09 September, 2015

A fabulous championship. Second part: field and combined events.

When I had my first contacts with Athletics, back in the 50s, I remember that the canonical order of jumping events was long, high, triple jump and pole vault. However, when I started interesting myself in Athletics statistics, during the 80s, I discovered that the proper order was high jump, pole vault, long and triple jump, i.e. inversely proportional to the length of the performance. So I will base my summary of the latter order.

Women's high jump reserved a most pleasant surprise: the return of B. Vlasic at high level. Jumping 2.01, the same height as the winner M. Kuchina and bronze medallist A. Chicherova, Vlasic showed that she is still competitive at very high level. Men's high jump took place on the only rainy day of the championships. It is probably the bad weather that pushed my personal favourite, M. Barshim, out of the medals. Although the performances were far from exceptional, the event was a most interesting one since it was the first time to my memory that a tie-break was necessary in order to determine the world champion. All three, D. Drouin, G. Zhang and B. Bondarenko finished the event at 2.33 having passed all heights at the first attempt, missing all three attempts, plus the tie-breaking fourth one, at  2.36. When the bar came down to 2.34 Drouin was the only one to pass it. To my eyes this was a well-merited gold medal since Drouin had the most consistent technique of all participants. 

Women's pole vault saw the three best vaulters of the year sharing the medals. Y. Silva had a scare at 4.70 but found the energy to jump 4.90 at her third attempt and clinch the victory. F. Murer had previously established an South American record with 4.85, while Kyriakopoulou after missing one attempt at 4.60 and 4.70 passed 4.80 at first try, securing thus a medal. I was also happy with A. Bengtsson's record of 4.70. Hailed as a great talent for quite a few years, she is now starting to mature.

I had never seen S. Barber jump. Fortunately the qualification of men's pole vault was scheduled in the afternoon and thus I could follow it. I was really impressed his mastery of the vaulting technique and was convinced that he was going to play a role in the final. But never could I imagine that R. Lavillenie was going to going to be in one of his "off" days and would have to contend himself with a (shared) bronze medal. Time is running out for Lavillenie to win this elusive world outdoors title. Be that as it may, Barber had a flawless event up to 5.90 m winning the gold medal at just 21 years of age.

Women's long jump was a fabulous competition. My personal favourite, I. Spanovic of Serbia, went beyond 7 m (in fact twice, with first and last jump at 7.01 m) but had to contend with the bronze medal since S. Proctor had a jump at 7.07 m (and another one at 7.01 m) and T. Bartoletta pushed them down one place in the classification with a last attempt at 7.14 m. K. Johnson-Thompson was clearly affected by the heptathlon debacle and could not do better than 6.63 m for 11th place. The mediocrity which is reigning in men's long jump persisted one more year. G. Rutherford won the competition with 8.41 m; nothing to write home about. Some will argue that he is now Olympic, European and World champion. Does this make him a great jumper? Did the fact that K. Kenteris had the very same titles make him a great 200 m runner? I don't think so. 

Thank God, while long jump is stagnating, triple jump is rewarding us with great competitions. The battle between P. Pichardo and C. Taylor was breathtaking, ending in a fabulous performance for the latter at 18.21. He has now the mythical record of J. Edwards in his sights. Who would have guessed a few years back that we would be having three jumpers over 18 m. If next year in Rio, Tamgho is back and at the same level as the two others, the triple jump will be the event one should not miss. Women's triple jump saw the crowing of C. Ibargüen, who is the indisputable number one triple jumper of the last three years, with a jump of 14.90 m. I hope that she will continue to dominate the event in the same way next year and add an olympic gold to her extensive collection. The one newcomer I will be keeping my eyes on is G. Petrova of Bulgaria who jumped 14.66 for fourth position and showed a great potential.

Men's shot put saw the defeat of the reigning champion D. Storl by J. Kovacs 21.74 m to 21.93 m. The bronze medal went to a representative of Jamaica, O. Richards, with a throw of 21.69 m. The Caribbeans are becoming a nursery of athletics' champions also for the "heavy" events (following a road already paved by Cuba). In this event I was really pleased by the return to high level of J. Gill, of New Zealand. Once a wunderkind of shot put he was given for lost these last two years. At 21 he has all the time in the world. With V. Adams  out of the race C. Schwanitz was the logical favourite. Still she had to fight hard and in the end only 7 cm separated her from L. Gong, 20.37 to 20.30 m. 

