The morning sessions of the World and Olympic Championships have always held special appeal.
This is where the stories begin, surprises take place, the obscure line up against the greats, and national records are set by athletes who do not advance but who nonetheless become heroes in their own countries.
Much has been made of the sparseness of the crowds at these World Championships; they are never smaller than at the morning sessions. Yet this provides fans a terrific opportunity to connect more closely with the competitions, their developing storylines, and the thousand subtle moments that create the character of these championships.
There is one inherent difference between the morning and evening sessions: these are qualifiers, not finals; twelve in each field event leave with hope still alive.
Triple jumpers exit two by two after having met the automatic qualifying standard. They wave to the crowd and return appreciation. Javelin throwers who advance on their first attempt are done for the day. That’s it, just one throw.
This morning, the first to leave are those who succeed.
Their performances are greeted with roars from the crowd that belie our small numbers. The acoustics of this stadium amplify even moderate sound. Imagine when the soccer World Cup is here.
What would these championships be without the Ukrainian fans? In two separate sections they sit in massive numbers, their identity created by the blue and yellow shirts they wear in the image of their nation’s flag – rows of blue across the top and even more of yellow below.
Italy and Ukraine engage in the morning’s mightiest battle.
The top two will advance in each of three heats of the women’s 4x400m relay, with the 7th and 8th qualifiers determined by time. In an epic last-lap battle, Italy edges Ukraine by 1/100th of a second for the 2nd spot in this heat. Now Ukraine must wait through the next two rounds to see if they advance on time.
Ultimately, they do not, and that 1/100th will define their year. The human flag dissolves as disappointed Ukrainians head for the exits.
Great Britain’s Adam Gemili shatters his PR with a 20.17 200m – how’s that for breakfast? Brianna Rollins jets down the hurdles runway in 12.55. That’s the breakfast of champions.
Bruno Hortelano takes second in his 200m heat and advances in 20.47, a Spanish national record. That won’t make headlines anywhere but Spain, but oh the reception when he gets home.
The morning’s most engaging moment takes place between 19-year-old World Junior champion Delanno Williams (GBR) and Usain Bolt in their 200m heat.
With meters to go, Bolt looks around and starts to cruise in. He seems a bit surprised to see Williams so close and does a double-take at the temerity of this youngster to challenge him.
Williams break into a huge grin, Bolt does, too – and nods at the youngster. A nod of respect, a nod of appreciation, a nod of inclusion - a welcome into the club.
Many expect Williams to be a star of the future. Without saying a word, Usain Bolt has just said it’s so.
Friday morning dawns cool and sunny in Moscow. As the sun peeks into the stadium through the oval roof, it creates a broad swath of light at the far end which narrows at the near.
Like a teardrop of sunlight, it advances through the stadium, gradually rewarding this morning’s faithful with its welcome embrace.