Feature24 Apr 2019

Samba on his 2019 aspirations: ‘I want to finish the season with 46.5’


Abderrahman Samba at the Asian Championships in Doha (© Getty Images)

As he begins to set out on his 2019 season, Abderrahman Samba, the world’s top-ranked 400m hurdler, says he’ll follow a very simple plan. So simple, it’s almost a copy/paste of the 2018 campaign that propelled him into the international spotlight.

"I began last season with 47.9 and I finished the season with 46.9,” he said, speaking with reporters soon after his sizzling 47.51 performance at the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha on Monday (22). “This year I started with a 47.5, so I want to finish with 46.5."

He even elaborated further. "I think maybe more than one second."

‘The world record is one of my goals this year’

One second last year, another second this year. That seems a logical approach for an athlete who is still very new to his event and, for all intents and purposes, only embarking on his second full year as a professional athlete. The only difference is that his plan would land him well under Kevin Young’s 46.78 world record set at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, more than three years before Samba was born.

“Yes,” the Qatari superstar confirmed, “the world record is one of my goals this year.”

Those are lofty aspirations by a man who is already the second fastest hurdler of all time. He lowered the Asian record all the way to 46.98 last season and extended his unbeaten streak to 11 with his victory here on Monday. It was the sixth fastest performance of his career, but no one else has ever run so fast this early in the season.

“I’m happy about that - It’s fast, but I’m thinking about something much faster than this. But yes, it’s a great start.”

He arrived in solid early season form. He sped to a 44.60 career best in the 400m flat in Pretoria on 9 April, a performance he characterised as a very pleasant surprise.

"I didn't believe it. I said, 'this is not possible'. It was easy in the last 100. I'm so happy with that. I was excited. I think it was a great, great start for the 2019 season. It was good preparation for the Asian Championships - and we have the World Relays soon. So it was good preparation.”

No changes to training or competition routine for 2019

He said his coach, the 400m hurdles guru Hennie Kotze, didn’t introduce any major changes to their training routine coming into 2019. With the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on home soil looming large, they found no reason to fiddle with what has already worked exceptionally well.

“We did everything the same as 2018. We didn't want to change too much since 2018 was so great. But we will make some very small changes. Not big things. Because the season is very long.”

He said it’s too early to confirm how many races he’ll contest this year, but thinks the numbers will be similar to last season: about 10 in his specialty, some relays legs for the Qatari national team, and a handful of flat 400m.

‘I don’t have any pressure’

Most immediately, he'll be back in action in the 4x400m relay here today (24), and then again at the IAAF World Relays Yokohama 2019.

No matter the number, or the towering goals he’s set for himself, Samba says he doesn’t allow himself to get weighed down by pressure.

“All of the Diamond Leagues, all the races I compete in, I compete because I enjoy competing. I don't have any pressure.”

That attitude is a contributing factor to why, at the age of just 24, he’s already become an inspiration to some of his contemporaries.


Abderrahman Samba after his Asian Championships victory in Doha


In Monday’s Asian Championships final, he dragged four of the next five finishers to lifetime bests, Chen Chieh of Chinese Taipei, the silver medallist, among them.

"It's an honour to race against him here," said Chen, who clocked 48.92, his first foray into sub-49 second territory. “My goal this season is finish close to Samba.”

As he listened to Samba declare that he’s out to improve a full second over the course of the season, a wide smile turned into a laugh. Why did he laugh?

"Because I believe he can do it," Chen said.

If Samba sticks to his timeline, that could come soon after his return to this same track on 27 September as a poster boy for the IAAF World Athletics Championships 2019, when the opening round of the 400m hurdles gets underway.

“It's a good feeling here, when you're winning in the same stadium where we will have the world championships, at home. It's making me excited to race here again.”

There's a long time between now and then - five months and a couple days, in fact - but Samba quickly dismissed any suggestions that he might be starting too fast too early.

"We're still in heavy training, so I feel as though we didn't really start the season. I feel like this is competition with training for the season. We opened with 44.6 in the 400 and 47.5 in the 400m hurdles. I'm working on this plan with my coach. So I think we will keep improving."

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF