Shock and surprise in Berlin: Women's 800m, pole vault, and 100m
...and according to script for Bekele in the Men's 10,000m
It was another great night of athletics in Berlin - no Usain Bolt, but a host of great middle- and long-distance running, finals and heats, and they produced some drama, shocks and surprises. None was greater than Elena Isinbaeva's failure to win pole vault gold (really, I'm not even making that up...!)
Then we had the women's 100m, and a milder surprise, and of course, providing the stability for the evening was Kenenisa Bekele, who duly delivered on his pre-race status and wrapped up title number 4 (but that's a topic for tomorrow, in more detail...for now, women's event recaps below).
Women's 800m semi-final: Surprises
The women's 800m event has, in recent times, been the most tumultuous in the sport. Consider that in 2007, we heralded the arrival of Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya. She won the world title with her front-running tactics and looked set for an era of dominance.
Then in 2008, Pamelo Jelimo showed up. From nowhere, Jepkosgei was relegated to pack runner, losing by 3 or 4 seconds to Jelimo. Jelimo ran 1:55 to 1:56 with regularity, swept all before her, bagged a million dollars in the Golden League, and a gold medal in Beijing. The event was hers to dominate for years.
Jump to 2009. Pamelo Jelimo, beaten by 6 seconds in her first race, when he she ran 10 seconds slower than her typical time in 2008. That was back at the start of the season, we've now arrived at Worlds, and she's still a shadow of her 2008 form. She failed to qualify for the final, not even finishing her semi-final, having never featured at all. It is, to be blunt, the most spectacular fall from glory I've seen in the sport (in an admittedly short time). Quite how a woman who beat everyone by 2 to 3 seconds is now run out the back of mediocre races beats me. I guess it shows that even the elite cannot survive on talent alone. But for Jelimo...back to the drawing board.
But, if you thought we were done with surprise debut seasons, meet Caster Semenya, of South Africa. She announced herself to the world when she was involved in a trip with Jepkosgei, having to vault the world champion to remain in the race. She still won the heat, and won her semi-final today, looking, well...very comfortable and untroubled. Add to that the fact the Jepkosgei only made the final as a fastest loser, and Semenya is very much the favourite for the final.
There will be the usual host of Russians, a Spaniard, a Brit, and a few others who will attempt to challenge, but Semenya, based on her semi-final, and that 1:56 from a few weeks ago, looks to be the one to beat. She is this year's revelation, the Jelimo of 2009, and barring nerves or disaster, will assume the mantle of number 1.
One woman who won't challenge her is Maggie Vessey, the second fastest in the world this year, and a multiple winner in Europe. She never featured either, starting slowly, running at the back and never coming through. It was a disappointing way to bow out, for while a podium was always going to be tough (but certainly possible), she would have expected to feature more strongly in the semi-final.
Women's pole vault - shock as Isinbayeva is beaten
The strongest favourite in a women's event this entire week was Elena Isinbaeva. Sure, she'd been beaten a few weeks ago, a first loss in many years, but surely the Russian, who has just about owned pole vault for five or six years, would pull it together for the big event of the year?
It was not to be, however, and she didn't clear a single height. As is normal, she only entered the competition late, at a height of 4.70m, when other jumpers had taken four or five jumps. She failed at that height, and then the clearance of 4.75m by Poland's Anna Rogowska forced her to attempt 4.80m instead. Two failures at that height, and she finished last, giving the Pole her first world title.
For Isinbaeva, I guess it was inevitable, for one can only dominate for so long. What is of concern, however, is that it's not as though other women have closed the gap, but rather that she has come back to them. It might be expected that with Isinbaeva regularly clearing 4.90m, and setting the standard at 5.05m, at least a few women would start to edge nearer. They haven't, but Isinbayeva has returned to their level. Changes to technique, perhaps?
I'm not qualified to give an opinion on pole vaulting, so I won't, but it is at least refreshing to witness a pole vault competition where the outcome is undecided. The event had become pretty boring with the only suspense whether Isinbaeva would bank another big cheque for improving her record by 1cm each time...
Women's 100m - it's Beijing all over again
Shelly-Ann Fraser pulled something of a surprise in Beijing last year. It would be a little harsh to say that winning a world title to go with that Olympic gold would be a surprise, but the favourite on form in the European circuit would have been Kerron Stewart, also of Jamaica.
However, from the gun, it was Fraser, who really did leave Stewart behind. She must have gained 2m in the first 20m (the analysis from the IAAF research will be very interesting for this race), and then held it for 40m, and then held off a rapidly finishing Stewart over the final 40m.
Stewart was closing at an amazing rate in the last 30m. She will kick herself for losing quite that much time at the start. It's difficult to fault Stewart, for she did run a PB and that's about all one can ask in a major championship. However, I suspect that the IAAF research will show that Stewart had a top speed well in excess of anyone else in this race, and that will certainly give Stewart some reason to be disappointed with silver, for she had the race in hand had she started better. The reaction times alone tell a story - Stewart reacted to the gun in 0.170sec, while Fraser was timed at 0.146sec - that's 0.024 seconds already, combined with Fraser's power over the first 30m, and the race was decided
So it's a repeat of Beijing, on both the men's and women's side. One year ago, to the day, it was a Bolt world record, and a Shelly-Ann Fraser gold. Jump ahead to Berlin, and the times are faster, but the outcome the same, as Jamaica continue their dominance of the 100m event.
Men's 10,000m - it's Bekele again
The men's 10,000m will be the subject of a post tomorrow - it's one of the big events for us (we are partial to distance running after all). Kenenisa Bekele provided the stability on the day, doing what just about everyone had expected, and winning his 4th title. More discussion to follow...
Join us then!
P.S. There was one other surprise from Berlin - Galkina was run right out of the medals in the women's 3000m. She led the whole way, but never did any damage to anyone and as they approached the bell, about 4 women swept past her. It got worse with 200m to go, when even more swallowed her up. She fought back bravely, but never featured, and was eventually run into 4th place. The winner was Spain's Marta Dominguez, who outsprinted Yuliya Zarudneva off the final hurdle. Not a great night for Russian women - two gold medals they would have banked on, and they came away with nothing...
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Monday, August 17, 2009
Shock and surprise in Berlin: Women's 800m, pole vault, and 100m