The athletes finally got to do their thing on Olympic Stadium, and of the first two days are any indication this is gonna be one humdinger of a meet. So double up on the popcorn and drink, because the athletes have come here ready to compete!
That was clear when Jessica Ennis started things off by blazing 12.54 in the 100H in the heptathlon! Setting a heptathlon WR and indicating that Mondo did it’s job well when it laid this track – because it’s fast! That race set the stage for a fast and competitive first half of the weekend.
Friday only had two finals as most of the action was in qualifying, but what finals they were. In the men’s shot put, qualifying served as a prelude to the final as Reese Hoffa (USA, 21.35m), David Stork (GER, 21.15m) and Tomas Majewski (POL, 21.03m) led the way. That trio reversed their finish in the final as defending champion Majewski threw a huge 21.89m/71′ 10″ to repeat as gold medalist. His win was not easy however as Storl threw 21.86m/71′ 8.75″ for silver – and at one point was only .01 behind. Hoffa proved to be the best of the American contingent earning the bronze at 21.23m/69′ 8″ as none of the Americans were close to pre Games form. Especially Cantwell who didn’t get over 21m until his final throw.
The other Friday final was the women’s 10,000 and as expected it was a head to head match up between Kenya and Ethiopia. A match up that in the end came down to four women as Werknesh Kidane (ETH) did most of the work as Kenyans Vivian Cheruiyot and Sally Kipyego followed along with defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH) in tow, with the question being when the two Kenyans, who had dominated last year, would make their move. When the move came however, it was Dibaba doing the moving -and what a decisive move it was. Struggling with her form in the last couple of seasons, Dibaba rolled the clock back an Olympiad, stepping on the gas and literally running away in the final lap opening up a 40+ meter lead as she crossed the line and ordered breakfast while waiting on the outcome of the other medals! It was one of the greatest displays of dominance on a final lap that I’ve ever seen. In her wake 10 women were pulled to personal bests as nine competitors ran under 31:00 – 10 more under 32:00!
What a way to get the track and field portion of the Games started! Qualifying rounds were just as stunning with 25 men running under 50.00 in the first round of the 400H, and five women running under 11.00 in the heats of the 100 meters, led by Carmelita Jeter’s 10.83 – like I said Mondo did it’s job and did it well, this is a fast surface!
Saturday picked right back up with Jonathon Borlee (BEL) screaming an NR 44.43 in his opening heat of the 400 – not sure that was wise race management. Shortly thereafter we got the first major casualty of the meet as LaShawn Merritt failed to make it down the backstretch of his heat – the defending champion is out of the Games.
The most anticipated non final of the day however, was the heats of the men’s 100. There were no “match ups” as the athletes from the US and Jamaica were spread out among the first six heats – Gay, Gatlin, Bailey in 1 thru 3 and Bolt, Powell, Blake in heats 4 thru 6. All six qualified easily. Gay ran 10.08 into the day’s only negative wind. Gatlin blasted out then stode his way to 9.97. Then Ryan Bailey, the lesser known of the top sprinters, blazed a relaxed looking 9.88 – another John Smith athlete appears ready for the Games. Bolt followed with a cruising 10.09, followed by relaxed races of 10.04 by Powell and 10.00 by Blake. Little can be discerned from heats other than to say all six men are ready. The one casualty was the removal of Kim Collins (STK) from the final heart apparently by his country for visiting his wife. Tragedy on the part of St Kitts if this is true. More when more info is available.
The real surprise of qualifying came in the men’s 400H as Felix Sanchez (remember him?) ran a WL 47.76 to take semi 1 and lead all qualifiers into the final! Javier Culson (PUR) the favorite coming into London, countered with 47.93 to win semi 2 just edging Angelo Taylor (47.95, USA) but didn’t look as easy doing it as Sanchez. After watching the rounds this race is going to go to the man that runs the smartest final. And with Culson running faster than he needed in the first round; Taylor continuing to go out hard and struggle in the stretch; and Clement unable to find his own rhythm; Felix has become my favorite to win this race.
The same can be said for the women’s flat 400 IMHO after watching their semis as Antonina Krivoshapka (RUS) may lead the world on the clock but not in race pattern as both in her heat, then again in her semi she flew around the track before succumbing to “the Bear” in the stretch. She won her semi to lead all qualifiers at 49.81, but barely, as the field closed like a train. With Sanya Richards Ross (USA) , Amantle Montsho (BOT) and defending champ Christine Ohuruogu (GBR) all running dead on script for their race plans, Krivoshapka could be odd woman out come podium time.
Let’s talk about the podium/finals because there were some hot ones. Six of them to be precise – with three going to Great Britain on what was one of the greatest days in Olympic history for the Brits. First was the heptathlon where Jessica Ennis was huge following up her opening hurdle race with a big high jump (1.88m/6’1″), long jump (6.48m/21’3″), 200 (22.83) and 800 (2:08.65) to score a NR 6955 points; move to #5 all time; and of course win gold! An awesome performance, even more so given the pressure she was under.
There was no pressure on Greg Rutherford as he was not the heavy favorite that Ennis was. However, the long jump lacked a strong favorite and was one of the more wide open events as the Games began. Rutherford took the opportunity with a very solid set of marks as he was the only competitor to jump over 27 feet with his 8.31m/27′ 3.25″ leap for the win. Mitchell Watt (AUS), who the last two years has been the world’s best distance wise was 8.16m/26’9.25″ in silver while Will Claye (USA) scored bronze at 8.12m/26’7.75. Not quite what we’ve become used to at the Games, but you beat who shows up and Rutherford did that!
Perhaps the most exciting race of the day was the longest – the men’s 10,000, and like the women’s race it didn’t disappoint. The set up was simple: Kenya v Ethiopia with Mo Farah (GBR) and Galen Rupp (USA) looking to crash the party. The race went typical big meet style as the pace dawdled along. This was going to be a kickers race, favoring the Africans – orwould it! Lap after lap they went with a group of a dozen or more always in tow. Now let’s skip to the good part as coming around the turn to head into the bell lap, Ethiopia’s Geb Gebremariam moved to the front and appeared to be telling the Bekele brothers – Tariku and Kenenisa – to come with him. The Kenyan contingent moved as well, and so did Farah and Rupp. For 300 meters they all jostled for position, then coming off the final turn Farah shifted gears and so did Rupp as they ran past the Ethiopians to take gold and silver! Not just a win but a historical one as Farah became the first non African gold medalist since 1984 (Los Angeles) and Rupp the first American medalist since Billy Mills won gold in 1964 (Tokyo)! Today parity returned to the distance events – let’s see if it lasts through the Games.
Speaking of historical races, China won it’s first ever medal in the 20k walk. As a matter of fact they got two of them, Ding Chen the gold and Zhen Wang the bronze. And another first occurred when Sandra Perkovic became Croatia’s first ever gold medalist when she won the women’s discus hitting 68.11m/223’5″ in round two then an NR 69.11m/226’9 in round three. The final threw round was anti climatic as only silver medalist Darya Pishchalnikova improved throwing 67.56m/221’8″.
The final event of the day may have been the most anticipated as the women lined up for the 100 meters. In the semis Carmelita Jeter ran another 10.83 to defeat Veronica Campbell Brown’s 10.89. Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce followed up with a 10.86 victory over a surprising Allyson Felix at 10.94 – Fraser backing off before the finish. Blessing Okagbare ran down Tianna Madison as both ran 10.92 and six women headed to the final running sub 11.00! In the final Fraser Pryce shot out at the gun with everyone else in pursuit. The race resembled the men’s final in ’76 with Fraser on the outside running solo, and Jeter and Campbell Brown two lanes over battling each other (just as Crawford in lane 1 ran free while Borzov and Quarrie battled in the middle of the track in Montreal). Jeter (10.78) closed hard but ran out of room as Fraser Pryce (10.75) finished just ahead of her. The finish behind them was awesome as Campbell Brown (10.81), Madison (10.85), Felix (10.89) and Baptiste (10.94) all finished under 11.00 – and all but Madison return for the deuce!
Well that was a lot of catching up – two big days to open things. So what’s next? Sunday will feature the women’s marathon, women’s triple jump, men’s hammer, men’s steeple and men’s 100! I’ve already outlined the men’s 100 heats, we’ll know more after the semis. The line ups feature Justin Gatlin and Asafa Powell in semi #1; Usain Bolt and Ryan Bailey in semi #2; and Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake in semi #3. The day will start hot and end hot! Now to take a nap and get up again at 2:00am for the marathon – I’ll be a zombie by the time the Games are done!