Liberia: Fahnbulleh Barely Misses Bronze at World Athletics Championships

Joseph Fahnbulleh, the first-ever Liberian finalist at the World Athletics Championships, came fourth, just short of a bronze medal at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA. With a finish time of 19.84, he was less than a split-second behind 18-year-old American sprinter Erriyon Knighton, who took bronze in 19.80 seconds. 

Knighton, trailed behind his fellow American teammates, Kenneth Bendarek (23) and Noah Lyles (25) with times 19.77 and 19.31, respectively. It was an “American sweep” for bronze, silver, and gold.  

In perspective, Fahnbulleh was in the fastest heat in the competition, with world record-breaking potential. 

Lyles is the defending champion in the 200m from the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, and he always runs well at Hayward Field, where he’s the stadium record-holder at 19.52 seconds from last year’s Prefontaine Classic. Lyles, who was the bronze medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has broken 20 seconds in all eight of his races this season, with a season-best of 19.61 seconds, and two other races where he ran 19.62 seconds and 19.67 seconds. He’s the fifth-fastest performer ever at 19.50 seconds. 

Knighton, the teenage sensation, has the world lead at 19.49 seconds to break Usain Bolt’s U20 world record. Knighton also ran 19.69 seconds to finish second to Lyles at the U.S. Outdoor Championships and won his semifinal heat in 19.77 seconds. 

Bednarek was the silver medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where he set his personal best of 19.68 seconds. His best this season is 19.87 seconds when he was fourth at the U.S. Outdoor Championships. This is his second World Athletics Championships appearance and his first finals appearance. 

The top challengers to the U.S. sweep were South Africa’s Luxolo Adams, Liberia’s Joseph Fahnbulleh, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards. Adams ran a personal-best 19.82 seconds this year, Fahnbulleh, the 100m and 200m NCAA champion for Florida, ran 19.83 seconds this year, and Richards, the indoor World Athletics Championships 400m gold medalist, also ran 19.83 seconds this year. 

Liberia has been trying to reach the podium’s top spot for years and will now have to wait till Saturday, July 23, when Liberia’s lone female representative Ebony Morrison hits the track to compete in the women’s 100mH on July 23 at 11:20 a.m. PT or 6:20 p.m. GMT. 

Morrison, who will also be making her debut at the championships, will be hoping to clinch Liberia’s first-ever medal having recently won a Silver medal at the 2022 African Senior Athletics Championships.

Despite missing out on a medal, Liberians are proud of Fahnbulleh’s accomplishments at the international event. His finish time (19.84) means that the 20-year-old improved upon his fifth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics when he clocked 19.98 in the final.

The World Athletics Championships which started in 1976, are a biennial athletics competition organized by World Athletics (formerly IAAF, International Association of Athletics Federations).  Alongside the Olympic Games, they represent the highest level championships of senior international outdoor athletics competition for track and field athletics globally, including marathon running and race walking. 

Prior to today’s final, Fahnbulleh had already made history by becoming the first Liberian to advance to back-to-back finals at the Olympics and the championships.

Fahnbulleh broke this record on Tuesday when advanced to the final after crossing the finish line in 19.92 seconds, finishing second in heat 1 of the semi-finals. None ratified records show that this was the sixth time that Liberia was represented at the championship, with the semifinals being the highest stage the country had reached. 

Fahnbulleh’s compatriot, Emmanuel Matadi has advanced to three consecutive semifinals in the men’s 100m but missed out on the final on those occasions. 

Matadi clocked 10.12 seconds in his third consecutive semifinals, finishing fifth in his heat and 10th overall in the semifinals.

The next World Athletics Championships, the 19th edition, are scheduled to be held from August 18-27 August 2023 in Budapest, Hungary.