The final day of the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics was a day for races, not time trials, putting into perspective that you don’t need fast times to enthrall an athletics crowd, even the very knowledgeable ones sitting alongside me in the press benches.
Lagat completes historic 1500/5000m double
Bernard Lagat must have thought it was his birthday, given that his opponents gifted him his second gold medal, in the 5000m. The race was run in the same sort of slow fashion which permitted Hicham El Guerrouj to win the Olympic double in Athens 2004. It was the same circumstances entirely. Lagat had earlier in the week used his vast experience, forged in the lee of El Guerrouj over the years to win the 1500m, then, despite being amply forewarned of his super form, his 5000m opponents dawdled through an opening four kilometres, setting up the Kenyan-born American to use his miling speed to pick everyone off and sprint to victory exactly as he done done in the 1500m. Only Paris 2003 champion, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya provided any opposition, kicking from the front with 250 metres to run, but his attempt to come back at Lagat was dealt with expertly by the veteran, who simply closed the door of the inside lane, and Kipchoge had to make do with silver. With a last lap of 52.79, Lagat won in 13:45.87, from Kipchoge in 13:46.00. Moses Kipsiro won Uganda’s first medal this week, a bronze with 13:46.75.
First victory of the year for Yego is a big one indeed
Until a superlative run in the 800 metres semi-final two days ago, Alfred Kirwa Yego of Kenya had not won a significant race this year. Then again, he is only 20 years of age. He left it late last night, taking the lead at metre 799. But it was good enough to take the title, and relegate Gary Reed of Canada, who must have thought he had it won, to second. Picking up the pieces after a run more reminiscent of the wayward tactics of his youth, Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakowski of Russia took bronze. It was another slow race, but the tension as Yego clawed back close to six metres on Reed enthralled everyone, except perhaps Reed. But he didn’t know it until he crossed the line, and saw Yego keep on sprinting, index finger held aloft. He knew he’d won, and nobody should care that the winning time was 1:47.09. Reed was .01 seconds behind, and ‘Borza’, known to his pals as ‘Yuriy the Kenyan’ took third in 1:47.39.
Jamal over Soboleva in the 1500m
The 1500m women showed the men how to run fast. Thanks to favourite, Yelena Soboleva of Russia, who took the race out, with co-favourite Maryam Yusuf Jamal, the Ethiopian-born Bahraini in her wake. Soboleva opened with 65.82, then clocked a speedy 63.75 second lap, an even quicker 63.09 third, at which Jamal launched her attack. Soboleva moved out to respond, but could never quite get back on terms, and Jamal won her first major title, with 3:58.75, to the Russian’s 3:58.99. Iryna Lishchynskaya of Ukraine was the best of the rest, taking bronze with 4.00.69.
In battle of Javeline titans, Pitkämäki prevails
Within 60 seconds between the individual races and the relays, Tero Pitkamaki of Finland and Blanka Vlasic of Croatia wrapped up gold with their final attempts, in the men's Javelin Throw and women’s High Jump respectively. Fourth two years ago at home, Pitkämäki was always in control, his 89.16m in the second round being long enough to hold off Olympic gold medallist, Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen’s same rounf response of 88.61m. It stayed like that to the end, but when he had won the Finn rubbed it in with 90.33m on the final throw. Breaux Greer of the USA was third with 86.21 metres, from the fifth round.
Vlasic takes first major title
Thirty seconds later, Vlasic cleared 2.05m on her third attempt. She was already in the lead, but this tied up the victory, and she was so high over the bar, she was not alone in thinking she might break the World record 2.09m that Bulgarian Stefka Kostadinova had set in Rome 1987, the oldest championship record. She had three good attempts, and is certainly the most likely to break the record, perhaps even this season. Second was Russia Anna Chicherova with a personal best 2.03m, and with the same height, Antonietta di Martino equalled her Italian national record in third.
Ndereba regains Marathon title
Despite having to stop and go back for a drinks bottle that colleague Rita Jeptoo had knocked off the table at a drinks station early morning in the women’s Marathon, Catherine Ndereba of Kenya retrieved the title that she lost to Paula Radcliffe in Helsinki two years ago. Remarking the polar difference between the temperature when she won the Osaka Women’s Marathon in Janury 2006 – "I had to wear gloves, it was so cold,” she said – Ndereba, 35 has underlined her status as one of the great marathoners of all time. Olympic silver, two world golds and a silver, a sub-2.20 woman, who has won Boston, the oldest marathon of them all four times. But, she admitted she had to work hard to get away from co-favourite, Zhou Chunxia, who won London earlier this year, 2:30:37 to 2:30:45. The Chinese completed her country’s tally of a medal of each colour, with her silver, and with probably the gutsiest run of all, Reiko Tosa pulled back from behind the second Chinese, Zhu Xiaolin at 40k, to secure the bronze medal, sparing this hosts’ blushes, since it was their only medal of the week.
USA 4x400m Relays unstoppable
The 4x400 metres relays, as usual brought the championships to a stirring conclusion. They proved even more of a formality for the USA squads than the 4x100 metres, fraught as they are with bad baton changes. Despite having the women’s individual gold and silver medallists, the British never challenged the US quartet, and Jamaica underlined that they are second only to the USA in sprinting. USA clocked 3:18.55 for gold, Jamaica, 3:20.04, a national record for silver, and the UK, 3:20.25 for bronze.
Given they had a sweep in the individual race, the US men could only lose on a technicality, ie dropping the baton, or straying out of lane or the changeover area. They stayed cool, and too yet another gold, their 13th. They won by a (short) street, in 2:55.56, the Bahamas took silver in 2:59.18, and Poland took bronze in 3:00.05.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF