Sports fans want competitions between teams, and stories of athletes that they can identify with and cheer for. For track and field to be a success, and to grow, we need to respond to the threat and stench caused by drug cheats, but that is not all.
We need to remember that athletics is a universal experience that needs to be told and retold.
Beijing Diaries 14
Day Nine is a night of excitement
The last days of a major championships are both exhilarating and depressing.
This championships was no different.
I have spent two weeks in Beijing. The first week observing the goings on of the IAAF Congress, meeting with sponsors, and the second week, managing our website coverage of the World Championships.
With sites on four continents (North America, South America, Caribbe, Europe, Africa), we have sites and cultures requiring coverage at much different levels and times. Each site provides its major themed coverage and we provide additional global and national content and marketing assistance.
The final evening was gripping. It reminded me of the important part of our sport: the stories about the athletes and their competitions.
I have spent most of the year following events, big and small, and athletes, big and small around the world. From road races to indoor, from important outdoor meets to Diamond League and to the most important meetings of the year, the World Champs.
The women's 5000 meters was going to be an old fashioned, bare knuckles battle from Day one. Genzebe Dibaba is a racer, and Almaz Ayana is a racer. But still, within that one word description, there are huge differences.
In the 5000 meters in the Meeting AREVA in Paris on July 4, Dibaba and Ayana were to play well together, exchanging leads for 4 kilometers, then, bash each other until one won. Well, Ayana, after 8 laps, found herself leading with Dibaba on her shoulder, until Dibaba unleashed a wicked, wicked last 300 meters, which gave Dibaba the victory, and Ayana something to focus on. Suffice it to say, Ayana and Dibaba do not exchange many pleasantries.
Ayana had run 14:14 by herself in Shanghai, with no clue that she was four seconds off WR pace. Dibaba had run a couple fast 5000 meters, including a 14:20 at Pre in late May.
In the World Champs race, the pace was dawdling for 1600 meters, passed in 4:52, and the 2000 meters in 6:06. The the racing began. Ayana and Dibaba separated themselves and Ayana began to pulverize Dibaba, one tough lap after another. At first, Dibaba held her ground, and looked like she was just waiting to outkick Ayana. But the pace got harder, as Ayana drove for home. Running the last 3k in 8:19 off such a pedestrian pace was not out of line for this athlete. However, at 4k, Dibaba began to drop off, and the break went from a couple of meters to nearly fifty. Soon, as Dibaba fell off the back, Ayana continued to push until she took the gold, and Dibaba lost the silver to her countrywomen.
Ah, sweet revenge for Ayana. And for Dibaba, she once again looked human.
In the men's 1,500 meters, Taoufik Makhloufi was the 2012 Olympic champion. In that race, Asbel Kiprop, was 12th. Kiprop has wanted World Champs before, but off a okay pace, a 59 first 400 meters and a 1:58 800 meters, the pack was there. Centrowitz, he of the 2011 bronze and 2013 silver, was there, as was 2008 Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis. Both were well positioned at 1100 meters, hit in 2:42.
Then, at 250 meters, Taoufik Makhloufi made this huge surge! From a guy who ran 2:13.09 for 1000 meters this summer, took the lead and try to steal the race. First, Iguider from Morocco moved and then, Mangiamu moved and Asbel Kiprop began that long, drive for home.
Matt Centrowtiz was perfectly positioned, but just could not move and finished 8th. Leon Manzano was kicking off the back, but the speed that he had in 2012 was just not there, and he finished 10th.
The excitement of the 1,500 meter men's race? That, the medals were not decided into the final steps! Iguider, Mangiamu took bronze and silver, with Asbel Kiprop, who had built up to the final race of the World Champs, ready for any race, winning the gold medal.
The long relays were indicative of the strange new world of athletics that we live in.
In the women's relay, the US team, a combination of athletes on their game and athletes off their game, took the silver to an exhilarated Jamaican team. Allyson Felix ran the relay leg of her life, and the fastest relay leg in a women's 4x400m in a Championship event, with her 47.7.
On the men's side, a revitalized LaShawn Merritt, who does not, in my opinion, get much of the respect that he deserves, used that experience to run the perfect last leg of the 4x400 meters, running down the competition. Martyn Rooney, the European champion, ran a smart leg taking the GBR team into bronze medal territory.
Writing in the stadium, after the awards ceremony and closing ceremony was, as always, a bit sad.
In my last visit to Beijing, the late James Dunaway had been in rare form, writing daily for the IAAF and keeping me smiling with some of his comments on the sport.
He is no longer here.
But his memories remain, and on my phone, I keep my last voicemail from Dunaway about his darn computer not working well.
Next year, I'll try and go to the Shangai DL and the Beijing World Challenge.