Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saturday Morning at Worlds

The story of the morning was athletes who had to spin. It rained on their parade, and with few exceptions, the women’s hammer throwers and men’s shot putters threw less well than expected in the Saturday morning qualifying rounds. Slippery surfaces left athletes understandably tentative and cautious.

Nothing says it better than that 2016 world Athlete of the Year Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland finished second to her teammate Malwina Kopron. The world record holder and Olympic champion was satisfied with her throw nonetheless.

"We have to be ready for all conditions and it all went OK for me to qualify with the first throw,” she said. “The circle is OK, the throw was also solid, it felt normal, like a throw at the beginning of a competition.”

Striking fear in the hearts of her competitors, she said of Monday’s final, “I hope I will manage to open the competition with a solid throw." Her idea of a solid throw is a world record, which is close to likely if the weather conditions are good.

While there was nothing spectacular about the men’s 800m heats, Donavan Brazier (US) looked exceptionally good in the last 180m of his qualifying heat win. His stride was elegant and seemingly effortless. Watch out. The 800m resumes with semi-finals Sunday evening.

Thomas Walsh unleashed a sterling 22.14/72-7¾ season’s best to lead the shot put qualifiers. All four US entrants advanced – 2016 Olympic Champion Ryan Crouser, 2015 World Champion Joe Kovacs, two-time World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting, and 23 year old Darrell Hill. The main casualty of qualifying rounds was Jamaica’s O’Dayne Richards, the surprise bronze medalist in the 2015 Beijing Worlds.

The expected showdown between two-time World and Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen (Col) and her young rival from Venezuela, Yulimar Rojas, will take place in Monday evening’s final. Both qualified easily, but 2008 Olympic champion Olga Rypakova served notice that she’s not quite through yet; she was the surprise leader of the entire qualification at 14.57/47 9¾ . 

The much-anticipated men’s 400m featured strong performances by the favorites in the opening round. South Africa’s world record holder Wayde van Niekerk won his heat in 45.57, while Isaac Makwala of Botswana led all qualifiers in 44.56. LaShawn Merritt (US) qualified in 45.00, while teammate Fred Kerley, the discovery of the NCAA season, advanced in 44.92.

The women’s heptathlon featured a scintillating high jump between Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez and Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium. Rodriguez became the crowd favorite when she PBed three times on her way to earning 1171 points. Thiam, the surprise Rio gold medalist, tied Rodriguez  at the same height, and both earned the honor of setting the championship record. Rodriguez is only 8 points behind leader Thiam after two events. Another surprise in the making?

This evening features finals in the men’s 100m, women’s 10,000m, men’s long jump, and men’s discus. The heptathletes will contest two more events, the shot put and 200m. 

As for the men’s 100m, Usain Bolt is looking as vulnerable as he ever has. I will not be surprised to see someone else win. He displayed an uncharacteristic sign of lack of confidence yesterday with his lengthy complaints about the blocks. How many times have I seen an athlete set up his excuses in advance? I’d love to see him win and close out his glorious career in style, but teammate Julian Forte and US emerging star Christina Coleman both have a chance to pull the upset. Watch out, too, for Christopher Belcher (US), who has been under 10.00 only once but has competed exceptionally well when it counts in what has been a slow year for the event.

Meanwhile, the women’s 1500 is as deep as it’s ever been and four UK athletes will compete, with Laura Muir a medal favorite who needs to get through to Monday’s final.

Earplugs anyone?!

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