Wow. We’re already half way through the World Championships, and so far we’ve had a bit of everything. Some controversy; exciting competitions; and lots of young people stepping up! I know that the controversies are dominating most conversations – the Bolt & Robles DQ’s – but to me the most exciting thing to come out of the first few days has been the number of new/young champions that have been crowned.
Looking at athletes like David Rudisha (KEN), Kirani James (GRN), Tatyana Chernova (RUS), Jason Richardson (USA) and Pawel Wojciechowski (POL) tells me that we are in the midst of a youth movement in the sport. I suspect that the podium in London is going to look a lot different than the podium in Beijing. Not just because I expect to see the names change significantly, but also because if you look at the young people making these finals they are from all over the globe.
I can remember a time not that long ago when the sport was dominated by athletes from the U.S., Germany, Britain and Russia. In Daegu we are witnessing the rest of the world catch up. France had two men in the 100 final, so did Grenada in the 400 final. Botswana won the women’s 400 for the first time. Brazil the women’s pole vault. The French team appears to be growing, as does the Cuban team – look for both to make a serious impact by meets end. And the biggest little country in the world of track and field just might be Kenya. We often complain about the various problems in the sport, but it seems that diversity isn’t one of them.
The headlines heralding this World Championships revolved around Allyson Felix’ attempt at a double, and Usain Bolt continuing his championship domination – both of which went by the wayside with Bolt’s false start and Felix’ oh so close silver in the 400. There was also the comeback of LaShawn Merritt which also ended in silver and the summit meeting of the three fastest hurdlers in history in the men’s 110 hurdles, which went to up and coming Jason Richardson. This meet has not been kind to those in the headlines! Or to favorites in general, just ask Jessica Ennis about her javelin debacle in the Heptathlon.
So, what do we have to look forward to for the second half of the meet?
Well there’s the 200 meters where Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix will both be looking for redemption – and Felix will be attempting to win her fourth title in a row. Bolt should have a fairly easy run at a medal with only Walter Dix appearing to provide any real opposition. Felix’ job will be much tougher as Carmelita Jeter is now looking to complete a double and Veronica Campbell Brown will be attempting to transfer her Olympic success (two Olympic titles) to the World Championships.
Then there are the men’s jumps – high jump, long jump, & triple jump – where all three fields are deep and fairly evenly distributed with talent. They could be among the closest and most exciting competitions of the meet. Australian Mitchell Watt will be looking to claim his countries first gold – a la Kirani James and Amantle Montsho earlier this week. And Americans Jesse Williams (high jump) and Christian Taylor (triple jump) will be aiming to add to the U.S. medal count.
I expect another hot distance race with Mo Farah trying to upgrade from silver to gold in the 5000 meters against a field that once again contains a strong contingent of Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes, and evergreen American Bernard Lagat.
And then there are the relays. The sprint picture has changed dramatically since the start of this meet. Bans and injuries have taken their toll, and many athletes are not looking as sharp as one would have expected. In the short relays it looks like passing will be even more critical than ever. The Bolt lead men’s Jamaican squad may be without teammate Asafa Powell. The U.S. only moved one man to the 100 final. The Trinidadian women could be lurking on the women’s side – they only had one 100 finalist but left two more in the semis. And look for the French to be in play on the men’s side, as quietly they had two 100 meter finalists.
In the long relays I imagine we will see some personnel changes among several squads based on fitness levels. Both Belgium and Grenada had two finalists in that 400 final – more than the U.S., Jamaica or the Bahamas! And the U.S., Russia, and Jamaica all had three finalists in the women’s 400 final – but uncharacteristically American Sanya Richards Ross and Jamaican Novlene Williams Mills did not look strong while the Russians both came to play!
So there is a lot more action to come in this meet. Hopefully we are past the drama and controversy and can pick up where we left off at the break – with more stirring action. Next up we get that men’s high jump with Jesse Williams (USA) taking on the tough Russian contingent of Ivan Ukhov, Aleksander Shustov, and Aleksey Dmitrik. Misses at low heights in in this competition could be deadly. The women’s 1500 final could be the best of the day. It looks to be a fairly wide open field, but Maryam Jamal (BRN) is twice defending champion and knows how to run in a championship setting. I’ll have my eye on Morgan Uceny (USA) who I think has the best shot at upending the defending champ.
The day will end with both the men’s and women’s 400 hurdle finals. After the semis these are more wide open than they appeared at the opening of the meet as some athletes have emerged while some others are not looking as sharp as expected – putting lane assignments in the wspotlight. In the women’s race, lane draw could make a difference as defending champion Melaine Walker (JAM) drew lane eight, and teammate Kaliese Spencer (an early favorite) drew lane two – both off less than stellar semifinal runs. The best of the semis – Lashinda Demus (USA), Zuzana Hejnova (CZE), Natalya Antyukh (RUS) and Vania Stambolova (BUL) will populate lanes three through six. This is going to be a wild one. Lane draw may also determine the outcome of the men’s race, as early favorites L.J. van Zyl (RSA) and Angelo Taylor (USA) will bookend the field in lanes eight and one respectively. Meanwhile those middle lanes will have Javier Culson (PAN), Cornel Fredericks (RSA), Bershawn Jackson (USA) and David Greene (GBR). This will be very interesting. Take note that Taylor’s first ever global medal was Olympic gold in 2000 – out of lane one! Can he repeat that performance in Daegu?
The best is yet to come in this meet – trust me.