02 September, 2017

A bizarre championship. First part: track events.

Let me give my opinion on Bolt right away so that we can move on to more interesting things. Two years ago in my report on the 2015 World Championships I had written

"Perhaps the most important conclusion one can draw from the 2015 World's is that U. Bolt is the best sprinter ever. In fact, I was convinced about this even before the championships." 

I still stand by this statement. To my eyes Bolt is always the greatest. That said I am convinced that he shouldn't have run an individual race in this championship. He could have participated only in the relay just as he had done three years at the Commonwealth Games, probably anchoring the jamaican relay to one last gold medal. Instead of this he opted for the 100 m, where he managed to fumble his start three races in a row with, as a consequence, a stinging defeat. Despite a great race at the semi-final (or because of this effort) the Bolt who presented himself at the 4x100 m final was not the familiar sprint superhero. We all know how that ended. I don't know about you but I'm afraid I'll miss his antics. 

A sad end for Bolt's career

OK. Forget the men's 100 m. At least the 200 m was interesting in the sense that the winner, R. Guliyev, was totally unexpected, something reminiscing of Kenteris' victory in the 2000, Sydney, Olympics. (They ran also in exactly the same time, 20.09 s, at 17 years of separation). But, to be fair Guliyev is an excellent sprinter. With this year's best of 9.97 s, he is one of the rare sub-10 white performers. And I did like the fact that he first put the flag of Azerbaijan upon his shoulders and only later the turkish one. Pre-race favourites Van Niekerk and Makwala paled into insignificance although the former did save the silver medal. The one athlete who did impress me was J. Richards (bronze medal) who went on to win gold with the Trinidad & Tobago 4x400 m team.

Men's 200 m finish

The women's sprint races were more interesting, and by far, than the men's ones. For a few seconds I was hoping that M.-J. TaLou, one of the two ivorian sprinters that I admire, was going to win. But then T. Bowie with a perfectly-timed dip clinched the gold medal. (M. Ahouré, my second ivorian favourite, barely lost the bronze medal to D. Schippers). 

Bowie's dive earned her the gold medal.

The huge surprise was the fifth place of the pre-race favourite E. Thompson. (In particular since she had dominated her semi-final in a time better than that of the winner of the final). The 200 m was again a silver race for TaLou. This time she did dip on time but Schippers was faster over the last meters and renewed her world champion title. S. Miller (one of the pre-race favourites) had a great finish but had to content herself with a third place.

TaLou went home with two silver medals

Speaking of S. Miller, I will not forget the drama of women's 400 m. MIller went out way too fast and she was left without reserves with 30 m to go. The way was clear for A. Felix, but she could only grab the bronze medal, losing not only to P. Francis but also to the most impressive 19-year old bahraini S.E. Naser. I was particularly glad that one athlete I am following closely, K. Mupopo of Zambia, did make it to the final this time.

MIller freezing up with just 30 m to go

In the absence of Makwala I was expecting a heated contest between W. Van Niekerk and S. Gardiner (who had run an impressive 43.89 s in the semi-final). Gardiner did enter the final stretch ahead of Van Niekerk but the latter managed to catch up finishing in a relaxed way (which did disappoint some spectators who were expecting another feat by the talented south-african sprinter). But Van Niekerk was saving forces for the yet to be contested 200 m, where, as we saw, he did not shine. 

If there is a lesson to be learned by the (relative) failures of Van Niekerk and Miller this is that a 200-400 m double is a very risky enterprise. A. Felix has also gone for a double in the past without success. Speaking of Felix I must say that she is a great athlete (I was ecstatic when I first saw her fluid style of running) but I find that there is too big a marketing campaign around her name. Of her 6 olympic gold medals only one is won in an individual race. The tally is four out of 11 for her world champion titles. Still she has been among the top world sprinters for over 15 years and this, undeniably, merits respect.

Should I say anything about women's 800 m? I prefer not. (But, rest assured, I am going to write the article I am planning for quite some time now on Semenya). Better discuss the men's race. It was major surprise. After all P.A. Bosse qualified for the final on the basis of time having arrived third in his semi. In the final his opponents spent their energy trying to hinder each other (Amos, Bett and Aman I am looking at you). Bosse attacked with 250 m to go and managed to surprise everybody, including himself. (Look at the photo below, where he cannot yet believe he is the winner). The one who was really surprised was Kszczot who has already seen Bosse, in previous races, attack early only to yield on the final straight. He was convinced that his superior finish would make short shrift of the frenchman but this time Bosse was really the capo.

Bosse cannot yet believe that he won the race

Men's 1500 m saw the defeat of the triple world champion A. Kiprop. Still Kenya managed to grab the two highest post on the podium with E. Manangoi and T. Cheruyiot, the bronze medal going to a member of the Ingerbrigsten clan, Filip, the surprise european champion of last year. Women's 1500 m reserved two surprises. The biggest one (at least for myself) is that Semenya did not win (but I am convinced that she is throwing some races so as to avoid a huge outcry). The second was the disappearance of G. Dibaba. Since she had comfortably won her semi I was expecting her to play some role in the final. However she faded to last place fuelling more doubts about her extraterrestrial world record. One year after Rio, F. Kipyegon added the world gold to her olympic one.

Men's 5000 m was a great race and one which, after so many years, did not finish with M. Farah victorious. With one lap to go the three ethiopians moved ahead and bracketed Farah. But what did make the difference was Chelimo (running for the US) who, just when Farah was going to unleash his sprint, blocked him to the inside track. So Farah had to wait for an opening and when one presented itself, when Kejelcha moved to the right, it was too late. M. Edris could not be caught. The rest is history. And Farah's biggest disappointment.

