03 September, 2016

My Olympic Report (2016). Second part: field and combined events

Nobody will be surprised by the fact that I will begin this second part of my report on the Rio Olympics with the victory of E. Stefanidi in women's pole vault. 

Stefanidi vaulting for gold

In a breathtaking competition, which saw the local favourite and 2011 world champion F. Murer no-heighting at the qualifying round while the 2012 gold medalist, J. Suhr and the reigning world champion Y. Silva could not go beyond 4.60, Stefanidi kept her composure and won the competition with a jump at 4.85. S. Morris came close to the gold medal with a narrowly missed jump at 4.90 m but had to contend with silver on count-back at 4.85 m. E. McCartney of New Zealand was 3rd with 4.80 at just 19 years of age. 

Stefanidi with Bolt

The great absent from this competition was, of course, the world record holder and multiple olympic and world champion Ye. Isinbayeva. During the Olympics she was elected as member of the athletes commission of the IOC. Speaking after her election she congratulated the medalists but voiced her unhappiness for not having being able to fight for a third gold medal. Her only remark I will object to is when she added that "the greek girl won with 4.85 m and my best performance this season was 4.90 m". Well, Stefanidi has also jumped 4.90 m this year and Morris even higher at 4.95 m.

Men's pole vault was a sad affair indeed. At the crucial point of the competition the brazilian spectators started booing R. Lavillenie while he was preparing for his attempts. I do not know whether this had anything to do with Lavillenie missing out at 6.03 and 6.08 m and having to contend himself with a silver medal. But at least in Rio he managed an exemplary competition. Simply, this time, T. Braz da Silva was better and won gold. 

One laughs, the other cries

Lavillenie who apparently does not know the history of his own discipline compared the incident to Jesse Owens being booed at the Olympics in 1936. I cannot imagine how he could invent this ridiculous comparison. Owens was never booed in Berlin. The one incident Lavillenie should have referred to is the famous "Kozakiewicz gesture" in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The local crowd were encouraging K. Volkov while booing, whistling and jeering at V. Kozakiewicz (and in fact also at T. Slusarski who in the end shared the silver medal). But Kozakiewicz went on to win the gold medal breaking the world record and giving the soviet crowd the finger.

The famous Kozakiewicz gesture

Had Lavillenie won he could have done the same. But he didn't win.

Men's high jump did not live up to expectations. The title went to the world champion D. Drouin, with a jump of 2.38 m, while M Barshim and B. Bondarenko had to settle for silver and bronze with jumps of 2.36 and 2.33 m respectively. The absence of G. Tamberi, who injured himself less than a month before the Olympics was definitely felt.

Women's high jump was interesting in a perverse way. The first four jumpers cleared 1.97 m and went no further with R. Beitia (who is obtaining her best results since, in 2012 already 33 years old, she decided not to retire after all), M. Demireva and B. Vlasic sharing gold, silver and bronze respectively. We have to go back to the Moscow, 1980, Olympics, where S. Simeoni won with 1.97 m, in order to find an olympic women's gold won with a performance of less than 2 m. On the other hand, in the heptathlon competition two jumpers, N. Thiam and K. Johnson-Thompson managed to clear a world heptathlon best 1.98 m, i.e. one cm higher than at the specific high jump competition. 

Thiam and Johnson-Thompson after their 1.98 m jump

The funny thing is that this highly improbable situation has already occurred. At the 1924 olympic pentathlon (that was the last time this event was held) R. LeGendre jumped a world record 7.765 m in the pentathlon's long jump. (He went on to win the pentathlon bronze medal but since he was not selected for the long jump he had to watch D. Hubbard win in 7.445 m). 

I will not enter into any details concerning men's long jump. I am convinced that the discipline is in deep crisis since the retirement of M. Powell, C. Lewis and I. Pedroso. Gold medals at the 8.30-8.40 m bracket are so '70s: A. Robinson won in 1976 with 8.35 and L. Dombrowski in 1980 with 8.54 m. I prefer, and by far, interest myself in women's long jump. Before the Olympics, my preferred jumper, I. Spanovic of Serbia had declared that she hoped to be able to jump between 7.10 and 7.20 m and that this should suffice for a medal, possibly gold. She was right on target. 
I. Spanovic jumping in Rio

She jumped 7.08 m securing bronze and a jump of 7.20 m would have been enough for gold since T. Bartoletta won with 7.17 m, B. Reese being second with 7.15 m. (In fact, Spanovic had one jump well beyond 7.20 m but unfortunately she fouled by one small centimetre).

Reese, Bartoletta and Spanovic

Triple jump saw another favourite of mine win gold. C. Ibargüen has been trusting the highest place on the podium since 2013 but was still missing olympic gold (she was second at the 2012, London, Olympics). With a jump of 15.17 m she dominated the competition but the danger is present. Y. Rojas, of Venezuela, is just 20 years old and has a record of 15.02 m (to be compared to Ibargüen's 15.31 m). In Rio she jumped 14.98 m for second place. While it is clear that she has a great potential I do not like her style in the least. Contrary to Ibargüen's, her jumps are not at all pleasant to the eye. Does this mean that she has a potential for improvement? If yes, then sky is the limit for this young athlete. 

Rojas and Ibargüen in action

P. Mamona confirmed her Amsterdam success with a 14.65 m national record, while one of my preferred athletes, Bulgaria's G. Petrova is having a difficult year and exited the competition at the qualifying round.

C. Taylor won easily the men's triple jump event with a 17.86 m jump, W. Claye taking silver with 17.76 m. However with P.P. Pichardo and T. Tamgho absent due to injuries the event had lost a good part of its interest. 

C. Taylor jumping in Rio

What is impressive is that Taylor won his 2012 jumping left-left-right and then he changed foot for injury reasons jumping right-right-left reaching 18.21 m and winning a second olympic title.

I have been following V. Adams' come-back from injury throughout the year and when she started being regular over 20 m I was quite confident that she was going to win at the Games. Her 20.42 m  in the women's shot put competition should have sufficed were it not for the exceptional throw of M. Carter with 20.63 m at the very last attempt. Well, that's life.

Adams and Carter

I have already commented on the men's shot put won by R. Crouser with a 22.52 m throw. Once more T. Majewski managed to beat D. Storl at the Olympics but this time they were 6th and 7th respectively. I was relatively disappointed by the lacklustre performances of O. Richards (bronze medalist at the 2015 World's) and the two young throwers J. Gill, K. Bukowiecki, considered to be the future of the event. 

If one jamaican's (Richards) performance was disappointing, what can one say about that of the other great jamaican thrower, F. Dacres who with a 68 m personal record managed to throw just over 50 m in the qualifying round? I followed his efforts on tv (after all he was one of the favourites) and they were simply pathetic. It seems that a cut in his right index finger reopened and did not allow him to throw properly. So, now wait for next year. 

F. Dacres, looking as if he were behind the bars

Still, Dacres absence from the final did not make the competition less fascinating. Coming into the last throw the future winner, C. Harting, was 3rd but before his turn arrived he was pushed down to 5th. So for him it was medal or bust. And then he managed a huge throw of 38.37 m winning the gold medal. His brother, R. Harting, won the 2012 olympic gold with a 68.27 m throw at his 5th attempt. Coming back injury he qualified for the Games but he could not go past the qualifying round.

The Harting brothers, Robert and Cristoph

Women's discus throw was business as usual for S. Perkovic who managed just one valid throw in the final, but her 69.21 m sufficed for her to prevail over M. Robert-Michon, who, in turn, with a french national record of 66.73 m, managed to beat the world champion, D. Caballero. My disappointment here was the abysmal performance of the second cuban thrower, Y. Pérez. Her qualification throw of 65.38 m would have sufficed for bronze, but in the final she managed to foul all her throws. Despite this bum note I am still convinced that Pérez has a great potential and I will keep an eye open for her.

With Spotakova and Obergföll at the verge of retirement and with Abakhumova already retired (and, sadly, implicated in some doping scandal) women's javelin throw has become a free for all. Performances that would not lead to a place in the final are now sufficient for a medal. This year's 66.18 m gold medal throw of S. Kolak is the shortest one since the introduction of the new implement. The only thrower I distinguished was M. Andrejcyk of Poland who threw a national record of 67.11 m at the qualifying round but could not repeat it in the final and had to settle for 4th just 2 cm (or, for the purists, 3 cm) less than what would have won her the bronze medal (or 15 cm for silver).

M. Andrejcyk throwing in Rio

When K. Walcott won the 2012 Olympic Games at 19 years of age everybody shrugged away his victory as a lucky throw in a particularly windy day. It is true that his 84.58 m winning throw was the shortest one since the Seoul, 1988, Olympics. But then Walcott matured. He threw over 90 m and coming to Rio dominated the qualifying round with a massive 88.68 m throw. He did less well in the final where he had to settle for bronze, with 85.38. Still, if there are people out there having still doubts as to whether Walcott is a great athlete I would advise them to stop interesting themselves in athletics and take up embroidery. Speaking of great throwers, J. Yego who has been rather discreet this season was second with a 88.24 m throw. Unfortunately he hurt himself and had to drop out of the competition after his fourth throw. Concerning the winner, T. Röhler I would like to remind here what I had written in my comments on the European Championships

"The huge surprise of the event was the 5th place of this year's world leader T. Röhler. I think that this was the first time Röhler was entering a major competition as the favourite and he does not have yet the experience allowing him to channel his stress in a constructive way. Who knows, his bad european experience might be helpful for him at the Rio Olympics".

It turned out that I nailed it. 

Yego, Röhler and Walcott

And, lest I forget it, I have been crossing my fingers for Pitkämäki to be eliminated and he obliged. At 34 it is high time for him to retire and allow us to wipe his name out of our minds.

