Friday, August 25, 2023

Jackson and Lyles Strike 200m Gold - Budapest Day 7

With thunder on the track and bolts of lightning in the field, the 7th day of the Budapest World Championships will long be remembered.

Nothing says it better than this photo taken moments after the end of the 200m. Gabby Thomas' (US) look of wonder at Champion Shericka Jackson's (Jam) time on the scoreboard - 21.41, the second fastest ever run - as well as her own silver medal performance - says it all. To the left is a wistful Sha'Carri Richardson (US), who finished 3rd, and hugging Jackson on the right is Cote D'Ivoire's Marie-Josee Ta Lou.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics

Let's start in the field.

One of track and field's greatest performers - not only in terms of ability but of  engagement with her massive following - almost had her worst performance in a World or Oympic Championship in Budapest - and still she won.

The better part of the competition felt like a wake as Venezuela's Julimar Rojas scratched jump after jump, and through 5 rounds, those she did not scratch were pedestrian by her lofty standards. 

She scratched in rounds 1, 4, and 5, and her jumps in rounds 2 and 3 were 14.33 (47-1/4) and 14.26 (46 9.25) - this from someone who can jump well over 15.00m (49-2.5) on even her worst days.

Her 14.33 barely got her into the top 8 and three more jumps; she bumped Kenturah Orji (US) from 8th to a non-qualifying 9th and out of the competition.

How close was Rojas to missing the opportunity for three more jumps? 

She and Orji were tied at 14.33; Orji's other two jumps were fouls, and quite oddly, Rojas' 14.26 was almost her most important jump of the day - it qualified her for finals. 

That she had two legal jumps in the first three and Orji only one made all the difference in breaking the 14.33 tie. 

Rojas seemed off-kilter today, her usual buoyant, joyous, engaging self missing. She was hesitant and tentative on her 4th and 5th jumps, with ever-increasing pressure not to miss.

With three World titles and Olympic gold and silver in her pocket, her failure to medal would have been one of the most colossal upsets in a Championship defined by upsets.

Ukraine's Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk was certainly a sentimental favorite to win; she has not been home since the Russian invasion of her homeland. 

She had jumped 15.00 to open the competition, and the longer she led - through 5 rounds - the more she looked like a champion.

Then Rojas took her last jump. 

15.08 (49 5.75)

The lead by 8 centimeters. (3 inches)

And yes, she jumped over 15.00 on even her worst day.

Bekh-Romanchuk had one more chance but fouled her last jump.

The crown stayed where it had been at the start of the day.

Cuba's Leyanis Perez Hernandez, who jumped her farthest - 14.96 (49-1) - in the opening round, held on for bronze.

The competition was unusually and extraordinarily close, as only 25 cm (9.75 inches) separated 1st from 6th.

"After I won the Olympic Games in Tokyo, I said the next day that people in Venezuela would not work because everybody in the country would be celebrating," Rojas said. 

"Well, now it will be more or less the same. I'm going to appear on the front pages everywhere. But more important, I'm going to be in the hearts of all the Venezuelan people."

 "My last attempt was proof of the hard work I have done, my mental state and my self confidence. I didn't care about the distance, the only thing I had in mind was to win the gold."

Venezuela's Triple Jump Legend Comes Through in the Clutch

Christian Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics
Julimar Rojas wins the triple jump on her final attempt.

Last jump madness in the triple jump was matched by last throw madness in the women's javelin.

The javelin played out much as the women's triple jump had - and these two events were just minutes short of being run concurrently - a real treat for the fans. 

Haruka Kitaguchi, Japan's first woman to win a World Championship throwing medal with her bronze in Eugene, came to Budapest in quest of something more.

"This time, coming to Hungary, my goal was a medal and even higher - I wanted the gold," she said.

Colombia's Flor Denis Ruiz Hurtado opened at 65.47 (214-9), an auspicious beginning and an Area Record. This would prove to be the leading mark through five of the six rounds. 

As much as Ruiz Hurtado tried to put even more distance on the field, her last three throws of 59.73 195-11), foul, and 60.97 (200-0) were not what the occasion required. Especially on her last two throws, she appeared to be throwing only with her arm and not her full body.

Meanwhile, Latvia's Annette Kocina stood third ever since her 3rd round 63.18 (207-3) put her in the medal mix. 

And then came the last round.

Not one but two podium places were determined with last-round throws. 

First, Australia's Mackenzie Little threw 20 cm (7.75 inches) past Kocina to win bronze, and then the dazzling throw of the night came from Kitaguchi, a dramatic 66.73 (218-11) final throw winner.

Defending champion Kelsey Lee Barber, herself master of final throw heroics in previous championships, threw with a heavily taped elbow; the two-time World champion finished 7th. 

"I think everything just came together in the last attempt and it was great," said Kitaguchi, Japan's newest World champion. 

"At the beginning, I thought that I would be crying, but now, I just feel the happiness." 

Japan's Kitaguchi Comes Through in the ClutchHaruka Kitaguchi wins the javelin on her final attempt. 

Stephen Pond/Getty Images for World Athletics

Then there were a couple of 200s.

The first featured an all-star women's sprinting lineup, and the much-anticipated showdown did not disappoint. 

Favorite Shericka Jackson (Jam) won by an astonishing four-tenths of a second, a championship record and a huge margin at this level. 

Her 21.41 has been exceeded only once in history, and she becomes the #2 performer with the #2 performance all-time.

Gabby Thomas (US) won silver in 21.81, and 100m champion Sha'Carri Richardson (US) won bronze in a personal best 21.92. 

After a terrific start, Jackson led off the curve and at that point her win was not in doubt. She remained clearly focused through the finish, as the photo below attests.

The two 200s combined featured textbook finishes by US athletes in second and third. 

First, Gabby Thomas and Sha'Carri Richardson, not in medal places coming off the turn, surged to their silver and bronze finishes, with Richardson passing almost the entire field in the process. 

Lyles, too, led at the top of the curve and was never headed. Erriyon Knighton, 19, finished as well as his female US counterparts and stormed to a silver medal finish. 

Star in the making Letsile Tebogo of Botswana followed in third; the 20 year old added bronze in this race to the silver he won in the 100.

Lyles had hyped a faster time, but 19.52 has a certain ring to it. 

For the sake of perspective of the enormity of Jackson's achievement, Gabby Thomas' personal best of 21.60 is 4th all-time and Richardson's 21.92 is #30.

Stephen Pond/Getty Images for World Athletics

"Even if I was pretty close to the world record it was not the thing on my mind when I ran," said Jackson. "I will continue to work and I hope I can maintain at least this level and we will see if the world record will come."

Perhaps in Eugene in the Diamond League final?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics
200m champion Noah Lyles 
leads Erriyon Knighton (2nd) and Letsile Tebogo (3rd)
to the podium

"It is a great feeling to know I did something not a lot of people have done," said Lyles... I wanted to show I am different. Today I came out and showed it. I am double champion."

Usain Bolt's support has meant a lot to Lyles. 

"Usain Bolt has done it, and him saying to me that he sees what I am doing and he respects it, it is amazing."

~Mark Cullen, writing from Seattle

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