The USA had endured a low-key first couple of days in the stunning Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre Stadium at the Youth Olympic Games but roared back with a much improved display on Friday (22).
Leading their resurgence on the final day of athletics qualification action in the Chinese city was sprinter Noah Lyles who trimmed 0.11 from his lifetime best to record a high quality 20.71, and into a light headwind, to top the qualifiers in the boys’ 200m.
“Yesterday we (the USA) were a little sad but we proved tonight we are not going down, but up, and there is nothing going to stop us,” added Lyles, who is coached by his father, Kevin.
Lyles senior was better known as a 400m runner, with a bets of 45.01, and is still just slightly faster than his offspring with a windy 20.63 to his name, but his status of being top dog in the family doesn’t seem destined to last much longer.
“I want to hit 20.5 here - that has been the aim since the trials and in the finals I’m going for the gold and trying to win,” said Noah.
The US mood was further lifted in the boys’ 800m as world number two Myles Marshall, another athlete coached by his father with a pedigree in the sport, smoothly advanced into the A final as the fastest qualifier in 1:50.22.
He will, however, not have matters all his own way in Monday’s mouth-watering medal showdown as he will be up against world leader Bacha Morka, of Ethiopia, who was a comfortable winner of heat two in 1:51.18.
YOG 'poster boy' Zhihang Xu doesn't disappoint
To talk of Zhihang Xu as playing the same ‘poster boy’ role for these Youth Olympic Games that his countryman Liu Xiang so memorably served at the 2008 Beijing Olympics is a stretch matters a little bit but the comparison still generally stands the test of examination.
The pair are, after all, both Chinese trailblazers on the track and while not competing in identical events the duo are bound together as hurdlers.
The 17-year-old Xu looked every inch a champion in the making as he came within 0.05 of his world leading mark of 50.74 to comfortable top the qualifiers in the boys’’ 400m hurdles.
His main danger would appear to be Brazil’s Mikael Antonio De Jesus, who set a personal best of 51.12 to finish behind the Chinese athlete in heat one.
However, Zu seemed to have plenty in reserve and can send the home fans into ecstasy with a similarly accomplished performance in Monday’s race for the medals.
Surinam’s Miguel Van Assen impressed in boys’ triple jump qualification, bounding out to 16.29m –just 0.04 off his national record.
The charismatic South American currently sits at number two on this year’s world youth lists and feels he has a point to prove after a heel injury hampered his chances at last month’s IAAF World Junior Championships, where he finished 11th.
“I came very close to my PB today and feel I have to do a PB in the final because the competition is strong,” said Van Assen, who led qualification by 64cm. “I was disappointed with what happened in Eugene now I am in the final I have to be focused, stay strong and do something for my country.”
Nice throwing from Novac
In an impressive boys’ javelin qualification, the top six athletes all set personal bests, with the top two – Romanian Alexandru Novac (77.61m) and Turk Emin Oncel (77.55m) – advancing up to third and fourth, respectively, in the 2014 world youth rankings.
Sadly, the world number two, China’s Jiabo Xiang misfired and, with his throwing arm heavily strapped, he could only muster a best of 68.48m - more than 10 metres shy of his lifetime best. He placed 11th overall and will take his place in the B final.
Back on the track and Gezelle Magerman produced one of the most eye-catching displays of the night to qualify quickest for the girls’ 400m hurdles final in 58.57, slashing more than 1.5 seconds from her lifetime best mark.
The South African ran aggressively from gun to tape to finish 0.11 ahead of German’s Eileen Demes, who also posted a personal best.
Elsewhere on the track, Jamaica’s Natalliah Whyte advanced to the A final of the girls’ 200m as the fastest qualifier with 23.79. Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Alemu was the quickest in the girls’ 1500m heats, coming home in a personal best of 4:21.87.
World youth leader Eda Tugsuz, of Turkey, looked badly out of sorts in girls’ javelin qualification. Carrying heavy strapping on her arm, her modest best of 47.75m was only good enough for 10th place, and a place in the B final. Hanna Tarasiuk of Belarus led the qualifiers with 55.48m.
The athletics programme in Nanjing now steps up a notch with the morning and evening sessions comprising finals only. Some 13 sets of medals will be decided on Saturday.
Steve Landells for the IAAF