Feature22 Sep 2018

Globetrotter Haroun hopes for happy homecoming in 2019


Abdalelah Haroun in the 400m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)

Few athletes better encapsulate the term ‘global traveller’ than Abdalelah Haroun.

Born in Sudan and representing Qatar, the world 400m bronze medallist has over the past couple of seasons based himself in training camps in Germany, Turkey, Spain and Brazil.

Add into the mix his pan-global racing schedule, which has straddled four continents, then the air mile count is seriously impressive for a man who in 2018 claimed five IAAF Diamond League podium finishes, the Asian Games title plus victory in the end-of-season IAAF Continental Cup.

Born the eldest of five siblings in Al-Soki – a village about a five-and-a-half hour drive from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum – Haroun enjoyed sport from a young age. He featured as a left-winger on the school football team, but boxing was his principle sporting love.

“I boxed many times for a club,” he explains. “I sometimes won and I sometimes lost.  I liked the sport a lot.”

However, it was a teacher that identified his potential talent for running and aged 16, in what was his first ever 400m race, he ran 49 seconds.

His talent quickly laid bare, Haroun was advised by a coach to run for Qatar. Having an uncle living in the Arabian country, he heeded the suggestion.

In only his second full season in the sport, he blitzed to a national U18 record of 45.74 in Doha in 2014 to further underline his exciting potential, but the adjustment to a heavy training load was far from easy.

“It was difficult,” he says. “I would train every day but lifting was hard and I felt the running in my legs. But what do they say, ‘no pain, no gain’. I was focused, so I didn’t stop. I was happy to run 45 seconds.”

Big breakthrough

The hard work clearly paid dividends in 2015 as the Qatari made what he describes as a “big breakthrough” on the international stage. Aged just 18 at the time, he won the Asian 400m title in an equal PB of 44.68, then improved to an Asian U20 record of 44.27 and mixed it with the best on the IAAF Diamond League circuit.

“I remember running in Eugene against all these top athletes I’d only previously seen on TV such as (Isaac) Makwala, Yousef Masrahi, (Luguelin) Santos and Kirani James. I was very nervous but I managed to finish fifth.”

With his confidence buoyed and benefiting from some gruelling training sessions incorporating multiple 500m sprints, he enjoyed a splendid indoor campaign in 2016, banking the Asian title before excelling at the World Indoor Championships in Portland to take 400m silver.

Way down in fifth at the bell, he finished with his characteristic late burst to storm through to claim his first senior global podium spot behind the Czech Pavel Maslak.

“I was nervous before my heat and semi-final but I listened to my coach, who said ‘you can win a medal’,” he explains. “When the Qatari flag was raised, I thought of all the people back home and how I should enjoy this moment, but also that I should keep improving.”

Abdalelah Haroun wins the 400m at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016


Haroun’s season got even better after withstanding the pressure of favouritism to strike world U20 gold in Bydgoszcz. It was no straight-forward accomplishment but when asked to name his favourite memory – winning world U20 400m gold or world indoor 400m silver – he answered diplomatically.

“One is not better,” he says. “They are both just different.”

World bronze

Haroun struggled with fatigue at the end of a long season and exited the Rio Olympic Games at the semi-final stage.

Coached by Llorenc Solbes Ponsoda out of Alicante, Spain, ahead of the 2017 campaign, he trained principally with a group of middle-distance runners including 2016 world indoor 800m silver medallist Antoine Gakeme of Burundi.

Haroun believes that training in a competitive middle-distance training environment aided his endurance and brought about a successful campaign, capped with a world bronze medal in London last year.

In hindsight, however, his coach believes Haroun could have snared an even better medal in the British capital.

“I was thinking about (Wayde) Van Niekerk and following him because he was the big champion,” explains Haroun. “Before the race, coach advised me to sprint from 200m out but I left it late and went with 150m to go. He believes I could have won silver had I gone earlier.”

On the road again

It was all change in the New Year as Haroun switched coaches to train with the legendary Brazilian Luis de Oliveria, former mentor to 1984 Olympic 800m champion Joaquim Cruz and two-time world 800m medallist José Luís Barbosa.

The move has meant Haroun spending prolonged training stints in Rio, Brazil, Antalya in Turkey and for much of the summer out of Cologne in Germany. Training between eight to 10 sessions per week, the 21-year-old is renowned on the circuit for his blistering final 100 metres which he attributes to his strong endurance.

There is one area, though, in which he feels he needs to improve.

“I’d like my start to be much better,” he explains. “I hope to do much better.”

Abdalelah Haroun takes the Continental Cup 400m title


His consistency in 2018 has been his strength. In his 10 outdoor one-lap finals this year, he has recorded nine sub-45-second times, including a national record of 44.07 when streaking to victory at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London.

A keen hip hop dancer, Chinese movie devotee and huge fan of the late great boxing icon Muhammad Ali, Haroun loves to spend his downtime watching classic heavyweight fights from yesteryear.

For much of the 2018 campaign, it could be argued, Haroun has delivered the knockout blow to much of his one-lap opposition. But while this year has been an important, next year is critical.

“Of course this year is a big year for me but I know I have to work really hard with the 2019 World Championships in Qatar,” he explains. “I’ll do what I can this season to be among the best in the world; this will help a lot for next year.

“I trust myself (to perform well) at that time,” he adds. “I hope to win a medal and make the people happy.”

Steve Landells for the IAAF

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