Farah's post-race statement

Although with one silver and one gold (won over 10000 m with his usual, devastating sprint) Farah did much better than Bolt. Speaking of the 10 km, the one athlete that did impress me was J. Cheptegei of Uganda. Perhaps we have here the successor of Farah at the top of distance running hierarchy.

Ayana and Dibaba after the 10 km double

A. Ayana obliterated once again the opposition in the women's 10000 m. In fact the really interesting part of the race was (far) behind her in the battle of T. Dibaba and the kenyans for the remaining medals which ended with Dibaba winning silver and A. Tirop bronze. And after having dominated the 10 km race Ayana, went on to lose the 5000 m just as she did last year in the Olympics. When H. Obiri launched her sprint with 300 m to go Ayana did not react in the least. I wouldn't like to enter here into conspiracy-like theories but I do find this way of Ayana of losing over the 5 km somewhat bizarre. Still we should not forget that Obiri was already silver medalist over the same distance at the Rio Olympics.

Obiri celebrating her victory over the 5 km

Both high-hurdle races were superb. O. McLeod confirmed his supremacy over the 110 m. He took he lead from the start and while S. Shubenkov managed to catch-up around the 8th hurdle  Mcleod's superior speed did make the difference leading to a clean win. A. Meritt and G. Darien have been contending for third place throughout the race but a series of technical mistakes lead to both of them losing the bronze medal to B. Baji. The women's race signalled the come-back fo S. Pearson. With her usual explosive start she took command of the race and kept it till the finishing line. World record holder K. Harrison confirmed what I have been suspecting for some time now: she is not a winner. She was just behind Pearson all the way to the 8th hurdle and still she managed to go back home empty handed. I was also very happy with the participation of N. Visser in the final. After finishing 7th on the heptathlon she obtained the same place in the hurdles, another proof, if ever there were a need thereof, that a woman can shine both in heptathlon and in an individual event.

The superb come back of Pearson

An ex combined event specialist won the men's low hurdles. In both my reports on the Rio Olympics and the Amsterdam Europeans I had written about K. Warholm saying that I was going to keep an eye on him. Well, I didn't have to wait for too long. Running in the same, semi-suicidal, tactics Warholm obtained the world title this year. And he is just starting. Another athlete who did impress me was the qatari, ex-mauritanian, A. Samba. He was just behind Warholm, running in excellent style when he stumbled coming out from the last hurdle and dropped out of the medal race. (And let us not forget the best performer of the year K. McMaster of the British Virgin Islands, who was disqualified in the quarter finals).

Warholm surpised everybody with his victory

Both pre-race favourites, olympic champion D. Muhammad and world champion Z. Hejnova, were beaten in the women low-hurdle race. Muhammad ran too fast over the first part of the race and could not resist to the sprint of K. Carter who, running in the 9th lane without visual contact with the other hurdlers, managed to set her own pace and still have reserves left in the end.

Women's 3000 m steeple was somewhat of a surprise with two americans claiming the first two places. Well, to be fair, the winner E. Coburn, was olympic bronze medalist last year, so she was logically among the favourites. A somewhat bigger surprise was the silver medal of C. Frerichs, who was just 11th at Rio. H. Jepkemoi, Rio silver medalist and 2015 world champion had to content herself with a bronze medal, while the gold medalist and world record holder, R. Jebet, could only place 5th with a mediocre, for her, time. But the probably most "interesting" moment of the race was at the beginning of the race when B. Chepkoech who was leading at that moment "forgot" the water jump and had to backtrack losing precious ground. She ended up finishing fourth and your guess is as good as mine as to what she could have done without this blunder.

The moment when Chepkoech forgot the water jump

Men's 3000 m steeple saw the scathing defeat of the great E. Kemboi. (Don't get me wrong: to my eyes he is still the greatest steeplechaser. His defeat in London signals just the end of a career). C. Kipruto won his first world title after the olympic one he obtained last year, in a race where almost everybody was expecting E. Jager to play a more important role. In the end the latter, without forces, obtained the bronze medal thanks to the fact that M. Mekhissi did not realise early enough that Jager was worn out and launched a final sprint a tad too late ending in a frustrating fourth place. (Go watch the last metres of the race in youtubeor the whole race following this link, unless the IAAF has it taken down). Still the athlete I am going to keep an eye on is S. El Bakkali from Morocco, who won silver after having placed fourth in last year's Olympics.

Both women's relays were won by the US team. While there was a comfortable victory in the 4x400 m, in the 4x100, it is the anchor of T. Bowie that made the difference in the end. Men's relays were a totally different business. In the 4x100 m C. Coleman took the relay ahead of N. Mitchell-Blake and he still managed to lose in the end. (The explanations we heard was that Coleman is still young and that he ran too many races during the championships. You can believe it if you wish. And just to put things in perspective, Mitchell-Blake is just two years older than Coleman and the only major competition he has participated in was last year's Olympics). The 4x400 m men's relay was one of the most exciting races in the championships. L. Gordon, of Trinidad & Tobago, with a 44.02 anchor managed to beat F. Kerley, of the US, who could only run in 44.71. (And, as expected, the most impressive runner was J. Richards with a 43.60 split. He is definitely the sprinter to follow).  

Trinidad & Tobago's victory in the 4x400 m

As those who follow my blog know very well,  I don't care at all about race-walking. But I would like to point out here that at long last the 50 km race entered the women's program. So we would have had a perfect men-women parity were it not for the heptathlon which is not on par with men's decathlon. But more on this point in the second part of my report.

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