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Secret recipe: Qatar’s Samba eyes Tokyo breakthrough

Samba came to prominence at the Asian Games in 2018, going on to set what was at the time the second fastest 400m hurdles time ever run -- 46.98 seconds -- later that year.

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Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba was thrown an Olympic lifeline when the postponement of the Tokyo Games allowed him to make a timely recovery from injury that will see him ready to target a podium finish in the 400m hurdles.

The 25-year-old, born in Saudi Arabia to Mauritanian parents but now a naturalised Qatari, will head to the Japanese capital alongside a handful of arch-rivals all on the cusp of being capable of breaking the long-standing world record in the event.

Samba came to prominence at the Asian Games in 2018, going on to set what was at the time the second fastest 400m hurdles time ever run — 46.98 seconds — later that year.

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After about of injury last year, the fast-talking youngster, called “Baby” by his coach, will be hoping to prove he is fully recovered by winning a medal in Tokyo.

“The last year was very difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there were many pitstops,” Samba told AFP during a training session at Qatar’s elite Aspire academy for athletes.

“The first stop was at the beginning of the season, and I was in South Africa at that time, and the period was very difficult for us.

“Then we came to Doha and stopped for quarantine for two weeks, training suspension dragged on for two months, so it was difficult to try to maintain fitness.”

Despite the challenges posed by training amid Covid-19 restrictions, Samba said the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for his Olympic dreams.

“The opportunity posed by the postponement of the Olympics to this summer was great because in 2019 I was injured, and my injury was significant,” he said.

Warholm, Benjamin as rivals

Tokyo will be Samba’s first Olympic outing while it will be the second for Norwegian archrival Karsten Warholm, who has clocked the second and third fastest times in the event (46.87 in Stockholm last year and 46.92 in Zurich in 2019).

Samba had the opportunity to experience top-flight competition at the 2018 Asian Games that he said will stand him in good stead for a clash against two-time world champion Warholm in Tokyo.

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“This was a good opportunity and gave me a similar taste to the Olympics.” Also in the running will be American Rai Benjamin, who matched Samba’s personal best when finishing second to Warholm in Zurich.

All three head to Japan capable of hunting down American Kevin Young’s world record of 46.78, set back in 1992. Samba said he had fond memories, but no regrets, of the 2018 Paris Diamond League when he became just the second man to run the event in under 47 seconds, clocking 46.98, just 0.20 of Young’s record.

“The Paris race was very cool. I remember that I slowed down in the last few metres, but I think I did not regret that I did not break the record in that period because it gives me more motivation to break it in the next,” he said.

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Samba is coy, however, about whether he’d come even closer to the world record in training. “Of course the competitor prefers not to divulge training times like every chef has their secret recipes — practice is like the secret recipe, and no competitor wants to share,” said Samba with his customary grin.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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