Thursday, August 9, 2018

Farewell and Welcome - Berlin Night #2

I wrote this as a narrative during the course of evening #2, in real time as much as possible.

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

The much-anticipated men's discus competition is about to begin. Germany's three-time World and 2012 Olympic discus champion Robert Harting was just introduced and the crowd responded predictably. On the track for his 200m semi-final is Spain's Bruno Hortelano, a medical student who is recovering from a grievous hand injury suffered in a car accident.

Harting is closing his major-meet career here tonight and will have his final competition in the ISTAF Meet on September 2, fittingly also here at Olympic Stadium.

It’s the scene of his greatest success and of one of my five most memorable moments in track and field. Berlin native Harting came to his final throw of the 2009 World Championships in silver medal position and unleashed a personal best to win. I was privileged to be in the stadium as a spectator that night and have rarely experienced such joyful, thunderous, prolonged celebration.

A rising star coming into the meet, Harting was the world’s best for almost a decade.

-    Harting seems displeased with his first round 61.09 (200-5), stomping his foot as he leaves the ring. 

Not lost on the German crowd is that Christina Schwanitz is leading the shot put, with Sara Gambette also qualifying to finals in 4th place. Schwanitz is the two-time defending European champion and 2017 World Champion.

Interesting that Germany, now the dominant throwing power in the world, having supplanted Poland, places two in the final, and a third - Alina Kenzel - just misses. This continues a trend that started when Germany placed three in the men's javelin final at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. But Poland has two in the final as well, which makes this an intriguing matchup between the two powers.

The joint will be jumpin' Thursday night when Germans Thomas Rohler, Johannes Vetter, and Andreas Hoffman take the javelin runway. A medal sweep would not be a huge surprise. Expect 90m+ (295-3) throws; look for a winner past 300’ (91.44).

Harting reaches 63.45 (208-2) in the second round, technically a far superior throw than the first. He fouls in the third but finds himself in 3rd place going into the final three rounds. A medal for him here would upset all the form charts, in spite of his heroic record in this event.

Courageous running takes place in the women's 10,000 meters on a sweltering night. Holland's Susan (Kuijken) Krumins was as far back as 5th close to the halfway point when she surged to catch the two leaders. She then went with a breakaway led by winner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (ISR) to put herself in 2nd place for the rest of the race.

The issue - finishing - was in doubt with 15 meters to go when she began to stagger. She looked over her left shoulder and extended her stride repeatedly - almost clawing at the track - and barely made it across the line.

Does the Kuijken name sound familiar to US NCAA fans? Kuijken, now Krumins, was the 2008 indoor 3000m and 2009 outdoor 1500m champion for Florida State. In spite of her early success at the shorter distances, she is clearly thriving at the longer.

Germany's Fabian Heinle jumps 8.13 (26 8 1/4") for a second time tonight on his last jump to win silver, while Greece's Militiadis Tentoglou also scores a season's best to win at 6.25 (20-6 ¼).

Meanwhile, the music director keys up Never On Sunday-sounding bouzouki licks when Tentoglou steps to the top of the runway for his last jump.

Tentoglou fouls, as does the music director.

The last two rounds are not kind to Harting, who has been as high as silver and bronze medal positions during the competition. Lukas Wesshaidinger (Aut) and Simon Petterson (Swe) move into 3rd and 4th, while Estonia's Mephistopheles of the discus, Gerd Kanter (39), pushes Harting even further down in the standings with his final round 64.34 (211-1). Harting finishes 6th, a centimeter behind Kanter.

Daniel Stahl has only two fair throws and wins silver at 68.23 (223-10). Nonetheless, he looks like a winner until Andreas Gudzius (LTU) tosses a 68.46 (224-7) on his last throw.

Something about last-round throws in this stadium.

Stahl follows with a lengthy foul (and to my eye, a likely winner, had he stayed in the ring). Gudzius and Stahl win their medals by over 3 meters beyond the rest of the competition.

Meanwhile, my certitude that Germany is now the #1 throwing power in the world lasts until the final throws of the shot put when Poland’s Paulina Guba pulls a huge surprise by besting Schwanitz in front of the home crowd with her last round 19.38 (63-7) to win by 14 centimeters.

Later, Guba would say, succinctly, “I am shocked.” She’s not the only one; it is her first medal in major-meet competition.

Indeed, Poland finishes 1-4 to Germany’s 2-5.

Advantage Poland.

This scintillating evening ends when Germany’s Arthur Abele wins the decathlon. In a moment of epic transition in German athletics, Abele is at one end of Olympic Stadium on his victory lap while Harting is at the other waving farewell.

Thunderous ovations rocket back and forth.

It hasn’t been this loud in this stadium since 2009.

Arthur Abele wins the decathlon
Photo Credit: Getty Images/IAAF

- I describe the importance of that night in 2009 to me, and of a chance meeting with Harting at the Portland, OR, airport in 2013 - as well as the subsequent ride I gave him to his hotel in Eugene - in A Ride for Robert A remarkable coincidence occured as our paths crossed even briefly.

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