Daegu, KoreaThere’s been much written and said about David Rudisha over the past few years, with numerous superlatives likely to follow. For tonight, let’s just keep it simple: the 22-year-old Kenyan superstar has finally come of age.
Indeed, half of the six titles that were up for grabs on the fourth day of action at the IAAF World Championships Daegu 2011 witnessed more examples along the coming-of-age theme.
There was 800m World record holder Rudisha’s sensational front-running display en route to his first World title. There was Tatyana Chernova’s convincing victory in the Heptathlon over the heavily favoured Jessica Ennis. And then there was the evening capper, a thrilling homestretch victory in the 400m by Kirani James, two days shy of his 19th birthday, over defending champion Lashawn Merritt. Living up to the precocious talent they’ve displayed in recent years, both Chernova and James became just the eighth and ninth members of an exclusive club: athletes who have gone on to win a senior World title after triumphs at the World Youth and World Junior Championships.
And in the meantime those other three titles that were decided gave these freshly-minted champions plenty to think about and learn from.
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Given his pedigree, Rudisha was very much the man in the spotlight on Tuesday night, and he didn’t miss a beat. Clearly at the front 200 metres into the race, he passed the half in a relatively conservative 51.33 with plenty of company on his heels. But just as it appeared that he may actually be seriously challenged, Rudisha accelerated over the last 200 metres while the chase pack struggled ferociously to maintain their form. He reached the line in 1:43.91 more than half a second ahead of his No. 1 rival, Sudanese Abubaker Kaki. In third, Russia’s 2004 Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy was absolutely ecstatic with the bronze.
Teenager James edges Merritt for 400m title
What exactly is it about Korea and young 400m runners? At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, 19-year-old American Steve Lewis took the title. Tonight in Daegu, Kirani James edged favourite Lashawn Merritt in the closest race of the night with a career best 44.60. And he won’t be turning 19 until Thursday (1 Sept).
Merritt, the defending champion, carved out a marginal lead some 150 metres into the race, but never managing to break from the field, had plenty of company challenging from behind as they came off the final bend. Merritt began to pull away about 70 metres from the line, but James was relentless. Chipping away at the Merritt’s lead with each stride, the Grenadian inched his way closer until he finally nabbed the win at the line by a scant 0.03. Like last night’s women’s 400m final, sporting entertainment at its finest.
Chernova prevails in Heptathlon
Maximising her strong second day credentials, 23-year-old Russian Tatyana Chernova unseated Jessica Ennis as World champion in the Heptathlon, setting up what could be an epic head-to-head at next summer’s Olympic Games in London.
The turning point came in the penultimate event, when Chernova threw the javelin 52.95m, exactly 13 metres better than Ennis’s modest best of the day. That bloodless but brutal spearing made the concluding 800m race almost anti-climactic, given that the Briton would have to beat her successor-in-waiting by some nine seconds.
It wasn’t to be, but not for lack of trying. Ennis set out with a sub-61-second first lap and eventually crossed the line in 2:07.81, a career best, but only 0.23 ahead of Chernova.
The Russian’s consistent two-day effort ended with a 6880-point tally, the best in the world this year, and a personal best by 107 points.
Ennis tallied 6751 to take silver while Germany’s Jennifer Oeser, the runner-up two years ago, scored 6572 to take bronze.
Murer triumphs in Pole Vault battle of wits
Yelena Isinbayeva is also a member of that Youth/Junior/Senior club that James and Chernova joined this evening and illustrated again how difficult a task it truly is to return to the pedestal she once owned.
In fairness, the wildly popular Russian star wasn’t the strongest of pre-champs favourites, given her inconsistent form in the few meetings she contested this summer. The rest of the world has gradually begun catching up to the World record holder, most notably last year’s No. 1, Fabiana Murer, who rose to the occasion tonight by equaling her own South American record of 4.85m to clinch the gold.
Behind her, Germany’s late-blooming star Martina Strutz improved the national record to 4.80m to take silver while Svetlana Feofanova, Isinbayeva’s ever-consistent teammate, took another bronze, topping out at 4.75m.
Isinbayeva, who entered the competition at 4.65m and sailed well clear, passed at 4.70m, and then decided to take a risk after her first miss at 4.75m. Her first try at 4.80m was decent, but the next was barely a jump, knocking her down and out. But she’ll be back.
Zaripova’s Steeplechase shocker
If you wanted a surprise tonight, you got one in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase where little went by the pre-champs conventional wisdom playbook. Russia’s Yuliya Zaripova apparently hadn’t read it and had a simple plan of her own.
Instead of a race that was expected to be dictated by a strong Kenyan trio, it was Zaripova, who took silver two years ago and pounced to the European title last summer running under her maiden name Zarudneva, who took the lead from the outset, one she never relinquished. And it was a quick and powerful run, too – Zaripova’s 9:07.03 was the season’s fastest - one which simply ran the legs out of Milcah Chemos and her Kenyan teammates.
The only runner willing to stay with the pace was Habiba Ghribi, whose effort was rewarded with a 9:11.97 clocking, breaking her own Tunisian national record. More than five seconds later Chemos reached the line, shaking her head, to take the bronze.
Injury can’t stop Harting
The next time you complain about knee pain, you should let German Robert Harting tell you about the time when he successfully defended his World title in the Discus Throw while limping around with an injured knee, and how he not only handily retained his title, but managed his most consistent series of the season. Harting was indeed in sensational form, producing three throws beyond 68 metres – his 68.97 came in the fourth round – and winning by more than three metres.
Estonian Gerd Kanter was the runner-up at 66.95m with Ehsan Hadadi (66.08m) capturing Iran's first medal in the event.
Semis and Qualifying action
Few major surprises emerged in the men’s and women’s semis of the 400m Hurdles save one: two-time defending men’s champion Kerron Clement was never in the hunt and won’t be defending his title on Thursday. Ditto in the semis of the women’s 1500m, where Shannon Rowbury of the U.S., the bronze medallist two years ago, didn’t advance.
Likewise in the first round of the men’s 1500m, where Kenyan Daniel Kipchirchir Komen led all qualifiers with 3:38.54.
Elsewhere, 10,000m Vivian Cheruiyot began her double quest in the 5000m without a hitch in an opening round where only seven of the 22 entrants were eliminated.
And on the infield…
Boding well for the Thursday’s final, ten men cleared 2.31m in this morning’s High Jump qualifying round with none of the leading contenders displaying any difficulties.
By comparison, qualification was fairly low key in the women’s Triple Jump, where two-time defending champion Yargeris Savigne popped the farthest leap of the day, a 14.62m effort. A modest 14.15m was enough to secure entry into XX’s final.
Women’s 20Km Race Walk crown decided on Wednesday
Wednesday features a break in the action at Daegu Stadium, with the sole spotlight on the day given to the women on the 20Km Race Walk. Olga Kaniskina will bid to become the first women to ever win three titles, and successively at that.
Her chief opposition will come from home: with Vera Sokolova and Anisya Kirdyapkina in the field, a Russian sweep is a distinct possibility.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF