In a week where nothing seemed certain, this was the only fitting conclusion – a dropped baton, a race filled with captivating, climactic chaos, the favourites beaten, the underdogs rising, and gold going to Italy.
The men’s 4x400m, and its aftermath, embodied just about everything wonderful about the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018, the shrieking support from the stands giving the stars of the show a fantastic send-off.
After a poor championships by USA by their incredibly high standards – one in which they were demoted to third in the medal table – it seemed certain the old reliable, the 4x400m, would be theirs for the taking.
But their baton crashed to the track at the end of the first leg, and though it was swiftly picked up by lead-leg runner Elija Godwin, the loss of seconds would prove critical. Out front, Italy and Belgium were charging ahead in the race for gold, the Italians seizing command on the third leg after an inspired run by Alessandro Sibilio.
He passed on to Edoardo Scotti who pulled further clear, the European U20 champions eventually adding the world U20 title in 3:04.05. Afterwards the Italian team gathered by the medal rostrum and made the loudest noise of the week as they roared their national anthem in unison, a team in the true sense of the word.
USA did well to salvage second with 3:05.26, with Britain taking third in 3:05.64.
The women’s race proved a far more straightforward affair for USA, their individual class shining bright as they ripped around the four laps in splendid isolation. Taylor Manson was able to effectively enjoy an early lap of honour on the final leg before crossing the line in 3:28.74.
Australia capped a great week with silver in 3:31.36, with Jamaica third in 3:31.90.
USA got their day off to a great start with gold in the women’s 100m hurdles, though the judges need their most powerful lenses to separate Tia Jones and Britany Anderson.
Both crossed the line in 13.012, exactly, the thousandths of a second unable to separate them, but USA’s Jones given the verdict by a hair’s breadth from the Jamaican. Cortney Jones came through strongly for third in 13.19 to take another minor medal for USA.
Two titles for Ethiopia
In the distance events, Ethiopia moved themselves up to fourth on the medal table with a superb brace of gold medals from steeplechaser Takele Nigate and 1500m runner Alemaz Samuel.
In the 3000m steeplechase, Kenya’s Leonard Bett had been tipped to take gold and continue his nation’s fine, formidable record in the event, the Kenyans having won gold at every edition from 1988 onwards.
But that run of dominance was put to an abrupt end thanks to a late, irresistible surge by Nigate, who out-duelled Bett in a gruelling home-straight battle to take gold in 8:25.35.
"My plan was to kick with 100 metres to go. I was pleased to snatch the gold medal in the final second,” said Nigate.
The women’s 1500m was won in contrasting style by Samuel, who became the third successive champion from Ethiopia. She made a long drive for home entering the final lap, which she covered in 61.04 to take a convincing win in 4:09.67 over Kenya’s Miriam Cherop and Switzerland’s Delia Sclabas.
Afterwards, Samuel’s words suggested it was as it looked: effortless.
“It was a slow race – it was very easy for me,” she said. “I was expecting a hard race.”
Kenya gained some revenge on their East African rivals in the men’s 800m, where Solomon Lekuta took gold with a run that required speed, stamina and a sheer sense of self-belief.
Lekuta and teammate Ngeno Kipngetich secured their nation a third consecutive one-two in the event, the pair coming home in 1:46.35 and 1:46.45 respectively, Lekuta just the stronger down the home straight.
“I'm really happy with the gold medal but the competition was really hot because everyone wanted it too,” said Lekuta. “I've been training for this championship for a long time and I want to dedicate the gold medal to my parents.”
Algeria’s Oussama Cherrad held on for third, but he was later disqualified for halting the run of Belgium’s Eliott Crestan approaching the finish, a decision which upgraded Crestan to bronze in 1:47.27.
Jumps golds for Bulgaria and Belarus
Bulgaria’s Aleksandra Nacheva unveiled a stunning leap in the second round of the women’s triple jump to take her nation’s first gold medal in the event since Tereza Marinova’s triumph in 1996.
Despite Brazil’s Mirieli Santos producing a breakthrough effort of 13.81m and Cuba’s Davisleydi Velazco managing an impressive 13.78m, Nacheva’s winning margin was a whopping 37 centimetres.
Nacheva opened with a foul, then powered down the runway with the benefit of a mild breeze behind her (1.6m/s) and sailed out to 14.18m. That was a world U20 lead, the kind of jump no one in the field had ever approached, so from there the competition, as a contest, was essentially over.
Knowing gold was secure, Nacheva passed her final three attempts to seal a memorable victory ahead of Santos and Velazco.
“I didn't know where this result came from, it just came on its own,” said Nacheva. “It feels absolutely amazing to win the gold; this was the only medal for my country at these championships so I'm really happy to make my country proud.”
While that event may have gone to form, the men’s discus final did anything but, Jamaica’s Kai Chang causing a huge upset by taking gold in 62.36m.
All eyes had been on reigning champion and world U20 leader Mohamed Ibrahim Moaaz from Qatar, but after scraping through to the final with his third throw in qualifying, he could only finish fifth in the final with 59.87m.
“I hope my performance can help Jamaican discus throwing get a lot more recognition, as it's lacking there at the moment, so I hope I can motivate others to get involved,” said Chang.
Belarus’s Yauheni Bahutski took silver with a best of 61.75m, while Chile’s Claudio Romero set a season’s best of 60.81m with his first-round throw to ensure a surprise bronze medal.
In the women’s high jump, the surprises continued, not so much in the presence of Karyna Taranda of Belarus and Colombia’s Maria Fernanda Murillo at the head of the standings, but that it became a three-way battle when Ireland’s Sommer Lecky jumped into medal contention.
Lecky had come into the event with a lifetime best of 1.86m, but she soared into medal contention with a clearance at 1.90m.
Taranda also got over it on her first try to take the overall lead, while Murillo cleared it on her second attempt to equal her own South American U20 record.
They were then confirmed as the three medallists, but the order had yet to be decided.
Taranda was the only athlete to clear 1.92m, and though Lecky and Murillo both came close on their final attempts they were ultimately unsuccessful.
It meant Taranda was confirmed as the gold medallist with Lecky taking silver and Murillo bronze. It was the first time since 2004 that all three medallists jumped 1.90m or higher.
It made Taranda the first Belarusian winner of the women’s high jump at the World U20 Championships, while back in second Lecky claimed Ireland’s second silver medal in the space of 24 hours, this from a nation that had won just two in the 16 previous editions of the championships.
Kenya topped the medal table with six golds, with Jamaica second and USA third. Overall, USA had by far the most medals with a tally of 18 and they were clear leaders on the placings table.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF