We knew Pawel Fajdek was good. The Polish hammer thrower had won the gold medal at two consecutive World University Games. He had a personal best of 81.39m. He had thrown 79.99m already in 2013.
The question was: which Pawel Fajdek would turn up for the Hammer throw final in the Luzhniki Stadium? The man who could boast such impressive achievements, or the man who had crashed disappointingly out of London Olympic qualifying last year with three no-throws?
It did not take long to find out. The favourite, Krisztian Pars, threw 80.30m in the opening round, taking an early lead. The London Olympic champion, the most consistent thrower in the event over the past decade, he was clearly set on establishing his authority from the outset.
Throwing after Pars in the order, Fajdek came up with a stunning riposte – 81.97m; a world lead, almost a full metre beyond the previous lead by Pars. At just 24 years of age, Fajdek also became the youngest ever winner of the event in World Championships history.
The youngest man in the field by almost two full years, Fajdek had thrown down the gauntlet to some revered veterans. Pars is 31, the three previous Olympic champions Primoz Kozmus, Koji Murofushi and Szymon Ziolkowski are 33, 38 and 37, respectively.
Competing in spectacles and with his World University Games honours, Fajdek gave off something of a scholarly air. And a deeper study of his recent history would have uncovered an impressive statistic: he came to Moscow as the only man to have beaten Pars in the past two years.
In Montreuil-sous-Bois, France, in June 2012, Fajdek threw his previous best of 81.39m to beat Pars’ 80.22m. So he did not catch the champion on an off-day. Seven of the 12 men who were in the Moscow final competed at that meeting, which must have made Fajdek’s London flop even more devastating.
Since then, and until Monday night in the Luzhniki Stadium, Pars had amassed 23 straight victories. Unfortunately, it was not to become an even two-dozen.
Lukas Melich of the Czech Republic took the bronze medal with his third-round effort of 79.36m. In a year when only four men have topped the 80-metre mark, it was no surprise that only two could do it on the night it most mattered.
Kozmus was solid. His best throw came with his 79.22m in the third round, an improvement of a centimetre on his second-round effort. That stood up for fourth. Dilshod Nazarov of Tajikistan was one of the few to improve in the second half of the competition, his 78.31m for fifth place coming in the fourth round.
Murofushi came up with a 78.03m in the first round, then came back with three more in the 77-78m range. He finished sixth, but he could not find the one big throw to propel him into the medals again.
Italian veteran Nicola Vizzoni, the oldest in the final to Fajdek’s youngest, finished seventh and Marcel Lomnicky of the Slovak Republic rounded out the top eight.
Ziolkowski, too, could not discover the form of old. He finished ninth with a best of 76.84m.
There was to be no fairy tale story for Russian champion Sergey Litvinov. Competing in the same stadium in which his father, Sergey snr, had won the silver medal at the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, Litvinov had the chance to do what his father-coach could not.
But the tension which had threatened to put him out in qualifying was not dispelled once he was safely in the final. Litvinov jnr threw 75.90m with his first throw, then followed with two fouls. That left him in 11th place after the 12 rounds, and watching the top eight take their final three throws.
As one of the younger men in the final, however, Litvinov need look no further than Fajdek for the knowledge that you can bounce back – all the way to the top.
Len Johnson for the IAAF