With half of the cavernous Luzhniki Stadium bathed in sunshine and the other half cast with a huge shadow from the large stands, it was the women in group A of the Discus throwers who had the honour of raising the curtain on the 14th IAAF World Championships.
For the majority of the leading contenders, their progression into the final was as serene as the conditions on a windless Moscow morning, although world No.2 Gu Siyu had a competition to forget.
The Chinese athlete had registered a big mark of 67.86m in May, but struggled to find her rhythm in the Russian capital and had the ignominy of registering three fouls. The 20-year-old’s final effort looked in the 62.50m range but she toppled out of the front of the circle, which brought an abrupt end to her championship quest.
Taking on the challenge of achieving the automatic qualification standard of 63.00m was meat and drink for several of the leading contenders. Leading the qualifiers from group A was eight-time Lithuanian champion Zinaida Sendruite, who hurled the Discus out to 64.16m on the lush grass, which was specially laid for these championships (note, the Luzhniki Stadium normally has an artificial grass surface for football).
Yarelys Barrios’s aspiration of securing a fourth successive World Championship medal – she won silvers in 2007 and 2009 and bronze in 2011 – remains on track following the Cuban’s first-round effort of 63.63m. The other automatic qualifier from pool A was Olympic fifth-place finisher Melina Robert-Michon of France with 63.16m.
Another qualification victim, however, was Germany’s World No.5 Julia Fischer, who admitted she was “extremely nervous” before the competition. The 2007 World youth champion could only muster a best of 60.09m, good enough for 13th only – one place shy of a final place.
In group B it was easy does it for pre-event favourite and world No.1 Sandra Perkovic. The reigning Olympic and European champion from Croatia looked to be throwing comfortably within herself and achieved her primary goal with a 63.62m effort.
Meanwhile, also cruising automatically through into tomorrow afternoon’s final were Germany’s 2011 World silver medallist Nadine Muller (63.13m) and China’a Jian Tan (63.21m), the sixth-place finisher at the 2011 World Championships.
The 2009 World champion Dani Samuels failed to register a mark beyond 63.00m, but a best effort of 62.85m was comfortably enough to advance the Australian into the 12-strong final.
There was disappointment for Romanian veteran Nicoleta Grasu, who was making her 10th World Championship appearance. The 41-year-old, a four-time Discus medallist at these championships, finished down in 22nd with a best of 56.31m.
Steve Landells for the IAAF