Athletes feeling the heat at Qatar world championships
DOHA - Women's marathon runners were rushed for medical attention, faces contorted in pain while other competitors hobbled off the track in the inaugural road race of Doha's World Athletics Championships.
Humidity of more than 73% and temperatures of almost 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) dogged the race, specially started at midnight to avoid peak heat, as it meandered along a course on Doha's Corniche coast road.
"You see somebody down on the course and it's just, extremely grounding and scary," said Canada's Lyndsay Tessier, 41, who was one of those to finish, coming in ninth. "That could be you in the next kilometre, the next 500 meters."
"It was just really scary and intimidating and daunting. So that was enough to hold me back."
Around two dozen runners in the 68-strong marathon field fell by the wayside as the sweltering conditions took their toll, in a sport which rarely sees drop outs at this level.
Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich won gold when she took the tape after 2 hours 32 minutes and 43 seconds, crediting "training in a hot area" of her home country for helping her to tame the elements.
Tessier's fellow competitors filed behind her as she spoke to the media, some held up by their coaches and others too exhausted to stop and speak.
"I'm just really grateful to have finished standing up," added Tessier.
"We are from a hot climate as well, but nothing to compare with this," Bahamian coach Ronald Cartwright said on Friday. "Here you walk outside and it's like somebody put a heater on you. I guess that is why they are doing it at night."
The Championships' organisers told race participants that the event's timing could be changed if conditions proved prohibitive but ultimately pressed ahead with the original plan.
Almost all of the runners were saturated with sweat by the halfway point and most ran with bottles as some video cameras being used to film the race malfunctioned because of the conditions.
A mild breeze that lapped the corniche during the opening ceremony and fireworks display had dwindled by the end of the race leaving the runners to bear the brunt of the surging humidity.
Marathon runners and walkers do not have the luxury of competing in the championships' principal venue, the air-conditioned Khalifa Stadium where the climate is maintained at 23-25 degrees.
Track athletes competing inside the stadium said it was unlikely that the heat would significantly affect their performances, but conceded that practices have been especially draining.
"At practice I'm glowing because I'm sweating because it's so humid," said Rai Benjamin, who competes in the 400m hurdles. "It's like I got out of the shower. But I don't think it will be that bad because of the cooling system."
France's defending 50 km walk world champion,Yohann Diniz, however, strongly criticised the IAAF for being made to compete in Doha's humid conditions.
"I am extremely upset. If we were in the stadium we would have normal conditions, between 24-25 degrees, but outside they have placed us in a furnace, which is just not possible," he said on Friday.
"They are making us guinea pigs."
Song that says 'I must finish'
Tessier said that seeing so many competitors drop out of one race was "alarming and you feel for them because you do know the training that's gone into this."
"You know how badly everyone wants it and wants to be here. You don't wanna finish it or end it that way," she said as sweat dripped off her face and a team member followed behind her with water.
Throughout the race, medical golf carts ferried runners who dropped out to a busy medical tent as a team of doctors, which included an expert on heat in sports, assessed their condition.
Namibia's Helalia Johannes, who secured bronze, said hydration also played a key role in her strong showing.
"I cannot say I enjoyed the event -- there was a song that says 'I must finish'," she said. "I didn't miss any water point."
Shot putter Ryan Crouser, the 2016 Olympic champion who also came first at the event in Doha, said he had to heat up his shots to around 38 degrees Celsius to prevent them from becoming wet during practices in the sizzling heat and high humidity.
"The shot is far below the dew point, the instant you take it out, it's just soaking wet and it's dripping water," the American said. "It's worse than if it was pouring down rain... We've been fighting this a little bit."
European pole vault champion Armand Duplantis, who trains in the heat of the southern US state of Louisiana, said the humidity can prove helpful in practice because the addition of moisture to the chalk on his hands "makes for a really nice grip."
But other pole vaulters who spray a sticky grip enhancer on their hands might have more difficulty holding onto their poles in the humidity, he said.
"For people who use sticky spray, I can see it being a problem because it can get a little slimy and gooey," Duplantis said.