Sunday, September 22, 2019

Track and Field Selfie of the Year

Mascot Falah the Falcon Makes a Man's Day

by Mark Cullen/ Copyright 2019. All Rights reserved.

The Media Accreditation Center at Khalifa Stadium in Doha is an enormous room - a wide and lengthy hallway with walls that arrive later than you might expect.

As I sat to have my photo taken for my press pass, Falah the Falcon sat down next to me for his.


That would be the wildly popular mascot of these World Championships, who follows in the esteemed footprints of London '17 legend, Hero the Hedgehog.

European hedgehogs, as we recall from Hero, have five toes on the front feet and four on the back, for an asymmetrical total of 18. African hedgehogs are more balanced, and their 16 work far better for those who prefer their digits to match.

Falcons and all raptors have four talons, three in the forefoot and one in the back. The specific purpose of these varies from bird to bird, and I’ll leave any further investigation up to you. Recommendation: skip the research and accept that they are dismally efficient at deep-sixing their prey. Falah is a representation of the importance of the falcon in Qatari culture; this raptor can reasonably be compared to China’s panda. 

It was near bedlam in the hall as everyone dropped what they were doing. At least 20 staffers, photographers, and journalists took advantage of this unexpected mascot preview and went to town taking multiple images of the falcon. Falah was a gracious bird but didn’t say much – nothing, actually, but he was patient with all the attention.

Cameras were handed enthusiastically to strangers, and Falah seemed well-schooled in the art of the selfie pose. Even with necessarily hyperactive air conditioning in this hall, it must have been stifling inside the costume. While falcons seem unbothered by Doha’s heat, woe be unto Falah if he goes outside.

Wait, did you say costume? Horrors.

“Theodore Paul Manuel, a Filipino expat who has been living in Qatar for the last ten years, created Falah. He was rewarded with QR10,000 for his efforts,” states Qatari Please don’t tell your children or I’ll be forced to write replies that begin with, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Falah the Falcon,” and I hear that’s already been done.

It’s mildly disturbing to think that Falah has a better press pass than mine. However, it’s like the 12-year-old girls at the 2016 Portland World Indoors from Youth Runner magazine who had better filming equipment than the networks or any of the rest of us: some things you just can’t control.

I was about halfway down this cavernous room.

The voice said, “Wait, please.”

“Please,” he implored. There was a note of anxiety in his tone, and I turned and saw a young man waving. Named Mr. Ismail, he is one of the many volunteers at the long accreditation tables. He was stationed at the corner position where he could readily maneuver his wheelchair left, right and backwards, but not forward.

The obstruction became evident: multiple cables laid between two tables, stacked, impossible to cross. There was no way he would be able to get across them safely to have his moment with Falah.

Unless, of course, The Falcon came to him.

I caught Mr. Ismail’s eye and he looked at me expectantly – might I be able to pull this off? I sprinted down the hall and caught up to the raptor. Falah seemed surprised but sensed the urgency in my voice. Kindly, he offered me his arm; he turned and trusted me to guide him as others cleared the way.

A look of joy and wonder and immense satisfaction spread over Mr. Ismail's face as he saw this unfold and realized that his dream was about to come true.

Falah the Falcon sat next to Mr. Ismail and this happened:
Mr. Ismail and Falah the Falcon
Media Accreditation Center, Doha, Qatar
21 September 2019
Photo by Mark Cullen. Copyright 2019. All Rights Reserved.
If you’d like to see the finest contemporary exhibit about the falcon – in this specific case, the Peregrine Falcon - then I guide you to the University of Oregon’s current exhibition, Peregrine Falcon: From Endangered Species to Urban Bird:’s open until Sunday, 29 September, and is closing just in time to allow you to watch the World Championships.