P. Malachowski after being the "eternal second" could at last bring home a gold medal. With 67.40 m he dominated a so-so discus event. Again a representative of Jamaica was distinguished here. F. Dacres threw 65.77 m in the qualification which would had sufficed for a bronze medal but could only manage 64.22 m in the final for 7th place. Still he is only 21 and so we will surely see more from him in the years to come. When I read in June that D. Caballero had thrown her discus at 70.65 m I was really impressed. She is a most gifted thrower and had already thrown over 65 m in 2012 but her last two years had seen rather lacklustre performances. Still, she was a finalist in the last two World Championships and her victory here, with a superb 69.28 m, was no surprise. For this she had to beat the "sacred monster" of women's discus, S. Perkovic, the only other seventy-plus'er of the last fifteen years who could only manage a 67.39 m throw to save the silver medal. I will be keeping an eye on the second cuban thrower, Y. Pérez, who with 65.46 m barely missed the bronze medal. I think that she has a potential at least equal to that of her team-mate.

Men's hammer throw was the proof that we are down to just one top-class thrower: P. Fajdek. He confirmed his class by winning his second world tile with a confortable margin and a 80.88 throw. I must say that I am little bit disappointed by M. El Gamel 7th place but this is probably due to a lack of experience at high-level competitions. What I said about men's hammer throw applies also to the women's event, unless there is a question of perspective, given the total dominance of this event by A. Wlodarczyk. She won the championships with two throws over 80 m but was somehow unlucky. Hadn't she not broken the world record less than a month before, her 80.85 m championships throw would have garnered her a very substantial extra prize. I am little bit disappointed with the 6th place of K. Klaas. This time I was really hoping she would be among the medalists. The new talent to follow in this event is S. Hitchon who missed a medal for just 16 cm.

Women's javelin throw led to a fierce competition for the honour places although the overall performances were somewhat below-par. K. Molitor managed to win with a last attempt throw of 67.69 m, her first medal in a major championship. The three big names of women's javelin throw, back from maternity leave had various fortunes. C. Obergföll obtained a not-so-bad fourth place, while M. Abakumova was ignominiously eliminated in the qualifications. B. Spotakova, who came back in good shape in 2014, threw a promising 65.02 m in the qualification and then collapsed in the final, ending in 9th place. But the most exciting throwing event was undoubtedly men's javelin throw. I. El Sayed took the lead with a great second throw of 88.99 m but then J. Yego retaliated with an incredible 92.72 m, third performance of all times. I have been following Yego since the Moscow, 2013, World's where he was pushed out of the medals at the very last throw. This time he squashed the competition with a fabulous throw. He is still a little bit inconsistent technically, but given his great talent, once he manages to tame completely his technique, sky is the limit. My minor disappointment at this event was the elimination in the qualifiers of K. Walcott the only other thrower to have surpassed 90 m this year.

Women's heptathlon did not offer us the thrilling finale we were expecting. One of the two  big favourites, K. Johnson-Thompson managed to foul all her long jump attempts and dropped out. So it was an easy victory with 6669 points for J. Ennis-Hills, since, moreover, B. Theisen-Eaton was not in optimal shape. I watched the third attempt of Johnson-Thompson and I must say that she was really unlucky. She fouled, by just a few millimetres, a jump around 6.90 m. Had this jump been valid and assuming that she could perform over the two remaining events at 95 % of her maximum she would have had a final score very close to that of the winner. I always keep an eye open for new talents and this time I was impressed by the new product of the Dutch combined events school, N. Visser, who finished at the 8th place. On the other hand, I was really disappointed by the performance of N. Thiam who should have been among the contenders for a medal. Finally I would like to draw attention to the tenacity of B. Nwaba of the US team: she crashed out at the very first event clipping the second hurdle. Still she hanged on and finished the event managing even to improve her personal bests in the throws.

Men's decathlon on the other hand offered us even more than what we expected with the fabulous world record of A. Eaton. I plan to write a special post on Eaton and his record in a near future so I will not comment further on his performance. Still I must confess that when he entered the final stretch in the 1500 m I did not believe that he could make it. Fortunately I was proven wrong. D. Warner continued his progression and is now hand-down the second best decathlete of the world. The two athletes that did impress me with their progress were L. Bourrada of Algeria (he improved his own African record, finishing 5th) and K. Felix from Grenada who managed to complete a major decathlon this time (he had not finished one neither in the Moscow, 2013, World's nor in the London, 2012, Olympics) finishing 8th. I will keep an eye on both in the years to come.

While I was compiling this report on the World Championships I realised that it was going to be way too long (even after I split it into two parts) for any technical digressions. So, I plan to return, in some future posts, to the discussion of some more technical points inspired by what happened in Beijing.  

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