The Beijing World Championships are over and if you’re a fan of the sport you were pleased with the competition. When Worlds first began back in 1983 it was all about a handful of nations – Britain, Germany, Soviet Union, and United States, with everyone else as filler. Now we see gold medal performances from Kenya, Ethiopia, China, Jamaica, Netherlands, South Africa, and Eritrea among others winning medals all over the globe! That’s great for the global brand of track and field.
If you’re a fan of the sport here in the United States, there’s little to be happy about. Only 18 medals. Only one individual gold from the men. Time and time again potential medalists were eliminated early. Only one relay gold, and yet again a 4×1 disaster. Our medal tally was a devilish 666 – gold, silver and bronze. And if I were in charge of USATF all Hell would be breaking loose!
I see many issues with how this team was assembled and run. Chief among them being that the sport here in the United States needs to get out of bed with Nike. I have many thoughts on the negative aspects of Beijing, and I’ll share them later. Today however, I’d like to talk about my favorite moments from the World Championships.
Bolt v Gatlin – 100 Meters
Throughout the rounds this shaped up as Gatlin’s race to lose. Unfortunately fire Gatlin that is exactly what happened. Gatlin opened at 9.83,then followed with a relaxed looking 9.77 semi – conducting a clinic in 100 meter racing. Meanwhile Bolt looked to be struggling as he laid down a pair of 9.96’s in his heat and semi – stumbling at the start of his semi. The lane draw was inexcusable. Bolt given the middle of the track while Gatlin was shunted to lane 7. Gatlin didn’t help his cause however, with a horrible reaction time of .167! All but two finalists were better – including Bolt – and it was here that the race was decided. I said previously that Gatlin needed to create separation or risk being broken late as he tends to over stride when pressed. He didn’t get the separation, Bolt was able to put pressure, Gatlin broke stride and lost by .01 – 9.79 to 9.80. Perhaps a bit more restraint in the rounds would’ve helped. Just a thought. Behind them, Brownell and Degrasse gave notice to the rest of the world that they will be around for a while as they tied for bronze at 9.92.
Talk about an event that lived up to the hype – well at least the hype in my mind. Bolt v Gatlin got the headlines, but this event was everything the sport is about at its core. A tremendous global field saw sub 44 breached in the OPENING ROUND! As McDonald (Jamaica) & Masrahi (Kazakhstan) ran national records of 43.93 in the second heat. It took 45.08 to get out of the opening round as 18 men ran under 44. The semis were just as brutal as it took 44.64 to get into the final and seven men ran sub 45 yet watched the final from the stands! The final was the first with FIVE men with bests under 44 seconds – two of them former World champions LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James. At the gun it was sub 20 sprinters Merritt and van Niekerk out fast and setting the pace with everyone else chasing. Speed kills (especially if you don’t have it) and this pair got out front and didn’t look back. Van Niekerk got the edge coming into the stretch and held on as he(43.48) Merritt (43.65) and James (43.78) became the first trio to go sub 44 in the same race. Van Niekerk moving to #4 all time, Merritt #6. The 400 changed in 1968 when Evans and James ran the first sub 44’s. It changed again when Reynolds and Lewis brought sub 44 back. And now with six men going sub 44 in one season and all three medalists in a major, the event has been transformed for the 3rd time in my lifetime. If the short sprinters don’t start competing more often, this could become the event to watch!
The Decathlon – aka The Ashton Eaton Show
I’m following the 400 with the decathlon because gold medalist Ashton Eaton ran 45.00 to end day one! The best ever in a decathlon. Setting him up tulip break his own WR in the event. He had no peers in the decathlon, such was his dominance. He scored 1000 points or more in four events (100, 400, 110H, and LJ). He broke his own WR with a sterling 9045 total, and now owns 2 of the 3 marks over 9000 points. The silver medalist was 350 points behind – I can’t even pretend there was competition. Eaton’s performance was the most dominating of the meet. Only a historical performance in the triple jump being better in my humble opinion. Eaton is making this look too easy!
With Allyson Felix in the 400, the deuce became a wide open event – and it didn’t disappoint. Prior to Beijing it was assumed that this was Felix’ event to lose, so we watched to see who may have challenged her. Instead we discovered that the events young guns are not only ready to challenged, but Allyson may have to step up a notch should she compete here if she competes in the deuce in Rio! Five women broke 22.10 here – only Veronica Campbell Brown among Felix’ generation. Elaine Thompson’s blazing turn threatening a runaway until it was matched and surpassed by Dafne Schippers blistering stretch. Schippers (21.63) and Thompson (21.69) moving to #’s 3 & 5 all time! Felix’ OR of 21.68 would have put her between this pair! Britain’s Dina Asher Smith scored a NR 22.07 in 5th. Such was the speed and depth of this race. This race gave Schippers hold to go with the silver she took in the 100 and marks her as one of the world’s best female sprinters – something I suspected was in store when she stated her intent to sprint Worlds this year instead of the multi event. Thompson looks like Jamaica’s next great thing – fitting as she defeated long time great Campbell Brown here. Hopefully the powers that be set a schedule that allows Felix to compete in both long sprints in Rio, because the world deserves to see Felix, Schippers, and Thompson head to head. THAT could be I one of the highlights in Rio!
Men’s Triple Jump
This had been building all season as Pedro Pichardo and Christian Taylor have had several 18m jumps between them – including head to head matchups in Lausanne and Monaco. They headed into Beijing with Pichardo the world leader – both over 18m. Pichardo took the lead with his first jump in the first round (17.52m), and it took Taylor until the third round to draw even as both men jumped 17.60m. In the fourth round, however, Taylor took the lead at 16.68m – exactly 58 ft. A mark that stood up as Taylor took his final jump of the competition. With the gold secured, Taylor let fly – 18.21m, or in English 59′ 9"! The #2 mark of all time and just short of the WR of 18.29m (60′ 0") – and he made it look easy. I’d hoped for a battle over 59 ft, but a scare of what may be the toughest WR I the sport, was certainly exciting. No slight to Pichardo, but Taylor is one of the sport’s most clutch performers. And while both men certainly have the potential to take down the WR – as tough as it is – I can see Taylor succeeding within now and the end of the Rio Games. In a meet full of outstanding performances, this was THE performance of the meet!
In a meet where it seemed like most of America’s athletes were confused about exactly when this meet was scheduled to be run, Allyson showed up ready to perform. The schedule wouldn’t allow for the 200/400 double – let’s hope the IOC rectifies this for Rio – but she was able to compete in the 400. And the three time 200 meter champion added the 4 to her talley of gold medals with an outstanding 49.29. The race was NEVER in doubt as she went out fast and ran away from the field. She relaxed where she needed to relax, then held everyone at bay as she ran unopposed tho a new PR! Next she was the only good thing about the 4×1, as she have the team a momentary lead on the back stretch before the US succumbed to Jamaica. Then, in what was her most outstanding performance of the meet, she dug the 4×4 team out of a HUGE hole with an awesome 47.72 third leg to secure the lead. Only to watch our anchor give the victory away!
We had very few real bright spots for the US LaShawn Merritt, Aries Merritt, Joe Kovacs, Justin Gatlin, Tianna Bartoletta, Shamir Little, Ashton Eaton and Christian Taylor come to mind. Felix however, was the brightest of the lot for me. I would LOVE to see a 200 showdown with her, Elaine Thompson and Dafne Schippers in Rio. But if the powers that be are too self-absorbed to make the double possible, I want to see her take a shot at sub 48 in the 400 and the WR. Because I’ve long believed she can do it, and that relay in Beijing just confirmed it for me!
Luckily, the 4×4’s were the last thing I saw from Beijing. Allyson’s awesome split, and LaShawn holding it down and bringing home gold. Visions of what US performances are supposed to be! Yes the world has improved, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be improving too – or that we should be going backwards.
That said, I’m dying to see what happens in the end of season meets starting with the always exciting Zuich!