DOHA, November 15, 2017 - Team Qatar’s Abdelelah Haroun is a prodigious young talent who this season has once again established himself as one of the world’s most promising young sprinters after he added 2017 World Championship bronze to his growing athletics accolades.
Still only 20 years old, the 2016 World Youth Champion and World indoor silver medallist’s biggest career disappointment came when he failed to progress to the Rio 2016 Olympic final, and it is this that is driving him to his ultimate dream of achieving Olympic glory for Qatar at Tokyo 2020.
Haroun’s life could have taken a very different direction when his early sporting career saw him follow his family and friends into boxing: “My uncle is a boxer and all my friends where I live are also boxers. I used to go with them to the boxing gym, which made me love this sport.” However, it was a teacher at school that spotted his athletics talent and encouraged him to take up the sport: ‘My teacher said, ‘Haroun, you are a fast runner, why not take up athletics’, so I did and it felt like the right place for me. I loved it.”
Haroun showed a natural aptitude for athletics and saw a very quick rise-up the world ranks, achieving his first major title at just 18-years-old when he won the 2015 Asian Athletics Championships, beating two-time defending champion Yousef Masrahi of Saudi Arabia in the process. His electric form continued into the early 2016 season and he claimed further major titles with Asian Indoor gold on home soil in Doha, followed by an incredible World Indoor silver just a few weeks later in Portland.
However, his key focus for the 2016 season was on the World Youth Championships later in the year but he almost jeopardised his potential by putting too much pressure on himself, “at the beginning of the season I trained very hard with my coach in a camp in Ethiopia for 5 months. We kept reminding ourselves about the importance of this championship and there was a time when I was so stressed that I went to the competition afraid and not sure that I would win.” It wasn’t until moments before the race that Haroun changed his mindset, “when I entered the field, I saw the fear in the eyes of the runners. I said to myself that this is my chance, I am not afraid and I can win the gold.” His new-found confidence paid off and Haroun stormed to victory with a season’s best of 44:81.
Haroun attributes his early boxing foundations to his ability to stay calm under pressure, “boxing helped me to not fear anything and this is very important in athletics. Boxing is a hard game because you might get punched at any moment. This helps me to stay very calm, not be afraid of anything and be fully prepared every time I enter the track”.
Every sporting career comes with its set-backs and not even this experience prepared Haroun for his lowest point ever, which came just a few weeks after the World Youth Championships when he failed to progress to the Rio 2016 Olympic final: “The worst moment of my career was in Rio. I left the competition in the semi-final and I locked myself away after that moment until the final. I did not eat or drink anything. My roommate was talking me through this and comforting me but all I wanted was to make it to the final.”
It was the support of those closest to Haroun that pulled him through, ‘I felt depressed for the the first few days and I felt I couldn’t complete the season. But my family and friends kept pushing me to continue and reminded me that I’m at the very beginning of my sporting career and that I have to be patient to achieve greater success in the future.”
He eventually saw the set-back as a learning experience and used it to further motivate his future goals, “I learned from the mistakes especially in the block start and in the way I used to focus while running. I learned to be fully focused in everything I do, in competitions and in training from the beginning to the end, to focus on the way I run and balance myself to avoid mistakes and injuries.”
Haroun’s persistence and refreshed approach paid off and just one year later he went from the lowest point of his career to the happiest moment as he claimed bronze at the London 2017 World Championships, an achievement that he dedicates to his country:
“My victory in London was different to my other achievements. I needed to do something for my country and make the people of Qatar happy, especially in the low moments that we lived in back then. I got bronze, Mutaz [Barshim] got gold and our other athletes performed very well. We did what we could to make our country proud!”
Following a short end of season break, Haroun is already back to intensive training ahead of the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England, early next year: “The next season will be big and important for me. We have big goals ahead for which I have started my training early this season. I have new plans, schedules and training camps with support from the Athletics Federation, QOC, my coach, and the administration”.
Such a demanding training schedule means that Haroun has had to make many sacrifices in order to achieve his dreams, in particular foregoing the opportunity to continue his studies, “I always wanted to continue my studies and I still do but my sport consumes all my time so eventually I have become ok with this. I always say to myself that since I’m not able to continue my studies, I will achieve my dreams in athletics.”
Over the next two years, Haroun’s biggest dreams are the World Championships in Doha in 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Doha 2019 provides a unique opportunity for Team Qatar to compete on the world’s biggest stage in front of a home-crowd, and Haroun is relishing the chance to build on his London success, “Doha hosting the IAAF 2019 is so important to me and my future. It is one of my biggest career focuses. I want to achieve even more than what I did in London. This is my dream.” One year later, it is the opportunity to achieve Olympic glory and make up for his past mistakes that is Haroun’s ultimate goal:
“In Tokyo 2020 I want to make up for what I missed in Rio and perform better. I’m much better now, ready and focused - and I want 2020 to start tomorrow!”
Despite the intense training and serious ambitions, Haroun is able to maintain a fun and hugely likeable side to his personality that he takes with him everywhere he goes: “My character is the same everywhere, at home, with my family, my brothers, my friends, and at the field. They say Haroun is the same, he doesn’t change and he is funny. I like to have fun times with my friends, we tell jokes, sing and have fun together. My personality helps me to be prepared for anything. It also motivates me to do the best I can so I can go back to continue enjoying the fun times with my people.”
You can keep up to date with the progress of Haroun and all of Qatar’s athletes by signing up to the Team Qatar Club for exclusive content, offers and competitions. It is free and easy to sign up – just head to www.olympic.qa/en/teamqatarclub. Haroun’s feature film can be found in ‘Meet Team Qatar’.