The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Surprise – 2017 World Championships

Aug 22nd, 2017
1:28 pm PDT

Track SectionIf you thought you knew what was going to happen in London – you were wrong. The one thing that everyone had right, is that this is the last we will see of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah on the World Championships  track. How those stories would end proved to be a community event, as opposed to solo writing, as some other athletes had their say. The same went for the athletes previously anointed as receiving the inheritance of Bolt’s titles of Worlds Top Sprinter, and Face of the Sport. As again athletes stepped up to have their say in the matter.

This was the tone of these championships. Just when you thought you had something figured out, SURPRISE, a different outcome took place on the track. Every so often, there is a transitional championships. A meet where the old begin to how out and the new step into their shoes. This meet was transitional, but it was also full of shock and surprise. In retrospect, peering into a crystal ball heading into London one would have seen the words "Expect the Unexpected"! As this is the meet that we received.

Don’t get me wrong. It made for a very exciting meet. Events became very unpredictable – which heightened the level of excitement. It was also nice to see new faces emerging. A reminder that this sport will ALWAYS have stars. The faces will change – from Pre to Moses to Carl to Michael to Usain and so many others. But the excitement and allure of the sport will always be there. Those in charge will have to do a better job with the narrative as the sport moves forward.

That includes those in charge of things here in the US. As our athletes continue to prove we are the most powerful nation on the planet on the track and field, our federation must also become elite in dealing with the sport. Developing better funding sources, and opportunities for our athletes. Our federation must become as accomplished as it’s athletes. We should be leading the way with elite meets, hosting majors, and bring a major vocal voice in how things are run globally! And not being a bystander, talking what others present/provide.

That said, let’s look at some of the biggest surprises in a week full of surprises. One could say that half of the results were surprises! As very little in this championships "followed form". A good thing for the sport in my humble opinion, as it made for a very exciting week if competition. For me, there were five thoroughly shocking upsets, which I will discuss below. I’ll say upfront that Bolt’s loss in the 100 isn’t one of them. Not that it wasn’t a "surprise", just a mild surprise. Gatlin has been threatening to do this for half a decade now. In the last World Championships, Bolt won by a mere .01 sec. It doesn’t get closer than that. If anything, the surprise here was that Gatlin did so without creating immediate separation, but rather by running Bolt to the line. But as I said in my pre championships article the potential was there for a Gatlin win. So, that said, who shouldn’t have won at all? Check below.

 

Women’s Steeplechase – Gold to Emma Coburn

This was probably the most fun race for me to watch, believe it or not. This may have been the strongest ever women’s steeplechase field in history. On paper Coburn could only hope to hang on and "maybe" slip onto the podium if mistakes were made. But if this World Championships proved anything, it’s that NOTHING is set in stone, and there’s a reason we race! Coburn ran a magnificent race. She matched every move made by the other women and was always in a position to strike if necessary. Her final lap was a masterclass in how to win a race. And her run to the tape off the final water barrier was classic. Perhaps the most surprising finish of all was that of teammate Courtney Frerichs whose marching instructions before the race were to follow Emma. That’s exactly what she did, mirroring Coburn for the entire race to a silver medal finish! An American woman had never won this race, or garnered silver since the meets inception in 1983. Suddenly, in one full sweep Coburn and Frerichs accomplished both. A double surprise defeating both the Kenyan and Ethiopian continents that have totally dominated this event. For me, the upset of upsets in the Championship of Surprises!

 

Men’s 200 – Gold to Ramil Guliyev

This race was supposed to give us the successor to Usain Bolt – since he was only going to contest the 100 and relay. Then, as athletes starters pulling out, it was going to be a crowning of Wayde van Niekerk, as the successor to MJ in the 200/400 double department. But this race never followed form from the beginning. Gatlin and Coleman decided not to double. Andre deGrasse pulled out of the meet with an injury. Then world leader Isaac Makwala was denied entry to the first round after contracting a virus! Given the rest with which WVN (van Niekerk) walked thru the 400 field, this race was already decided in the minds of many. Except poor PR over Makwala getting denied there opportunity to run resulted in a solo attempt to enter the semis – which he nailed. So now the race was deemed a two man race, which the semis seemed to verify. Then they ran the final. Makwala looked tired from the virus, and WVN looked tired from the attempt to double! The Americans looked like they were never ready. And Guliyev looked like the reincarnation of 2001 winner Kostas Kenteris – with this race looking eerily similar. Guliyev may never win a major race again, but he took home this gold. If not for the women’s steeplechase this would have been the upset of the meet.