Men's hammer throw reserved us the biggest surprise of the Games. The one undisputed favourite P. Fajdek, the current wold champion, who is dominating the discipline these last years managed just a 72 m throw and could not qualify. D. Nazarov of Tajikistan was the winner with 78.68 m which is the worst gold medal performance since 1984 (and, remember, that was a boycott year). Women's hammer throw on the other hand was the exact opposite. Not only did the great favourite A. Wlodarczyk win the competition but she rewarded us with a 82.29 m world record. It was a short-lived one: two weeks later Wlodarczyk improved it to 82.98 m. She has now the 20 best performances of all time (counting ancillary marks) and she is the only thrower above 80 m.

A. Wlodarczyk throwing in Rio

Both decathlon and heptathlon were great competitions. If you are following my blog you should have noticed by now my passion for combined events. Men's decathlon saw the crowning of A. Eaton who is unbeaten since 2012. His 8893 points score is an olympic record (in fact a tie with that of Dvorak from 2004). D. Warner with 8666 points had to settle for 3rd, the silver medal going to K. Mayer of France who crushed the old national record with 8834 points. I consider Mayer the true successor to Eaton (and Warner). While the latter are essentially runners, Mayer is a jumper-thrower, a profile that I particularly like in decathletes. 

 Warner, Eaton and Mayer

L. Bourrada in 5th place established a new African record and L. Suárez, after two bronze medals in 2008 and 2012 had to contend himself with a 6th place. I will be keeping an eye open for the two decathletes from Grenada, K. Felix and L. Victor (who, by the way, are brothers). The day they improve their pole vault and their 1500 m they can make miracles.

While in the decathlon the surprise was that of Mayer's second place, in the heptathlon it is the victory of N. Thiam who was unexpected. I have been following Thiam's progress for years and I was always hoping that one day she was going to realise her great potential. Still what she did in Rio was beyond anything I could imagine (or hope for). Competing with a slight elbow injury she managed great throws in both the shot put (were usually she does OK) and the javelin (where usually she does so-so). Her jumps were superb: 1.98 m at the high jump and 6.58 m at the long jump secured her more than 1000 points each time. (Should I spell it out for you? Thiam is a jumper-thrower). Coming into the 800 m I was somewhat anxious because I have seen in the past Thiam losing a medal because of a mediocre 800 m. Not this time. She ran a respectable 2:16.54 and while J. Ennis-Hill scored a hundred points more than Thiam in this event she had to relinquish her olympic title. 

Nafissatou Thiam, celebrating

Thiam's 6810 overall score while not as good as Ennis' 6955 in London or Kluft's 6952 in Athens, is still better than Dobrynska's 6733 in Beijing, Lewis 6584 in Sydney and Shouaa's 6780 in Atlanta. Ennis was second with 6775 points and Theisen-Eaton third, winning her first olympic medal with 6653 points. K. Johnson-Thompson's 6th place, despite a 1.98 m national record at high jump, was slightly disappointing (KJT is a runner-jumper but definitely no thrower). Among the european athletes who participated at the European Championships the one who did spectacularly better was G. Zsivoczky-Farkas: her 6442 points in Rio would have sufficed for a bronze medal in Amsterdam. And since I talked about them in my European's report I should not forget here the three heptathletes from the Netherlands: Vetter, Broersen and Visser. They finished 10th, 13th and 19th. Vetter scored 6394 points, 232 less than her Amsterdam performance. She was only the 8th european. And I am now convinced that Broersen is hampered by some injury. Otherwise how can one explain that she jumped 1.77 m in Rio (1.74 m in Amsterdam) when she has a 1.94 m personal record? Anyhow, she scored 239 points less than her personal record (and Visser did even worse scoring 277 points less). I will close the analysis of the women's heptathlon commenting on an athlete who has a great talent and still managed to finish at the 20th place: A. Jones of the Barbados. 

A. Jones and J. Ennis-Hill

With 3964 points she was at 3rd place at the end of the first day. Had she performed at her record level at long jump and 800 m (I know, it is not easy, but for argument's sake let us accept it) she would have scored 6561 points at 5th place just behind L. Ikauniece-Adminina. Instead she jumped just 6.30 m, slipping to 4th place, followed by a 42 m javelin throw which ended her at 6th, whereupon she decided to jog through the 800 m in 2:41.12, losing 14 places in the process. I believe that Jones, who is just 21, once she learns how to throw the javelin, will be able to compete with the best heptathletes out there. To my eyes she is a runner-jumper-thrower who only lacks technique (and perhaps determination).

With three world records the 2016 Olympic Games were an excellent vintage. Two more world records were broken one before the Games by K. Harrison (who could not participate because of the harsh US trials rules) and by R. Jebet (who won without taking undue risks and went on to break the record in a more tame competition). Two more world records could have been broken, that of women's 800 m (but more on this in some future post) and of women's 5000 m. The latter is still a possibility and if it occurs I will definitely present my analysis and comments.

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