Abderrahman Samba was stunned. On the cusp of disbelief. The young Qatari had just become the second fastest 400m hurdler EVER thanks to his 46.98 seconds explosion at the Diamond League in Paris.
The 22-year-old is just the second person after world record holder Kevin Young to break 47 seconds for the one-lap hurdles.
“I want to become the fastest man in the world and I work hard to achieve it,” said Samba after his incredible run at the Stade Charlety.
“It definitely did not feel like an under-47-second race today. I made a small mistake at the start, lost my balance on the first hurdle, so I did not expect to run so fast."
Incredibly, Samba has only been hurdling seriously for about a year.
On the Rise
Samba has certainly found his rhythm in the past five weeks.
He broke Sydney 2000 silver medallist Hadi Soua’an Al-Somaily’s 18-year-old Asian record on May 31st, clocking 47.48 in Rome.
He bettered that mark by seven-hundredths in Stockholm two weeks later.
And three weeks after that, he set his outstanding world lead time in Paris.
He is even faster than the great Ed Moses, the double Olympic champion, who cleared the hurdles with effortless grace.
Moses was unbeaten in 122 races over nine years, setting a world record of 47.02 in 1983 before Young broke it in the final at Barcelona 1992.
Samba doesn’t seem to mind comparisons with Moses. His ease and elegance are a constant reminder of the American legend.
And Samba knows something about the importance of entertaining the crowd as well.
“The hurdles is like a dance, and I hope I dance always,” he told the IAAF.
He is just two-tenths of a second away from Young’s 26-year-old world record of 46.78.
Yet he is still mastering his technique.
According to Adriansprints.com, an athletics’ performance centre, Samba switches between a 13 and 14-step approach, a tactic that has worked for him and ensured his blazing finish.
Young had perfected the 12-stride pattern. Moses’ trademark technique was 13 steps.
Abderrahman started his season in Potchefstroom in South Africa in April where he ran his first sub-48 race, dominating the field. His progress since then has been staggering.
And he already has history on his mind.
"The world record is getting close, but I just want to improve step by step and to run fast. I improved my technique since last year and who knows, maybe I can be one second faster next year."
Born into a Mauritanian family, the hurdler grew up in Saudi Arabia. He chose to take a different path from the rest of his family, who played football.
Samba switched allegiance to Qatar in 2015. And in May 2017, he announced his arrival in style beating two-time Olympic Champion Kerron Clement at the Diamond League meet in Doha.
It’s only fitting that his victory over Clement came during his first recorded 400m hurdles races after switching from 200m and 400m.
Samba is a quick learner.
Norway’s Karsten Warholm, world champion last year in London, has been impressed by Samba’s improvement since his seventh place in London.
“He runs extremely good. Now he’s the best and I’m just second and that counts for nothing, I guess. So I’ll try to chase him.” – Karsten Warholm
Samba is in good hands working with South African coach Hennie Kotze who led Kenya’s Nicholas Bett to the 2015 world title.
And with Qatar hosting the next World Championships in 2019, hometown gold is very much on his wish list.
Along with high jump king Mutaz Essa Barshim, Samba will be carrying high hopes for the home team.
And then there is pushing the 400m hurdles to another level.
It is the first time in a season that two hurdlers have managed to run sub 47.10-races: Samba and Rai Benjamin, who ran 47.02 in June’s US Collegiate Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Here is a look at the great Ed Moses!