They saved the best for last.
On the final day of the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016, a sellout crowd once again filled the stands at the Oregon Convention Center, and witnessed a host of individual displays to remember, along with thrilling contests they’ll simply never forget.
Centrowitz times it right
He may have only led for 20 metres of the entire 1500m final, but for hometown hero Matt Centrowitz, that was all he needed, the 26-year-old timing his run to perfection to take gold in 3:44.22.
Less than a second separated the first seven athletes, a shining example of the fine – sometimes cruel – margins that separate success and failure at this level.
After a slow early pace – set by reigning champion Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti, who took the field through 800m in 2:07.88 – the race was always likely to boil down to an elongated sprint. Souleiman cranked up the pace at the front from four laps out, but only when Nick Willis of New Zealand swept to the front with 400 metres to run did everyone truly kick it into gear.
Centrowitz reacted immediately, shuffling past Ethiopia’s Dawit Wolde into second, taking pole position behind Willis for the final sprint to the line. Willis turned into the home straight with a one-metre advantage, but try as he might, he couldn’t hold off the smooth-striding Centrowitz, and the American took his first global title.
Having been a distant seventh at the bell, Czech Republic’s Jakub Holusa unleashed a kick for the ages to snatch second place right on the line from Willis.
“I wanted it very bad,” said Centrowitz. “I found the push from the crowd at the end. They got me through that last 50.”
While Centrowitz may have run the perfect race, 60m hurdles champion Omar McLeod said he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his performance, which made his near-flawless victory in a national record of 7.41 all the more impressive.
“It wasn’t a perfect race,” he said. “I hit a couple of hurdles, but I just wanted to stay tunnel-vision, feed off the energy, and maintain my composure and fight through the finish.”
That he did, and McLeod was all alone as he crossed the line ahead of Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (7.46) and Dimitri Bascou (7.48). “This is the second time I won a silver medal and I’m happy,” said Martinot-Lagarde. “I still want the gold. That is what I work for, but today Omar was just better than me.”
Kejelcha too classy, Hill raises roof
The men’s 3000m final started out as a slow, cagey affair, but slowly cranked up to a pace that was nothing short of vicious by the time they entered the final kilometre. Kenya’s Isiah Koech led through the opening 1000m in a pedestrian 2:52.18, but the first significant move of the race happened with six laps to go, as reigning champion Caleb Ndiku swept to the front along with Djibouti’s Youssouf Hiss Bachir.
Ndiku seemed intent to lead all the way to the finish, but he had no answers when Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha stormed to the front with two laps to run. Behind him, Ndiku and his teammate Augustine Choge tried to come again along with Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider and Ryan Hill of the US, but Kejelcha had too much speed over the final 100 metres and held on to take gold in 7:57.21. The last kilometre: a blistering 2:22.81.
Through the final 200 metres, the noise inside the arena reached a crescendo as Hill began his charge, and it was almost deafening as he moved from fourth to second in the final straight, edging Choge for silver on the line, 7:57.39 to 7:57.43.
Victory for Vashti, delight for Dendy
Home favourites Vashti Cunningham and Marquis Dendy could hardly have endured closer contests in their respective finals, but both American jumpers showed admirable composure to take their first world indoor titles.
Since exploding on the scene when jumping 1.99m to win the US title last weekend, Cunningham has been touted as a budding star of the sport, but on Sunday she proved that the present – and not just the future – belongs to her as well. The 18-year-old had a perfect series between 1.84m and 1.96m, her first-time clearance at the latter height proving crucial in the end. Spain’s Ruth Beitia needed two attempts to go clear, as did Poland’s Kamila Licwinko, while Lithuania’s Airine Palsyte joined them at 1.99m after going clear on her third attempt.
All four recorded three failures at 1.99m, which gave gold, and world champion status, to Cunningham, who was self-critical even in victory. “I’m a little disappointed in myself for not clearing 1.99m,” she said, “but I’m thankful for the title.”
At twice her age, Beitia was equally impressive in taking silver. “I thought maybe I could get two metres,” she said. “This is my ninth world championship and the second silver medal and I’m 36 years old, so I’m very, very happy.”
Marquis Dendy edged an equally close men’s long jump final which saw the leading six men separated by just 12cm. Dendy’s second effort of 8.26m proved the crucial jump, with Australia’s Fabrice Lapierre – who set an Oceanian indoor record of 8.25m – denied by the shortest of margins.
Dendy, like Cunningham, was quick to point out his own underperformance, despite taking gold. “I didn’t jump how I wanted,” he said. “I have some things to fix in my approach heading into outdoors.”
China’s Changzhou Huang usurped Jeff Henderson of the US in the final round to take bronze, his best mark of 8.21m edging the American by just 2cm.
Dibaba, Niysonsaba a class apart
The female middle distance races were won in commanding fashion with strikingly similar mid-race surges.
In the women’s 3000m, Dibaba dropped the hammer with nine laps to run, coasting clear of the field and coming home an easy winner in 8:47.43 ahead of teammate Meseret Defar (8:54.26) and Shannon Rowbury (8:55.55). It was easy for me because the field was not that strong,” she said. “My family and my whole country are happy.”
In the women’s 800m, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba returned to form and upset home favourite Ajee Wilson to take gold in 2:00.01, the fastest time in the world this year. Wilson had seized control of the race on the first lap, but Kenya’s Margaret Wambui took over on the second lap. With 400m to run, Niyonsaba moved wide and surged to the front, shooting out to a five-metre lead which she never relinquished. Wilson rallied again to take second in 2:00.27, with Wambui third in 2:00.44.
“I think Burundian people will remember this night,” said Niyonsaba.
US relays on the double
It came as no surprise that the USA re-asserted their dominance of the 4x400m with a pair of facile wins, though their path to gold was made considerably easier by the misfortune which struck two of their chief rivals.
In the women’s race, Jamaica’s Patricia hall crashed to the track on the first leg, ending their involvement, and from there the Americans were all alone at the front. Natasha Hastings gave them the lead on the first leg, an advantage extended by Quenera Hayes on the second leg. Courtney Okolo clocked the fastest split of the day on third leg, 50.71, which left Ashlet Spencer all alone to enjoy the final leg, bringing them home in 3:26.38 ahead of Poland (3:31.15) and Romania (3:31.51).
In the men’s race, Belgium looked the most likely to challenge the Americans, but their chances elapsed on the second leg when Robin Vanderbemden dropped the baton. Up front, the US extended their advantage with a strong leg from Christopher Giesting, who handed over to Vernon Norwood to bring them home in 3:02.45.
Bahamas, anchored by 37-year-old Chris Brown, held on for second in a national indoor record of 3:04.75, with Trinidad and Tobago taking third in 3:05.51, also a national record.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF