By Dave Hunter (Sept, 10, 2017, London)
Although the IAAF World Championships in Athletics concluded almost a month ago, it will always be enjoyable to look back and savor those special moments. While your favorites may well differ, here are my top ten moments - in ascending order, of course!
10. Amy Cragg’s Gutty Bronze Medal Marathon Performance.
There is a moment of truth in the marathon when every racer faces a pacing challenge. It is then the athlete must make a decision: Do I back off? Or do I persevere? Perhaps no one knows this any more thoroughly than veteran marathoner Amy Cragg, given her devastating 4th-place finish in the 2012 United States Olympic Trials. And in the final 10 kilometers of the World Championship marathon, Cragg - running just off the podium and hanging on in 4th behind Filomena Cheyech - faced that moment once again. The 32-year-old American athlete stayed cool, kept her poise, and went to work: tucking in behind the Kenyan, holding ground, and covering all moves. Patience also was required, and Cragg had it. Dead even with her African rival at 40K, Cragg waited until the final 300 meters to unleash one final gear shift in her quest for a medal. It worked. Cragg [2:27:18] gapped Cheyech [2:27:21] and nearly caught Edna Kiplagat [2:27:18] at the line. Cragg’s 2nd half in 1:11:36 - the fastest of all competitors - gave her a negative split by over 4 minutes. Only 10 seconds separated the top 4 finishers, but Cragg claimed her World Championship marathon bronze medal - only the 2nd world championship marathon medal captured by an American and the first in 34 years [Marianne Dickerson, Helsinki, 1983].
9. Karsten Warholm Defeats Kerron Clement For 400H Gold.
Many thought the final of the men’s 400 meter hurdles might produce a piece of track & field history with reigning Olympic champion Kerron Clement becoming the first man ever to capture 3 world 400H titles. But Norway’s 21-year-old Karsten Warholm had other ideas. In the rain-marred final, the young Norwegian got out quickly and built a backstretch lead over Clement. The indoor 400 meter record holder began to move in the 3rd 100 meters and was closing the gap on Warholm. The Norwegian kept his poise down the homestretch while Clement’s hurdle form - always an Achilles heel for the American - began to unravel. Warholm [48.35] crossed first, while Turkey’s Yasmani Copello [48.49] slid past a disheartened Clement [48.52] for the silver. Once across the line, the disbelieving new world champion displayed his best impersonation of fellow countryman Edward Munch’s "The Scream" - an image from these championships that will long be remembered.
8. Taylor, Claye Go 1-2 In mTJ.
The men’s triple jump final showcased yet another spirited battle between Americans Christian Taylor and Will Claye. The final featured 5 lead changes between the two former University of Florida teammates with Taylor - the defending champion, American record holder, and the reigning Olympic champion - finally prevailing: 17.63/58¼" to 17.63/57'10¼". It is invigorating to realize that 27-year old Taylor and the 26-year-old Claye could continue this rivalry - inspiring each other to even greater performances - for years to come.
7. Kendricks Prevails In Strategic PV Battle.
The pole vault final was a 5 man chess match when the bar went up to 5.89m/19'3¾". American Sam Kendricks - sailing along in an undefeated storybook season - kept his card clean with a first attempt clearance. Passing from a lower height miss, Poland’s Piotr Lisek also made a first attempt clearance while his countrymen Pawel Wojeiechowski went out. '12 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie made it over on his second attempt while China's Changrui Xue - flawless until this bar - went 3 and out. At 5.95m/19'6¼", the 3 remaining athletes all missed their first two attempts. On 3rd attempts, Kendricks made a critical clutch clearance while Lisek missed - but retired in 2nd place. Lavillenie faced a choice: a final jump clearance at 5.95m would move him from bronze to silver; or should he pass to 6.01/19'8½ for a shot a possible gold? The Frenchman immediately passed. After Kendricks sustained a first attempt miss at the new height he had never before cleared, Lavillenie had one final jump for the gold. And when Renaud missed, Sam Kendricks had his first world championship medal.
6. Stefanidi Outduels Morris For Pole Vault Gold.
The women’s pole vault final highlighted another great rivalry between young, blossoming athletes. USA’s Sandi Morris - who entered the competition at 4.45m/14'7¼ - jumped cleanly through 4.75/15'7". Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi - who came in at 4.65m/15'3" - did so as well. The 25-year-pd Morris' 1st attempt miss at 4.82/15'9¾ opened the door for her Greek opponent who took full advantage with her 1st attempt clearance at that height. When Morris passed and subsequently went out at 4.89m/15'9¾", Stefanidi had the gold with only 4 jumps! With the crown already in hand, the 27-year-old Stanford graduate added a 1st attempt clearance at 16'1¼ just for good measure. While her 3 attempts at 5.02/16'5½" were unsuccessful - Stefanidi had her first world championship title and with it likely clinched this year’s #1 world ranking.
5. The Great Battle in the Women’s LJ.
On a chilly evening, the deep field in the women's long jump final engaged in the fierce battle for the world championship medals. Olympic finalist Darya Klishina was the early leader with a 1st round leap of 6.78m/22'3". In the second round Serbia's Ivana Spanovic popped out 6.96m/22'10" to move into 1st. By the 3rd round, reigning indoor and outdoor long jump champion Brittney Reese had solved the tricky winds and stretched out 7.02m/23'½" to take the lead. In the final 3 rounds, Russia's Klishina jumped 7.02/22'11¾" in the 5th round to move into 2nd and bump Spanovic to 3rd. And in the final round, Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta bulled her way onto the podium with a leap of 6.97m/22'10½" to slide into 3rd and push the Serbian off the medal stand. The riveting competition concluded with the top four performers finishing within .06m/'2¼" of one another.
4. Isaac Makwala Emerges From Quarantine To Make 200m Final.
In the flurry of daily stunning performances at these world championships, it was easy for many to overlook the trials, the tribulations, and ultimately the inspiring performance of Botswanan sprinter Isaac Makwala. Troubled by the quick onset of a stomach virus in the middle of these championships, the 200m/400m specialist was initially denied the opportunity to compete in the opening round of the men's 200 meters as well as the final of the men's 400 meters where he was expected to challenge world record holder and Olympic gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk. After a period in enforced quarantine [!], some closed-door lobbying, and IAAF reconsideration, it was determined on the day of semi-final round of the men’s 200 meters that Makwala would be given a solo opportunity to qualify for the semi to be held later that evening. Makwala could advance if he ran his solo heat in 20.53 or faster. Buoyed by cheers from the stadium throng, Makwala trudged out amidst a driving rain to make his attempt from his assigned lane: lane 2. Alone in the darkness, the Botswanan sprint star powered around the curve and splashed through puddles to cross the line in 20.20. Ecstatic upon seeing his qualifying time, Makwala immediately dropped to the ground and proceeded to fire off 5 textbook pushups to affirm his recovery - and his joy. 3 hours later, Makwala - now in lane 1 - ran 20.14 in his semi-final to earn an automatic qualifier for the 200 meter final. Few will ultimately remember that Isaac Makwala finished 6th in the men's 200m championship race two days later. But legions will remember the unorthodox and difficult pathway he successfully navigated to make the final.
3. Farah's WC 3-Peat In 10,000.
Racing Mohammed Farah in a championship setting is always difficult. But going up against Sir Mo - a man who had not lost a world championship distance race final in 6 years - in London's Olympic Stadium before 66,000 adoring British fans was likely to be bordering on the impossible. Farah's East African opponents - who had done little to unnerve Farah in earlier championship settings - decided this time to attempt to make him uncomfortable. Right from the opening gun, the pace was quick [2:39 for the 1st kilo] and the cat and mouse tactics of the past were discarded as an honest-paced final emerged. The two-time defending champion stayed calm: covering all moves and not seizing the lead until 2 laps remained. At the bell, Farah was followed closely by Joshua Chetegei, Paul Tanui, and Bedan Muchiri - 4 superb athletes fighting for 3 medals. As the bunched quartet approached the backstretch, the crowd gasped as Farah was soundly clipped from behind. Only an impulsive ballet-like move by the Olympic 10,000 meter champion prevented another Rio-like fall. The trip seemed to energize Farah who accelerated down the backstretch and opened a gap. Clocking 56 seconds on the final circuit - stumble and all - Farah completed the race with a punishing 5:07 final 2000 meters to stop the clock a 26:49.32 - his fastest championship clocking and his 2nd best 10K mark ever. And it earned him his 3rd consecutive world championship 10,000 meter gold medal.
2. Two Americans Defeat Bolt in 100m.
In the men’s 100 meters, the seemingly-invincible Usain Bolt showed signs of vulnerability in the first two rounds. Was Bolt just playing possum? Or was the greatest sprinter of all time really on the ropes? In the final, the sprint legend - who has employed cautious starts ever since his 2011 false start ejection in Daegu - got out horribly, was all over the lane, and trailed the fast-starting Americans Justin Gatlin and the early-leading Christian Coleman. The long-striding Bolt closed with a vengeance, but it was not enough, as Gatlin - in lane 8 - hit the line first in 9.92, followed by his countryman [9.94] and the Jamaican two-time defending champion [9.95]. Undoubtedly disappointed, Bolt was nonetheless most gracious in extending congratulations to the winner. He embraced the American victor who looked equally relieved and exuberant with his unexpected victory. The capacity crowd- disappointed that they had not viewed Bolt's final individual championship victory - unleashed a torrent of boos upon the new champion. The hooting did not appear to bother Gatlin who now had won his second world championship 100 meter gold medal 12 years after his first one.
1. USA’s Coburn and Frerichs Grab Steeple Gold and Silver.
While others might certainly have different #1 moments, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Team USA fan there could hardly be another top choice. Although the American squad sustained a blow in this event when Colleen Quigley was disqualified in the heats for a controversial lane violation, the first round buzz in the mixed zone was all about how well the U.S's other two athletes performed. Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn looked completely relaxed and easily advanced in her opening heat. And automatic qualifier Courtney Frerichs confided in the mixed zone that her first round race "was the easiest 9:25 I've ever run" and that during her WC buildup she had "been PRing in workouts." The final was a strange one. Shortly after 400 meters, early Kenyan leader Beatrice Chepkoech failed to duck off the track toward the initial water jump. Backtracking, the Kenyan corrected her gaffe, rejoined the lead back, and ultimately finished 4th. The race adopted a solid, but not crazy, cadence as Bahraini Ruth Jebet - the world record holder - split 1K in 3:02 with the Americans right in the hunt. The real racing began after 2K’s [6:03]. Veteran Coburn - with upstart Frerichs covering her elder's every move - made a decisive move with 250 meters to go. It was a break to which the Kenyans did not - or could not - respond. With smooth, aggressive clearances over the final water jump, the two Americans were 1-2. Avoiding disaster down the homestretch, Coburn [9:02.58, AR, #6 all-time] and Frerichs [9:03.77, PR, then #7 all-time] crossed 1-2, both bettering Coburn's American record, defeating the world record holder and the top 3 performers on the world list, and grabbing the first-ever USA medals in this event. The twosome's spontaneous post-finish line celebration was pure, incredulous joy. Upon reflection, no one coming to London could have honestly believed that the United States would win more World Championship steeplechase medals than Kenya. But - as the saying goes - that's why they run the races.