Even torrential rain could not dampen the excitement on day six at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, as Phyllis Francis romped to a shock victory in a competitive women's 400m while Karsten Warholm front-ran his way to the men's 400m hurdles title.
Francis finishes fast as favourites fade
The women's 400m final lived up to its hype as one of the races of these championships, but few would have predicted the result. Billed as a head-to-head between defending champion an world leader Allyson Felix and Rio champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, it was ultimately Francis, the runner-up at the US championships, who came through to snatch gold as the two protagonists faded.
“When I went down the home straight I just believed in myself and stayed patient,”Francis said. “I just knew what I was capable of doing, so I stuck to my race model.”
Miller-Uibo had a long lead approaching the home straight and was still ahead with 40 metres to go, when it looked like her foot caught the track, causing her legs to tie up and she almost stopped just metres before the line. World leader Felix and teenager Salwa Eid Naser from Bahrain were the first to capitalise on Miller-Uibo's misfortune, but it was Francis who had judged the race best, storming through to take her first individual global medal in a lifetime best of 49.92. Eid Naser set a national record of 50.06 for silver.
With her bronze, it was Felix's 14th medal across seven editions of IAAF World Championships, equalling the record held by Merlene Ottey.
Warholm in disbelief
The first surprise winner on day six was Norway’s Warholm in the men's 400m hurdles. Fresh from his European U23 title last month, the 21-year-old has a reputation for being a fast starter, so it was no surprise to see him blast out the blocks and hold a sizeable lead at the halfway point. However, nobody was more surprised than Warholm himself when he crossed the line first in 48.35 for Norway's first medal of the Championships.
“Thank you, London!” Warholm shouted into the wet London Sky, still at a loss for words as onfield interviewer Iwan Thomas spoke with him afterwards.
Olympic bronze medallist Yasmani Copello came through for silver in 48.49, whilst Olympic champion Kerron Clement – who also took IAAF World Championships titles in 2007 and 2009 - had to settle for bronze in 48.52 after stuttering at the final hurdle.
Gong delighted with first global championships title
In the women’s shot put, world leader Lijiao Gong took gold with 19.94m, improving on her silver from 2015 and becoming the first Chinese athlete to win gold in this event for 26 years.
“I was a bit worried about my condition because two years ago I was heading for gold and I changed a couple of things after the Olympic Games in Rio,” she said. “I competed more this year to be ready for these championships.”
Sitting out of the medals after five rounds, Olympic bronze medallist Anita Marton of Hungary saved her best until last, throwing 19.49m in the sixth round to move up to silver, ahead of Olympic champion Michelle Carter of the USA, who threw 19.14m for bronze.
200m semis - Makwala back in competition
Having been declared medically fit to compete earlier in the day, Isaac Makwala got the evening’s proceedings underway by running a solo 200m heat on the sodden track in 20.20, signaling his intentions for the evening’s semi-finals.
There, Makwala made a strong statement just a few hours later, clocking 20.14 from lane one to bag one of the automatic qualifying spots from heat one. Trinidad and Tobago's Jereem Richards looked impressive when cruising to victory in heat two.
Having run sub-44 to take the 400m title last night, Wayde van Niekerk was not at his best over the half lap distance, only making it through to the final as a non-automatic qualifier in 20.28.
Farah back on the track
Roared on by the home crowd, Mo Farah eased through his 5000m heat to tick off another stage in his quest to achieve a third consecutive IAAF World Championships 5000m and 10,000m double.
His closest challengers look likely to come in the form of Ethiopian duo world indoor 3000m champion Yomif Kejelcha - who won the first heat in 13:30.07 ahead of Farah – and former world U20 champion Muktar Edris, who was just 0.04 behind the Briton.
The third Ethiopian – 17-year-old world U18 champion Selemon Barega – won heat two in impressive style and is something of an unknown force ahead of the final.
Beatrice Chepkoech and reigning Olympic champion Ruth Jebet qualified fastest in 9:19.03 and 9:19.52 respectively, having taken heat two out hard from the gun.
In stark contrast, heat one was a cagey affair – outside 10 minute pace for the first 2000 metres – but 2015 bronze medallist Gesa Krause looked impressive as she opened out on the final lap to take the win in 9:39.86 from defending champion Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi and 2010 world U20 champion Purity Kurui. Olympic silver medallist from the Olympic Games in London five years ago, Ethiopia's Sofia Assefa was a victim of the sprint finish, failing to qualify in fifth as a non-automatic qualifier due to the slow pace of the race.
Kenya's 2015 world U18 champion Celliphine Chepteek Chespol (9:27.35) took heat three from the USA's Oympic bronze medallist Emma Coburn (9:27.42).
In conditions reminiscent of the 2005 IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, no athlete surpassed the 6.75m automatic qualifying mark in the women's long jump.
Interestingly, the pick of the bunch was the world champion from those Championships in Helsinki 12 years ago – Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta of the USA – who qualified with the second longest leap of 6.64m, a mark only bettered by two centimetres by 2007 world U18 champion Darya Klishina, competing under a neutral banner.
Great Britain's Lorraine Ugen and Serbia's Olympic bronze medallist Ivana Španović qualified next with 6.63m and 6.62m respectively, whilst world leader – Brittney Reese of the USA – found 6.50m to be enough to see her through.
Polish pair – defending champion Pawel Fajdek and 2015 world bronze medallist Wojciech Nowicki – continued their dominance of the men's hammer in 2017, with the longest two throws from qualification of 76.85m and 76.82m.
With Fajdek owning the eight longest throws in the world this year and three metres clear at the top of the 2017 world list, the 28-year-old is a strong favourite to take a third consecutive world title.
Emily Moss for the IAAF