All credit for the organisers and Usain Bolt for agreeing on his walk-on part for the world’s top sportsman the day before his race. He appeared on the track at 19:30, but wouldn’t it have been neat if they had timed it at 19:19, the figures of his World 200m record. In fact even pre-Bolt, there was already a great atmosphere of enthusiasm in the stadium, named after the influential Greek architect Lyssandros Kaftanzoglou. So loud were the cheers for the practice vaults that some of us were fooled into thinking that Yelena Isinbayeva had started at an uncharacteristically low height.
It was particularly nice to see so many families in the stands and though security was appropriate, children were allowed down on the track level where the luck ones were rewarded by a high five or autograph from a star across the white railings down the homestraight. The relaxed atmosphere continued through the night to the men’s 100m, when the athletes happily clapped along to Syrtaki (Zorba’s Dance) before being called to their marks.
Mums, dads boys and girls were treated to a night of great races if not fast times, though the women’s 200m and that men’s 100m provided both. The winning margin in the men’s 200m here will certainly be greater than the seven thousandths Allyson Felix enjoyed over Sanya Richards. Both clocked 22.29 (22.282 to 22.289) and although Richards would have been frustrated at losing $10,000 by such a tiny margin to her arch-rival, she has set herself up nicely for a fast run tomorrow in her speciality event. Half an hour later there was another thrilling sprint. Whereas Richards’ dip wasn’t enough to snatch victory from her rival, Tyson Gay’s was over Asafa Powell.
The field events threw up the best marks of the night despite the horizontal jumpers and throwers being restricted to four attempts. Long jumper Brittney Reese almost duplicated her World Championship winning distance with 7.08m, as did Christian Cantwell and his 22.07m Shot Put. Both were meeting records. As expected, Isinbayeva went for a World record Pole Vault height but was never close, though her compatriot Yaroslav Rybakov was near to what would have been a world outdoor lead of 2.36 in the High Jump. The retirement of Javelin genius Steffi Nerius was rightly marked by the stadium presentation team and her trademark headband displayed the words “bye bye” in Greek, German, and English. The World Champion’s final ever throw of 62.59m moved her up a place from fourth to third to match her placing at the European Junior Championships in the same stadium 18 years ago.
The distance races were fascinating but nerve-wracking because the relentlessly slow early pace meant that decisive action was going to take place in a progressively shorter space of time and track. Both Kenenisa Bekele and Bernard Lagat have brought in pacemakers to help them out in races like this in the past. That was not an option this time and it looked as if the advantage was very much with Lagat as the field dawdled through the first half of the 3000m in 4:20.1.
Things had to speed up and the crowd knew it, a so we heard a murmur of approval when Bekele moved up the field on the homestraight with two laps remaining. The Ethiopian was ahead by the bell and his 52.03 last lap just held off a stirring challenge by Lagat, who must have been quicker on that final circuit but not by much. The second half of the race took just 3:43.7. Now Bekele will take “perhaps two week’s“ rest. Like Usain Bolt at the official press conference, he spoke enthusiastically about the prospect of the two men racing at a neutral distance. He wants it to be 700m, whereas we now know Bolt prefers 600m.
Ethiopia also triumphed in the women’s 5000m, where the earlier pace was even weaker than in the men’s 3000m with a fourth lap covered in 85.1. Like Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba hit the front by the bell, but despite a 58.99 last lap by her, she could not hold off her compatriot Meseret Defar who notched up her record eighth WAF win. Stories that these two don’t like one another were finally killed off by their immediate and warm embrace after the finish. It will be hugely important to them that Ethiopia scored a 1-2 here over Vivian Cheruiyot and Sylvia Kibet, who were the 1-2 in Berlin.
The women’s 1500m was another slow affair and demonstrated the value of this meeting to athletes who can get it right on the night. Unheralded Hannah England, who did not even make the British team for Berlin, was in sixth place at the start of the homestraight but picked off five of the six women ahead of her. That terrific last 100m therefore earned her an extra $14,000.
Mark Butler for the IAAF
The IAAF’s website team brings you comprehensive written news coverage of all the action from the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final 2009 in Thessaloniki on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September 2009.
CLICK HERE for ‘Live’ EVENT by EVENT REPORTS
News of each discipline will be published at the conclusion of each event. Competition begins at 18:00hrs (GMT +3hrs) on Saturday 12 Sep and at 18:00hrs (GMT + 3hrs) on Sunday 13 Sep.
As well as these reports, our written coverage of the two days of competition at this prestigious annual finale to the IAAF World Athletics Tour, will include a daily preview and a daily summary of the highlights of the action, and feature stories with some of the main stars.
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Saturday (12) - [MEN] [WOMEN]
Sunday (13) [MEN] [WOMEN]