Day 1

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Melissa, Ashton and Cheering Chinese

Sometimes you get lucky when covering these events.

The very first time Track and Field News linked to an article of mine, it was two summers ago after the Harry Jerome and Victoria International meets in Canada. The focus was on several athletes and on their quest to achieve the World Championships “A” standard.

The first athlete I wrote about was Melissa Bishop, who shrieked when she crossed the finish line and saw her time: 1:59.76, her first time under two minutes, and an automatic qualifier for the 2013 World Championships.

She was not on anyone’s radar screen for a medal here until the semi-final rounds when she ran 1:57.52 to win the deepest qualifying round in World Championships history (1:58.50 did not make the finals out of this semi).

Tonight she won silver, just .09 out of what would have been one of the most improbable golds at these championships.

As it is, it’s one of the most improbable silvers.

All of you claiming to have had her in your top three in your prediction contests likely know “O Canada” by heart.

Ashton Eaton’s javelin throw was key to putting him in position to go after his world record in the decathlon; his second throw - had it been fair - would have made his task in the 1500m much easier.

Many on press row thought he had thrown in the towel on the first lap, and it was clear after two laps he was well behind the pace needed to break his own world record. But Eaton, as he had in his world record in the US Olympic Trials in 2012, played a waiting game. Turns out he was just warming up.

Eaton unleashed a tremendous kick in the last 300m and stopped the clock at 4:17.52, just under the 4:18.25 he needed. He added 6 points to his best-ever score, which now stands at 9045.

Chinese Athletes at Worlds
After not having struck gold during their own Olympics in 2008, China did so in the women’s 20k racewalk when Hong Liu won gold – and Xiuzhi Lu added silver for good measure. China has seven medals in these championships, one gold, five silver, and one bronze.

Tonight’s crowd reaction to the men’s sprint relay silver was among the most compelling I’ve heard in the eight World Championships I’ve attended.

Deep-throated, visceral, a soul-touching sound.

Last Sunday, China’s Bingtian Su made the 100m final and finished last.

You shoulda heard ‘em for 9th.

I’m sitting in the Bird's Nest and am certainly feeling wistful in this inevitable moment of departure.

I'm working on a reflection about the meet and these remarkable three months since the press pass came my way; I need a little time, distance, and a sunny airplane ride across the Pacific to complete it. 

In the meantime, I’ll close with this: for this experience, I am grateful beyond words.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"Interview" with Segway Man gets to the bottom of the Segway fiasco

trackerati: How are you liking your new digs in Outer Mongolia?

Segman: Well, I didn’t know it was possible to get here so fast!

trackerati: We didn’t know there still was a Chinese Gulag.

Segman: There wasn’t! They made one just for me.

trackerati: How long do you expect to stay?

Segman: How long have you got?

trackerati: That’s not the question. How long have you got?

Segman: (blank stare)

trackerati: So, why did you take out Bolt?

Segman: I was just trying to get a great pic of him.

trackerati: Did you?

Segman: It’s a lovely photo, really, except his feet are in the air.

trackerati: If only you had knocked over Justin Gatlin instead, The Guardian would have paid for your new life in Great Britain.

Segman: So that’s who was screaming at me saying I hit the wrong guy!

Hup Holland!

The Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers won the 200m tonight in 21.63, a championship record and the fastest time in the last 17 years. Many are calling it the greatest women’s 200m ever run, as Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson and Veronica Campbell-Brown won silver and bronze in 21.63 and 21.97.

Schippers won the first Dutch World or Olympic gold medal since 1992 when Ellen van Langen struck Olympic gold at 800m in Barcelona.

Schippers completed her ascendancy to the top of the world sprinting ranks which began with double gold at the European Championships in Zurich last summer.

The 33-year-old Campbell-Brown won her 18th major meet medal.

Schippers took the lead with 3-5 meters to go in an exceedingly close race. She knew she had it, but I wasn’t celebrating along with my many Dutch relatives quite yet. There was a hush in the stadium as fans awaited the posting of the results – and then a huge roar as the very popular Schippers’ name came up first.

Medal ceremony is at 18:05 local time on Saturday for those of you - ok, us – who have waited 23 years to hear Het Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem, played at a World or Olympic championships.

In a previous post I mentioned my interview by Radio Beijing. How this came about was that I was at the press conference for the medalists in the men’s hammer throw. I am covering this event for my own website as well as Track and Field News and the Throwholics website in Germany. I had some questions for the medalists, including ones about their technique. In a press conference in which only four questions were asked, I asked three of them.

A reporter from Radio Beijing approached me afterwards and she asked if I’d be comfortable with being interviewed. Remind me next time to ask what about.

That evening, Su Bingtian, had become the first Chinese man to qualify for the finals of the 100m. The reporter asked if I was surprised that a Chinese man would make the 100m final.

Not exactly a softball question! I replied that I was not, of course, and went on to have a thoughtful discussion with her about the socioeconomics of track and field. We discussed one of my favorite parts of the meet, the first round of the men’s and women’s 100m, when athletes from countries which sometimes don’t have a single track compete at this definitive distance. This year, for example, Tashi Dendup, a teenager from Bhutan, set his country’s national record of 12.15. I’ll let you know if the interview is posted.

Interview with Segman gets to the bottom of the Segway fiasco

trackerati: How are you liking your new digs in Outer Mongolia?

Segman: I didn’t know it was possible to get here so fast!

trackerati: We didn’t know there still was a Chinese Gulag.

Segman: There wasn’t! They made one just for me.

trackerati: How long do you expect to stay?

Segman: How long have you got?

trackerati: That’s not the question. How long have you got?

Segman: (blank stare)

trackerati: So, why did you take out Bolt?

Segman: I was just trying to get a great pic of him.

trackerati: Did you?

Segman: It’s a lovely photo, really, except his feet are in the air.

trackerati: If only you had knocked over Justin Gatlin instead, The Guardian would have paid for your new life in Great Britain.

Segman: So that’s who was screaming at me saying I hit the wrong guy!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lightning Bolts and Twitter Mavens

Bolt vs Gatlin Part Deux
The Usain Bolt/Justin Gatlin travelin’ road show stopped in Beijing once again this evening. After the super hype that accompanied their 100m showdown, tonight’s event seemed positively tame in comparison.

While Gatlin couldn’t beat Bolt, a Chinese photographer on a Segway nearly did. He tripped Bolt and both went down hard, but Bolt, in spite of joking that the photographer “tried to kill me,” bounced back and seemed none the worse for wear.

Bolt was his usual playful self before the race; has he ever met a camera he didn’t love?! Gatlin, on the other hand, seemed tense and nervous, and his smile for the camera seemed forced. The outcome of this race was no surprise.

I attended part of their post-race press conference and was surprised to find a fairly friendly and respectful relationship between the two. Bolt razzed Gatlin about his age, and Gatlin said that what the rest of the world doesn’t see is Bolt calling him “old man” in the waiting room before races.

Gatlin as evil and Bolt as good is disaggregated by Alan Abrahamson in this thoughtful and discursive piece from his site, 3 Wire Sports: As you’ll see, good vs evil is neither as simple nor as cut and dried as it seems.

Hammer Time
The 80.85/265-3 fourth round hammer throw by Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk is a championship record and the second-farthest hammer throw in history. Poland has won three of the six hammer medals in these championships; their men’s team won gold and bronze – a dominant performance by one nation in one event. 

Even more impressive is Germany’s across the board performance in the throwing events, as they have advanced two or more to finals in all but one throwing event so far. In that, David Storl won silver in the shot put.

Heartbroken at the end of the women’s hammer was Amanda Bingson (US). The top 8 advanced to the last three throws (and a likely top 10 world ranking). Bingson was in 8th place with only two throwers left who could displace her out of the last three rounds. Moldova’s Zalina Marghieva topped Bingson’s mark by 3cm: 237’ 5” – 237’ 4”.

400m for the Ages
Last night’s men’s 400m race was one for the ages. 

Specifically: 23, 29, and 22. 

In order to medal, you had to run under 44 flat. South Africa’s 23 year old find Wayde Van Niekerk defeated veteran LaShawn Merritt, 43.48 - 43.65. No slouch in bronze was Grenada’s Kirani James in 43.78. 

James won this title in 2011 in 44.60. When he won the 2012 London Olympics, he ran a slowish 45.23. Neither time would have medaled here.

James is a favorite of mine in the stat book. He holds the record for the fastest 400m ever run by a 14-year-old - 46.96 - which is nice work if you can get it. He’ll turn 23 next month.

IAAF Daily Event Reports Link
I took a break from writing daily summaries to write a piece about the importance of both the reality and the symbolism of the results in the men’s javelin, in which gold and silver were won for the first time by throwers from Africa. It’s received a strong online response and was posted on the popular RunBlogRun website today, along with another piece about women’s hammer qualifying. 

As it’s not possible for me to summarize all 47 events and do each justice, here is a link to the excellent daily event summaries being prepared by the crack IAAF writing team:

Throws Twitter Maven
When you think of me you think of twitter maven, right? Hello?

Or better yet, you think of me as throwing events twitter maven - no?

Well, I started sending out round by round qualifying and finals results on twitter, and the international throwing community found these faster than Anita Wlodarczyk can spell her name. To say that there’s been a whole lotta tweetin’ and retweetin’ goin’ on is to put it mildly. The tweets are reaching an estimated audience of upwards of 75,000 during each event, and throwing fans are delighted to see their events getting this kind of attention.

This is not completely out of the blue. The German site Throwholics is posting my articles about the throwing events, and they have a very dedicated and enthusiastic following.

Still, I knew all this had gone too far when a USATF staffer saw me in the mixed zone and said, “Hey, there’s the throws guy!”

Please don’t tell anyone in Eugene, OK?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Watching History

The podium in the men’s javelin looks quite different than it ever has before.

Once the province of Northern and Central European countries, tonight’s podium looks like this:

Gold              Kenya               Julius Yego
Silver             Egypt                Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed
Bronze           Finland             Tero Pitkamaki

Until tonight, the IAAF World Championships men’s javelin final had been held 14 times.

42 medals had been awarded – and there were no ties.

Of these 42 medals, 37 were won by European countries, 3 by North America, 1 by Asia, and 1 by Africa.

Tonight, two of the three - gold and silver - were won by Africa.

It is a truism in track and field that the simpler the event the more diverse the medal winners. Put on a pair of race walking shoes and the medalists come from six continents. Put on a pair of running shoes and socioeconomic barriers to World and Olympic success begin to fall away.

But the more highly technical the equipment required for an event, the more likely the medalists are to come from an increasingly narrow geographic and socioeconomic range.

The smaller world we live in is one of the reasons access to the technical events is broadening. Tonight’s winner, Julius Yego, is well known in Kenya as “The YouTube Man.” He is a self-taught javelin thrower who says in a video he produced, “My coach is me, and my YouTube videos.”

At the end of the most famous of his self-produced videos, Yego says, “As the world progresses, everything changes.”

It does, indeed.

The medal ceremony for the men’s javelin will be held Thursday evening, August 27, at 18:35.

Take a moment to watch it.

You’ll be watching history.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Women's Hammer Throw Qualifying

One and done – that was the morning’s hammer throw competition for Poland’s world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk, one of the most prohibitive favorites in any event of these World Championships. 

Wlodarczyk's 75.01/246-1 leads 12 qualifiers into Thursday’s final.

China, Germany, and the United States grabbed 6 of the 12 qualifying spots.

Zheng Wang (3rd, 73.06/239-8) and Wenxiu Zhang (4th, 72.92/239-3), will have the support of this highly vocal hometown crowd.

Germany’s 31-year-old 2007 World champ Bette Heidler (9th, 70.60/231-7) seeks her 5th World or Olympic medal in her 10th appearance at a major meet. Compatriot Katrin Klaas (7th, 71.41/234-3) goes for her first major medal in her 8th attempt; she was 4th in 2009 and 5th in the 2012 London Olympics.

US teammates Amber Campbell (72.06/236-5) and Amanda Bingson (69.99/229-7) advanced by placing 6th and 11th, respectively. Campbell noted that she feels very comfortable in this facility as these World Championships mark her fourth competition in the Bird’s Nest. 

“It feels super comfortable, the people are always super accommodating, so it’s a great atmosphere to throw in.”

“It’s been a very good year so I’m just going to keep building on that,” she continued. “I had a 72 to open with and I’ll take it!”

Campbell was gracious to teammate and fellow qualifier Bingson. “I’m so happy for her. I know she was back here sweating but she’s a solid, solid girl and strong enough to do great tomorrow.”

US record holder Bingson, who finished 7th in the first qualifying group and then had to wait through the second before learning she had advanced, was excited by her 3rd throw, a three meter improvement over her other legal mark.

Until this point in her career, she said, “… it’s been super, super jumps, and now we realize at 75m, you just can’t make those kinds of jumps anymore.”

“I know I have the strength and I have the power and I know it’s in my head. I know on the last throw I just relaxed a little bit and trusted myself to do what I knew I had to do.”

Bingson is delighted with her performance here so far, but her sights are clearly set on Rio.

“Next year is really what we’re banking on.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Beijing Buzz - August 25 - Day 4

After a morning’s rest in the Bird’s Nest, competition at the 15th IAAF World Championships resumed this evening.

First up was an upset in the women’s discus. World and Olympic champion and pre-meet favorite Sandra Perkovic could not get unwound until her final throw when she vaulted from 4th place to 2nd to capture her third consecutive major-meet medal with a throw of 67.39/.

Cuba’s Denia Caballero’s first round 69.28/227-3 stood up for the win. This was not a total surprise as she threw over 70 meters earlier this summer. Nadine Muller’s (GER) 65.53 withstood a final round challenge from Cuba’s Yaime Perez that missed bronze by 7cm. Germany finished 3-5-7 and Cuba 1-4 in two terrific national performances.

Great Britain’s Olympic champion Greg Rutherford returned to the winner’s spot on the podium in the long jump. He had only two legal jumps, and they both beat the best everyone else had to offer. His winning 8.41 - 27’7 1/4'” is his seasonal best.

Australia’s Fabrice La Pierre’s 5th round 8.20-26’11” vaulted him into silver medal position and broke a lot of Chinese hearts. His come-through performance knocked Jianan Wang, Xinglong Gao, and Jinzhe Li down a spot each, but China had a memorable national performance of 3-4-5 nonetheless.

The men’s 400m hurdles produced another surprise as Kenya’s Nicholas Bett won from lane 9 in a world-leading 47.79. Exceptionally fast times were required to medal; Russia’s Denis Kudryavtsev won silver in 48.05 and Jeffery Gibson won bronze in 48.17. Kerron Clement missed bronze by .01 of a second in a dismal meet for US 400m hurdlers.

There were few surprises in the night’s last two events, at least not at the front. The Kenyan and Ethiopian middle distance crews came to the fore as Genzebe Dibaba (Eth) and David Rudisha (Ken) won their respective specialties.

Rudisha controlled the men’s 800m and even slowed it down. So feared is he that no one would go by. He won the race going away… which is exactly what Dibaba did in the 1500m. Her last lap is simply unbeatable, and it was clear with 800m to go that the race was for 2nd. American Jenny Simpson bravely went with Dibaba, but it was a failed mission as she faded to 11th.

IAAF is reporting that Dibaba’s last 800m was run in 1:57.2.

This would place her 2nd on the yearly outdoor world list in the open 800m.