 

Women’s 400 – Gold to Phyllis Francis

This meet was a rematch of the gold and silver medalists from Rio. A race decided on a lean. So, clearly there was much anticipation heading into the meet. Enjoyably, both Shaunae Miller Uibo and Alison Felix looked like the champions they are as they went thru the rounds. The final looking like the ultimate rematch – but it still had to be run. At the gun, they ran as if another Rio (a close finish) was in the offing. Except Felix didn’t look strong heading into the stretch and Miller Uibo looked like she was going to bury the field. That changed with some thirty meters to go as the wheels suddenly and inexplicably fell off the Miller Uibo bus and she literally stopped moving and went into reverse! In that moment three women roared past and when the smoke cleared Phyllis Francis finished best for gold! Right behind her Salwa Eid Naser (relatively unknown before this meet) set NR and won Bahrain’s first ever medal in the event by out leaning Felix by .02! The presumptive 1,2 in this event ended up 3,4. The gold and silver medalists starting the race happy to be in the final. Nice.

 

Men’s 4 x 100 – Gold to Great Britain

Where to begin with this one? This was to be Bolt’s final race. The US wanted to send him out without gold. With Bolt being "subpar", and his best help Yohan Blake also not running up to form, this looked to be America’s shot to take the top of the podium again. The rounds looked good for the American’s as Jamaica appeared a bit shaky without Blake in the lineup and the US FINALLY looking sharp! But, as they liked up for the final I admit to getting a bit nervous, because Blake AND the hurdle gold medalist Omar McCleod showed up for Jamaica – as they were pulling out all the stops! Once again, the gun, and they’re off. Leg one, McLeod gives Jamaica a slight advantage. Leg two, Gatlin closes slightly on Blake. Then leg three, Jaylen Bacon puts the US in front, which puts Bolt behind silver medalist Coleman. Then another case of the wheels coming off the bus. Bolt grabs the baton from Blake and immediately goes to shift gears – and gave that three step hop that many of us knees meant HAMSTRING! And down went Bolt. With Coleman on anchor that meant gold for the US, right? Wrong. You see, two things I’ve preached regarding relays for years came into play. One, only one leg uses blocks, so the hundreds meters is not necessarily indicative of how am athlete will perform on a relay – especially if their hundred is start dependent. Two, my favorite athletes to put on a relay are 200 meter runners – because they finish so strongly. In this case, Coleman ran well, but the 200 meter runner, Nethaneel Mitchell Blake, ran him down and out leaned him at the tape for the .05 win. I Dave some things to say about the US squad that I’ll save for another day. On this day, Britain handled their business and earned their gold medal with a NR performance.

 

Men’s 4 x 400 – Gold to Trinidad & Tobago

As poorly as we, the US, have done in the 4 x1 this past decade, the 4 x 4 has remained a staple. Handoffs are not as critical here as simply putting together the four fastest quarter-milers. Given that we once again dominated the yearly list, well victory should have been a given. Except the open 400 saw LaShawn Merritt running like a shell of himself; Roberts once again bowing out under pressure; and Kerley only getting in as fastest losing time! In the open final, Kerley ran 45.23, and in my mind the 4×4 was in question! The relay semis gave promise as the US took a controlled win over Trinidad. The final however was a different story as Trinidad pressed throughout, and in the end a fresh (?) Kerley was overtaken in the final straight. Not much more to be said. We were just beaten. Out run on the anchor. The collegiate record holder not looking very record like. That’s how this World Championships of surprises ended. With the usually dominant US squad giving Trinidad and Tobago its first ever gold medal in the event! No one on the planet would’ve out money on a Trini victory in this event prior to the meet, no one. Trinidad team ran over its head, especially 200 meter man Jereem Richards who, in my humble opinion, earned this victory by putting Trinidad in the mix. Great job Trinidad. America, we have some things to discuss.

Either way, this World Championships will be memorable for reasons unforeseen prior to the opening ceremony. Awesome.

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