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Saturday, August 27, 2011

IAAF World Champs - Kenya's day

Day 1 belongs to Kenya...entirely.  As in all 100%, 6 out of 6

The day 1 medal table at the IAAF World Championships makes for extra-ordinary reading.  There's only one team on it - Kenya.  It a display of unparalleled dominance, Kenya took every single medal on offer.  It helps that the medals were available in the longest distance running events, the marathon and the 10,000m events for women.

But it was dominance like we haven't seen on a given day - first, second and third to kick off the day in the marathon, and then first, second, third and fourth to end it in the 10,000m.

Both races were testament to team dominance, but were punctuated by individual superstars, as first Edna Kiplagat re-inforced her emergence as a marathon star, and then Vivian Cheruiyot underlined her status as an all-time great in the making.  Both where also characterized by a battle between Kenya and Ethiopia.  In the end, it was no contest.  Kenya has always been a distance powerhouse, and in recent years, their women have begun to achieve the dominance we used to see from their men.

Today, they exceeded it, with arguably the most dominant day for any nation in the history of the sport.  Only six medals were on offer, of course, and there have been days where a nation has won more golds or more medals.  But six out of six, 100% success, is the kind of start to the championships that mean that even if they win nothing else (and with Rudisha in the 800, Chemos in the Steeplechase, the men's steeplechase, the men's 1500 and Vivian Cheruiyot in the 5,000 to come, this seems impossible), Kenya have already had a successful 2011.

Women's marathon - the biggest threat to Kenya was a Kenyan heel-clip!

The women's marathon was won by Edna Kiplagat in 2:28.43.  Priscah Jeptoo took second, while Sharon Cherop took bronze.

Cherop also nearly took her team-mate out of the race.  With about 15 minutes left to run, Cherop and Kiplagat cut across one another and they clipped legs.  In truth, it was nobody's fault, but Kiplagat went down fairly hard.  Cherop sportingly waited, and they helped Kiplagat back into a rhythm and she went on to win the day.

It was that kind of day for Kenya - the rest of the world was unable to keep up, and the biggest threat they faced turned out to be from within!  For a more detailed analysis of the race as well as press conference footage (and this will be the source of the best insight you get on all the events in these Championships), check out the Letsrun.com analysis of the marathon.

Women's 10,000m - another sweep, led by Cheruiyot

Then came the women's 10,000m.  This was a race billed as a clash between Vivian Cheruiyot and Mesert Defar, but it never materialized.  It was also expected to produce much drama, as track 10,000m races often do, particularly the 2009 title, where Meseret Defar tied up with 50m to go, then Melkamu looked to have won it and even began celebrating before Linet Masai pipped her for gold.

The drama was absent this time, but there was another "d" - Dominance.  Kenya utterly dominated this race, and would claim the top four places.  After the early pace was set by Shalane Flanagan, the Kenyans took over just before 4,000m in the form of defending champion Linet Masai who just maintained a steady pace of around 3:05/km.  The field was progressively cut down, and eventually, Defar was dropped with 2km to go.

That was a big surprise - her 5km season's best of 14:29 earlier this year would have suggested a better display than she produced, especially given that the first 5km of this final was run in 15:47.  Things must have turned for the worse since that performance, because with 8km to go, she was gapped and she would eventually not even finish the race.

At the front, only Meselech Melkamu resisted, the lone presence among four Kenyans.  Five reached the bell together, and then Cheruiyot went ahead and wound the pace up.  Only Sally Kipyego stayed in contact (not Masai as the commentary said until about 10 min after the race!), and Melkamu was in third, seemingly poised to break the Kenyan sweep.

But with 100m to go, Melkamu was reeled in and passed, first by Masai (who deserved a medal for her efforts - she led for almost the entire final 6,000m) and then by Priscah Cherono.  It meant Kenya went 1, 2, 3 and 4.

The pace in the end wasn't all that spectacular - Cheruiyot ran the final 400m in about 61 seconds, to clock 30:48.98 (second half is 15:01, which is quick).  Cheruiyot picked up a personal best, and her first gold of these championships.  Based on the form of the Ethiopians, few would bet against her winning the 5,000 later in the week.  We've seen faster races, and we've seen faster final laps, but we've rarely seen such complete dominance of a day and two events.

Kenya must be a happy place to be in the village tonight!

Other action - big guns on course, so far

In other action, the men's 800m went more or less to plan.  David Rudisha and Abubaker Kaki both completed comfortable front-running victories in their heats.  Their next stop is the semi-final, where it should be a lot tighter, but they look good bets to reach the anticipated head-to-head in Tuesday's final.

Usain Bolt rocketed out of the blocks in his 100m heat, and then "jogged" to a victory in 10.10s.  With Powell, Rodgers, Gay and Mullings all out (that's the four fastest men by time), Bolt was already the favourite, but as far as "routine" 10.10s performances go, Bolt made his look pretty spectacular.  The semi-final and final are tomorrow night.  Don't bet on a record, but don't bet against Bolt winning either.

Other events to look out for tomorrow are the men's 10,000m final, where there's a chance that the gold will NOT be going to Kenya or Ethiopia.  Mo Farah is a big favourite, but the big danger will be Kenenisa Bekele.  He hasn't raced in more than a year, and so no one really knows what to expect from him.  In one sense, you'd think it foolish to bet against a man who has actually never lost a competitive 10,000m.  But on the other, you'd be foolish to bet on a man who hasn't raced in so long!  Bekele is a big unknown, and that should be a fascinating race!

Follow us on Twitter for quick thoughts and updates

That's it for Day 1.  Please join us for coverage throughout - the action in Korea takes place at a really inconvenient time here in South Africa, as it happens right in the middle of the work day.  I'd wake up early to watch, but missing work might be a bit challenging...on some days, anyway!  So I may miss a few things live, but will try to bring you as much analysis and reporting as possible, even if it is delayed.

The twitter account will be active though, with regular thoughts and updates, and so if you want to stay abreast of the super-condensed Science of Sport analysis, follow us on Twitter!  It's already produced the debate that inspired the last post on Oscar Pistorius' performances!

For the rest, Letsrun.com are in Daegu, and their great post-race analysis and pre-race previews are highly recommended, so keep that page as a favorite for the next week!

Join us tomorrow!