Saturday, August 19, 2023

Walkin' in the Rain

Note: I am writing from Seattle. I am deeply grateful to Natalie Uhl at USATF Communications and Tania Evesque at World Athletics Communications Operations for their help in getting me set up for remote coverage of these World Championships.

Saturday, 8/19, AM Session

The first email message from World Athletics this morning said that the men's 20k race walk had been postponed due to lightning in the area. It came complete with a deluge, but the hardiest of track and field's athletes - and often the most obscure - delivered a thrilling race once the storm had passed. 

Spain's Alvaro Martin won gold in 1:17:32, with Sweden's Perseus Karlstrom 7 seconds back in silver and an ecstatic Caio Bonfim of Brazil 8 seconds behind him.

What does it mean to win a medal? Getty Images' Christian Petersen captures that moment beautifully in this image of Brazil's Caio Bonfim at the finish of the men's 20 kilometer walk:

Karlstrom (silver), Martin (gold), and Bonfim (bronze)
celebrate their medals
by Christian Petersen of Getty Images for World Athletics
Note Canada's Evan Dunfee in 4th.

 Interesting 20k walk stat of the day: 5 of the top 6 finishers set national records - and the only one who didn't was the winner!

The men's hammer final is Sunday and qualification was led by Canada's Ethan Katzberg in a national record of 81.18m. Katzberg has been on fire this year. In 9 competitions he has finished first, second, or third in every one. 9 podiums out of 9 is a pretty remarkable record. Will he make it 10/10? 

A note about the 100m - the men's final is Sunday. There are 4 rounds in the course of two days - 4 rounds in less than 30 hours, actually. The winner is not only the swiftest but the strongest. Defending World Champion Fred Kerley brings his stellar 400m background to this race. I think that in the final, his race will be over before anyone else's.

Walla Walla's Kenneth Rooks won his steeplechase opener by a scant 1/1000th of a second over one of the heavy favorites, Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali. This year's NCAA and US Outdoor national champion knows how to win.

The 2021 Prefontaine Classic featured Sifan Hassan's attempt at a 5,000 meter world record. While she finished and won the race, the world record chase was off early. After multiple races in the Tokyo Olympics, she had become visibly tired, and she acknowledged her fatigue. 

Today she embarked upon another triple as she is attempting to win the 1500 (have you heard of Faith Kipyegon?!), 5,000, and 10,000 meter races. She says she is fresh and ready to go. She began her day's work with a 1500m round which she polished off with a win in a last lap under 60 seconds. She won her heat - and was 9th with one lap to go. Time will tell if this unnecessary expenditure of energy will take its toll.

Saturday, 8/19, PM Session

Perhaps it didn't take much time. This day is not one the Dutch will remember fondly. Both Sifan Hassan and Femke Bol finished their quests for gold in, respectively the 10,000m and 4x400m mixed relay, flat on the track and mere meters from the finish line. 

In their stead, Ethiopia swept the distance medals, while US anchor Alexis Homes scorched a 48.82 and stormed past a falling Bol to bring redemption to a US program that was criticized for not fielding its strongest team at home in Eugene last summer. A world record 3:08.80 ought to put some distance on that issue.

Photo by Stephen Pond - Getty Images for World Athletics

It's a Sweep!
Ethiopia's Gudaf Tsegay leads teammates 
Letesentbet Gidey and Ejgayehu Taye
to a 1-2-3 finish for Ethiopia in the 10,000m

Ryan Crouser continued his definitive year in the men's shot put as he won with the second longest throw in history, a 23.51m monster that scared his own 23.56m.

 As is often the case when an athlete nails a truly superb performance, Crouser sensed that his 6th round mega-throw was a great one - the Great One had his arms in the air before his round of steel hit the grass. After a week in which he had to deal with a blood clot in his leg and questions about whether he could compete or not, Crouser summarized the day succinctly "... it was the best performance of my life."

Painting a masterpiece of his own was Italy's Leonardo Fabbri, who set a personal best of 21.99m in the morning's qualifying. After an opening foul and an inauspicious second round, his third throw changed his standing in the sport. He launched the 22.34m throw of a lifetime to win silver. Once he gets home to Italy, he'll never have to pay for dinner again.

University of Washington's Joe Waskom has had a remarkable year, yet inexperience showed today as he ran in a box for much of his qualifying 1500m and took no decisive action to get out. The new qualifying procedure of top six to the next round produced surprisingly fast times in both the men's and women's heats. Three of the men's four heats were won right at 3:34, except Waskom's, which was won in a pedestrian 3:46.77. Had Waskom positioned himself to take advantage of his prodigious kick, he might well have advanced.

In our "Dudes, What Happened?" category, two Americans failed to advance to finals in the shot put and hammer, respectively. One of the most popular medal wins of the Eugene World Championships was Josh Awatunde's unexpected bronze in the shot put, but he did not crack the top 12 today. And Alex Young failed to advance to the final of the hammer throw with an uncharacteristic 69.10m. My best guess from afar is that the throwers were dealing with wet throwing rings after the morning's downpour.

By this time tomorrow, we'll know who the men's 100m champion is, who wins the sure-to-be epic men's 10,000m, who the heptathlon winner is - the US has three of the top four places after the first four events - and whether or not the US men will score a long-sought medal in the hammer. 

In closing, I've gotta give the Hungarian hosts credit. Widely reported is their intense pride in hosting these championships. This was evidenced this morning when they sent a guide for the 27-minute Opening Ceremony - it was 9 pages long! If there's anything you'd like to know about Hungarian folksongs, I'm now your guy.

Leonardo Fabbri reminded us all of just how meaningful a breakthrough performance is on this stage.

"This silver medal opens up new doors for me as the Olympics are coming. It's strange but this was my first final at a global event. That is how I wanted to start this journey."

~Mark Cullen

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