The last time I was at an Asian Championship (outdoor) was in June 2015, in Wuhan, China, for its 21st edition. I was there as an athlete competing in the 100m Hurdles. Today, I’m at the 23rd Asian Championship in Doha, Qatar, and this time I’m covering it through my camera lens and mobile phone.
When you’re an athlete, you are the star of the show. The only thing you can worry about is your target, your performance and how you plan on achieving it. When you enter the field of play, you only focus either on the finish line or on jumping or throwing as far as you can while enjoying the great atmosphere, the competition and some friendships you make before, during and after your event. But it is always about you, your team, your results.
When you’re a journalist, you always have your eyes open. You are either looking for the best shot to take or the best story to tell, or even run to announce an achievement for the people who follow you on social media back home. But must importantly you notice the level, the athletes and their achievements. In this case, it’s not about you but about them, the athletes, the event.
One of the things that really impressed me during this 23rd Asian championship is the high level of some Arab countries. Some are really investing in it but some others have young emerging talents. If I wasn’t a journalist today, I may not have noticed Taha Hussein YASSEN from Iraq who set two national records in 400 meters running 46.27 in the heats and 45.74 in the finals and he is only 21 years old.
One disappointing aspect of this championship is the spectators. As an athlete and media, the presence of spectators in the stadium adds a whole different taste to it. It also adds positive vibes which you can use as an additional motivation to perform well as an athlete. When you see a filled stadium you would instantly give your ultimate best to thank them for appreciating the show. As a photographer, you either have a background filled with people or a decoration of empty chairs.
One thing the two worlds have in common, is that you create friendships. This is what sport is about; bringing people together, people who share the same passion and interest. I remember when I had an interview with the OBS during the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing 2014, I was interviewed as a IOC Young-Reporter, and I said: “We, journalists, are similar to the athletes, we should live by the Olympic Values by delivering excellent work; Excellence, by respecting each other and each other’s work; Respect, and by creating friendships, supporting each other and working together as a team; Friendship.”
This championship was special to me because most of the athletes who are competing are my friends or athletes I’ve competed with two weeks ago at the Arab Championship. I was happy about it, I could meet them at the mixed zone and give them a high five or a hug, something other journalists would rarely do.
There is one thing I need to point out, is that I haven’t seen Abdelrahman SAMBA since the 2018 Asian Indoor Championship that was held in Teheran, Iran. When I met him at that time, he wasn’t as popular as he is now. The Lebanese and Qatari teams have been friends for a long time now, and during our stay I met a very humble person and a very generous human being. I’m happy to find this same person again, knowing that success, glory or popularity, didn’t affect him, he was again the human being I was happy to meet last year and this is something journalists should understand; athletes are human beings and not super heroes.
One of the advantages of being an athlete and journalist at the same time, is that you are able to understand what other athletes are going through.
On the third day, I saw Tai Ming CHAN, or Theo, from Hong Kong, underperforming in the long jump, my favorite event as well. His personal best is 8.12 meters, he recently jumped 7.82m but at this championship he only managed a 7.31 meters and couldn’t make it to the final. I met Theo at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires 2018, when we were both IOC Young Change-Makers. I was sad to see him holding his head in his hand and being the last one to leave the track, head down. I lived the same disappointment two weeks ago and I could relate to him. I rushed to the mixed zone to give him some support, I knew that he wouldn’t talk at that time so I texted him later on a message of support and he promised me that he will bounce back. So we made a deal to bounce back together.
Another event that marked me on day 3 is seeing my friend from Jordan, Zaina Abdeen, collapse on the track during the 800 meters of the Heptathlon. I saw her collapsing through my lens and this was a shocking image. She fell on the 600m mark and I couldn’t rush to her because I wasn’t allowed to, all I could do was shout for the Meds to come check on her. I asked one of the meds who came across if she’s okay, his answer was: “You know I’m not supposed to tell you, but she’s conscious”. I watched them stabilizing her and then moving her to the hospital. Zaina was a high jumper who recently switched to heptathlon. I used to do heptathlon as well and I know how hard it is on the body, especially the 800 meters, when you need to push your body beyond its limit.
Finally, to wrap it up, I can say that through my lens, I was able to see more than an athlete usually sees, and by being an athlete, I could see beyond what journalists or photographers usually see. Therefore, I will always remember this unique experience and opportunity, but I promised myself that in the next Asian Championship, I won’t be holding my camera but my Long Jump spikes.
(Cover photo by Raj Araman)