Helsinki, FinlandIt was the best of nights, it was the worst of nights.
On the one hand, the weather was perfect, and we saw the longest women’s Javelin throw in history.
On the other hand, we saw a disappointing men’s High Jump (only one man over 2.32!) and the slowest men’s 5000m winning time ever in the World Championships.
In the women’s Javelin, of course you might have expected Cuba‘s Olympic champion Osleidys Menendez to win and perhaps to improve her own world record - and she wasted no time by doing both on her very first throw.
But who could have expected Christina Obergfoll of to improve her personal best by more than five metres and become only the second woman in history to throw past 70 meters?
The men’s High Jump was weird. With eight men over 2.29, it looked like we might have an exciting evening in the stratosphere. But when two rounds of jumps produced not a single clearance, we started thinking of the impossible - a jump-off at 2.29 -between Varoslav Rybakov of Russia and Victor Moya of Cuba. And as each jumper missed in round three, the odds of a jump-off got shorter and shorter.
Then on the very last possible jump of the competition comes this kid Yuriy Krimarenko from Ukraine, who four weeks ago in the European Under-23 championships finished only third, and he clears 2.32, and suddenly he’s the World champion!
Along the lines of the unusual, it was a bit strange, on the last lap of the men’s 4x400 final, to see the American anchor, Jeremy Wariner, only a metre ahead of Bahamian Christopher Brown going down the back straight. Usually, at this point in the men’s 4x400, the American team is 15-20 metres ahead. And at the finish, the American margin was a mere four metres, despite a 43.55 last lap by Wariner.
I guess this just gives American relay coaches one more thing they need to think about.
Shortly before leaving for Helsinki, I read that French President Jacques Chirac had managed to insult two sovereign nations with one short sentence by characterising British cuisine thus: “After Finland, it is the country with the worst food.”
Now that is a pretty strong statement. After all, Britain has spent centuries developing its reputation for third-rate cookery. Why, nobody can do things with boiled beef to match the British! Yet here was M. le President trying to tear down all that hard work and replace Britain with tiny Finland as the world standard for bas cuisine.
Well, that certainly called for some investigative reporting on my part. So when I arrived here two weeks ago, I took every opportunity to check out the local restaurants. I won’t say I’ve been exactly dazzled with gustatory pleasure here, but on the whole the Finns do pretty well in the dining department, especially when you realize that the four basic food groups here are herring, reindeer, potatoes and berries.
Cheer up, Brits! Pay no attention to that man behind the Quai D’Orsay. Take it from me, your culinary reputation is safe.
I’m Glad the Cold War is Over, But…
A look at the medals table shows that the United States led all nations with 14 gold medals and 25 total medals. But look a little deeper. If you add up all the medals won by former member nations of the Soviet Union (I call them the “XSSR”) – it’s evident that since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when almost everything, including sports, were pretty much thrown into disarray, a remarkable comeback has taken place.
The XSSR has, in fact, run up a total here of 19 gold medals and 34 medals in all. I’m not sure what it proves, but it’s darn interesting.
It’s been great to be back where the Worlds started 22 years ago and visit the Finns, who are so well-organized, so helpful, and above all so friendly. The weather wasn’t always as warm as I’d’ve liked, but the people were. Even the security people were nice – which is definitely a first.
I hope what I’ve written over the past nine days has helped you enjoy the Worlds a little more.
For now, so long.
James Dunaway for the IAAF