But in his latest, a blazing 46.98 run at last night's Meeting de Paris IAAF Diamond League fixture in the French capital, Samba became just the second man to ever breach the event's 47-second barrier, leap-frogging among others Edwin Moses, widely considered the finest 400m hurdler of all time.
Suddenly, Kevin Young's 46.78 world record, set at the 1992 Olympic Games, three years before Samba was born, no longer seems that out of reach.
"It definitely did not feel like I ran under 47 seconds today," Samba said. "I made a small mistake at the start, lost my balance on the first hurdle so I did not expect to run so fast."
If it did throw him off, Samba hid it well. He regrouped quickly, running almost stride-for-stride alongside early leader Kyron McMaster, the 2017 IAAF Diamond League champion, as the pair, along with world champion Karsten Warholm, reached the race’s midway point.
Then, Samba once again illustrated his late-race strength, pulling into the lead as the pair entered the final bend and took the penultimate hurdle. Samba padded his margin with every stride. By the time McMaster crossed the finish with a 47.54 British Virgin Islands record, Samba was already howling with joy after glancing at the clock and seeing the number 46 staring back at him. Panting, he dropped to his knees to kiss the track before resuming his celebration.
"I think now anything is possible," said Samba. "I'm coming more close to the world record. I'm working very hard on that. But right now,” he added, “I’m speechless.”
Samba will next race at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne on 5 July when he will once again take on world champion Warholm. And it is surely just a matter of time before he faces collegiate star Rai Benjamin, who earlier this year moved to second on the world all-time list before being leap-frogged by Samba.
- Report on Samba's performance at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris
- Video footage of Samba's 46.98 race in Paris
Born: 5 September 1995. Coach: Hennie Kotze (RSA)
Born and raised in Saudi Arabia to a family of footballers, Samba first represented Mauritania, his father's homeland, in competition before relocating to Doha and switching allegiance to Qatar at the end of 2015. By then, he was already four years into his fledgling athletics career, already having a go as a high jumper, long jumper and sprinter, preferring the longer 200m and 400m races.
At 18 he had bests of 21.40 and 47.45; two years later he improved to 46.04. As unlikely as it seems now, he didn't refocus his talent to the 400m hurdles until the beginning of 2017 at age 21, a switch that's ushered in the most phenomenal rise the event has ever witnessed.
Samba debuted with a 50.53 run in Pretoria in early March of 2017, and had improved to 48.31 by month's end just two races later. His ascendency continued in May at the IAAF Diamond League opener in Doha where he beat a solid field that included Olympic champion Kerron Clement, by nearly a full second in 48.44.
He was slowed by injury later in the European summer, but nonetheless reached the final at the World Championships where he finished a distant seventh in 49.74 in a race won by another rising star in the event, Norway's Karsten Warholm. He hasn't finished behind Warholm – or anyone else – since.
Samba opened this season with a 47.90 victory in Potchefstroom, South Africa, on 19 April, the first of three consecutive personal bests. He improved to 47.57 in Doha and 47.48 in Rome, breaking the Asian record. A 47.60 victory in Oslo followed and a 47.41 victory in Stockholm after that, another Asian record. But even that solid performance didn't suggest that Samba would join world record-holder Kevin Young in the event's ultra exclusive sub-47-second club in his very next outing.
"The world record is getting close but I just want to improve step by step and to run fast," he said. "I improved my technique since last year and who knows, maybe I can be one second faster next year."
Abderrahman Samba's progression at 400m hurdles:
50.53 Pretoria 4 Mar 2017
49.24 Pretoria 11 Mar 2017
48.31 Sasolburg 28 Mar 2017
47.90 Potchefstroom 19 Apr 2018
47.57 Doha 4 May 2018
47.48 Rome 31 May 2018
47.41 Stockholm 10 Jun 2018
46.98 Paris 30 Jun 2018
- Countries: None