Carmelita Jeter and Valerie Vili were the undoubted stars of the second and final day of the last ever IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final, even upstaging a certain Mr. Bolt.
Remember the women’s 100 Metres final at the World Championships? Shelly-Ann Fraser got off to a great start then Kerron Stewart closed gradually and nearly caught her compatriot, both running super-fast times. Well, the two had a similar race in Thessaloniki, with Fraser again prevailing 10.89 to 10.90. But there was a huge difference, this time the pair were left metres behind by Carmelita Jeter, who stopped the stadium clock at 10.68. Only Florence Griffith Joyner and the disgraced Marion Jones had run faster (in Jones’s case just once and that was at altitude). The collective shock deepened when the time was rounded down to 10.67 and that into a headwind of 0.1.
A stunned Jeter behaved as if she had just won an Academy Award when the infield announcer Dimitrios Iliakis attempted to interview her after the finish, reeling off of a list of people she wished to thank. One of those, her coach John Smith, rushed to check her actual reaction time. It was 0.145, comfortably the quickest of the race and this helps to tell the story of this unexpected breakthrough. The California has long been renowned for her fast finish. Tonight that was appended to a great getaway.
Jeter’s was the world’s fastest time since 1998, and another woman in pink produced the world’s longest Shot Put since 2005. That was Valerie Vili, her hair streaked with that colour. She started well enough with 20.30 but then put her shot out to a Commonwealth record of 21.07.
Okay, the World record is a metre and a half further but we don’t see those distances very often these days, especially in a meeting at this level. She could not have ended the year in greater style, with her win streak extended to 25. She fully deserves the week’s holiday she will now take in Milan.
Another athlete heading for vacation is Usain Bolt, who pleased the crowd as usual, and played along with air guitar (or should it be air bouzouki) when Zorba’s Dance was given another airing before the 200m start. Like Brussels, he quickly made up the stagger on Wallace Spearmon the flew clear in the straight. All eyes went on the Seiko clock. It froze at 19.68, meaning he equalled the World Athletic Final record. A fantastic time by any standards, but it looked as it was going to be much quicker because he seemed to push harder here than in Brussels when the time was 19.57. He’s made the right decision to stop now.
The nearest thing to a Bolt in women’s athletics must be Blanka Vlasic, and her event was neatly and dramatically concluded just before Bolt got underway. She was already drawing gasps from the crown with a huge clearance at 1.90. She went clear first time then, and at 1.94, 2.00, 2.02 and 2.04.
Only at 2.02 did her “bed” celebrations begin, first with hands on hips, then at 2.04 a little dance. The contest was won and the bar inevitably went up to 2.10. The first attempt was not near, the second a little better and within a total of seven minutes she was ready for her third.
Orchestrating a slow hand clap from the crowd then racing the bar she had her best attempt yet. She told me that she ranked this second best on her all-time list of 2.10 attempts after Brussels 2007.
In my preview I raved about the one-lap prospects of Lashinda Demus and Sanya Richards. The night did not go as planned for the two Americans. Demus pulled just after the gun in the 400m hurdles with what looked like cramp in her right hamstring. Richards won, but unusually she had to come from behind at 300m to overhaul Novlene Williams- Mills. It did not look like the usual Richards down the backstraight as she reached 200m in around 24.7 as compared with 23.5 in Berlin.
There was an explanation, she had come to the track without her racing orthotics (shoe inserts) which had been left in the pink spikes she had used in yesterday’s 200m. Sunday’s kit was yellow, but the orthotics had not been transferred.
“An amateur mistake,” she admitted, which made her feel as she was running in “shoes with no soles”. Still she was happy enough with the win and the season (as she should be) and she ran off to give probably more autographs than any other athlete this weekend.
It was all smiles in the men’s long jump which produced an unusual situation at halfway, a tie. Both Dwight Phillips and and Godfrey Mokoena had jumped 8.13 then 8.14. Phillips then progressed to 8.24 and that looked like a winning mark until Fabrice Lapierre took advantage of the only wind-assisted slot of the contest to span 8.33. Phillips responded with an 8.13 and so the young Australian retained his WAF title.
Also coming from behind was Andreas Thorkildsen, who got the loudest throws cheer of the weekend with his 87.75 javelin in the final minutes of the programme.
The men’s 5000m was a commentator’s nightmare with three identically-looking athletes in matching kit reaching the finish in a line. Micah Kogo had been leading after making a long run for home. He fought hard down the straight, only for Imane Merga to edge level on the inside. Then from lane three Edwin Soi – the 2008 winner – looked like he would pass those two, but he celebrated a little too early and the action of raising his arm at 4998m lost him the vital inches he needed for the win. He actually wound up third after Merga and Kogo, so his impetuosity cost him $18,000.
That race was slow, but the 3000s were fast. In the steeplechase Paul Kipsiele Koech ran his heart out to try to take his fifth WAF win, but was caught in the last lap by World Champion Ezekiel Kemboi. Koech’s win streak was thus ended, but Meseret Defar’s continued. She set a fast tempo in from he start (4:16.8 at halfway), then tucked in as Vivian Cheruiyot took over. Then she did to the Kenyan what she had done to Tirunesh Dibaba in the 5000m, kicked past in the homestraight for her ninth win in the history of this fixture.
Her final time was a world-leading 8:30.15 but she was not completely satisfied. “I tied my shoe tighter than usual and that caused problems” she claimed. That and Sanya’s orthotics, what is it with women and their shoes?
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.
-CLICK HERE for START LIST / RESULTS
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Saturday (12) - [MEN] [WOMEN]
Sunday (13) [MEN] [WOMEN]