let the Bahraini get too far ahead of her, she started her closing sprint sooner than she usually does. Still, it was not enough to catch Naser, who at the 300m mark, was strides ahead.
Naser said that it was her intention to be the rabbit out there and let the field come after her.
“Normally I chase people but today my aim was to be chased,” she said. “I just decided to try a different race technique and it worked for me. I will stick to this and continue to go all out in training. I just felt this was the right place to make it work and it did for me. I am so happy with that.”
Prior to Doha, the Nigerian-born Bahraini athlete had come up short to Miller-Uibo the last two times they faced each other. She developed into an elite runner and Miller-Uibo’s chief rival in the women’s 400m during the 2017 season. That season, she lost to Miller-Uibo at the Memorial Van Damme Diamond League Final in Brussels, Belgium. Miller-Uibo once again got the better of Naser at the 2018 Herculis EBS Diamond League Meet in Fontvieille, Monaco.
Miller-Uibo came into these world championships as the favorite, and with Naser running both rounds of the mixed 4x400m relay, and two rounds of the open 400m going into the final, it was expected that her volume of work would catch up with her and she would fall short in the final.
Naser obviously had other plans. In each of her previous two losses to Miller-Uibo, she was the one chasing on the home stretch, and Miller-Uibo’s long strides and closing speed kept her at bay. This time, Naser was focused on making Miller-Uibo come after her. Her plan worked to perfection and now she is the world champion.
However, Miller-Uibo is still the Olympic Champion and will be looking to successfully defend that title when the biggest forum for sports comes around next year.
The next Olympic Games is set for July 24 to August 9, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan.
Given the times they ran in Doha, the race between Miller-Uibo and Naser will be one of the most anticipated and intriguing ones of the athletics competition of the 2020 Olympics.
Miller-Uibo might have been beaten, but by no means is she defeated. She’s looking forward to retribution next year.
Naser will certainly be a force to reckon with for years to come, and Miller-Uibo is looking forward to the challenge.