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Thursday, September 01, 2011

IAAF World Champs: USA's hat-trick on a day of surprises

IAAF World Champs report Day 6:  The USA claim three on a day of surprises

Six finals, and four nations won medals today, as the USA delivered a hat-trick of titles in what was a day of mild (and big) surprises.

The USA's medals came in the form of Jesse Williams in the high jump (least surprising - he was the world leader after all), Lashinda Demus in the 400m hurdles (mildly surprising, though she was second in Berlin and is a class act, always competitive), and then Jennifer Barringer-Simpson, in the biggest surprise of all, in the women's 1500m in a very peculiar race.

Also claiming gold were Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya (Steeplechase), Dai Greene of Great Britain (400m hurdles) and Olha Saladuha of Ukraine in the triple-jump.

A short summary of the track finals is below, along with YouTube clips of some, for those who missed them!

Kemboi explodes, celebrates and entertains for Kenya's fourth gold

Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya defended his 3000m steeplechase world title with an incredible explosion of speed in the final 200m, opening up such a huge lead that he actually won the race in lane 7 by the end.  The sprint was on after a slow race, yet Kemboi got so far clear that he had time to celebrate pretty much from the final barrier, and drifted out into lane 7 doing so!  Brimin Kipruto got silver, holding off a fasting finishing Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad on the line.

This was always going to be a fascinating race.  Earlier in the year, France's Benabbad had delivered a huge warning to Kenya that their dominance in the Steeplechase would be challenged in a big way in Daegu, when he ran away from a strong field, including Kemboi, to win the Paris Diamond League event.  On that occasion, Benabbad ran 8:02, and won by five seconds from Kemboi, and it was a performance that gave the Daegu final an added dimension - not only would it see great competition, but it might bring out a great tactical battle.

Kenya, of course, had four athletes in the race, by virtue of the fact that Kemboi was defending champion.  The other was Brimin Kipruto, who had missed the world record by 1/100th of a second earlier this season, having been led by Paul Koech in a great Diamond League race in Monaco.  Koech had been left out of this race, and so it was expected to be a Kipruto-Kemboi battle against Benabbad.  And given Benabbad's great finish in that Paris race (he put five seconds on the field in the final lap), I fully expected Kenya to send one of their two "lesser" runners out and make this a super fast race, given that Kipruto and Kemboi had run 7:55 or faster earlier this year.

That didn't happen. Then again, Bennabad didn't seem to be quite as strong as he had been in Paris, because he ran the whole race about 5m off the Kenyans, never in among them, which was surprising.  The early pace was set by Ramolefi, but it was slow - 2:47 to the first kilometer.  That was followed by 2:46, by which time the east Africans (three Kenyans and two Ugandans) were in front, and Benabbad and Tahri, also of France, just behind.  Down the back-straight, it was Kemboi and Kipruto who went clear, and only a massive late charge by Bennabad got him bronze, and in truth, he nearly caught Kipruto from behind (when you watch the video below, look at how far behind Benabbad is coming into the final straight, and watch how close he comes to catching Kipruto - he makes up about 2 seconds in 80m!  That kind of speed was however "wasted", and Benabbad, in my opinion, ran a strange race to allow that gap to appear in the first place.  I was surprised that he wasn't more attentive throughout the race, given his Paris victory and his obvious speed)

But Kemboi was untouchable today.  He was beaten into second by Kipruto in that Monaco race, running 7:55.76, but this was a championship race, and he has been remarkable in medal races in the last eight years.  Here is the list of performances:  2nd in 2003 World Champs, 1st 2004 Olympics, 2nd 2005 World Champs, 1st 2006 Commonwealth Games, 2nd 2007 World Champs, 1st 2009 World Champs and 2nd 2010 Commonwealth Games.  The only blemish was a 7th in Beijing, but other than that, Kemboi has been a 'guaranteed' silver or gold!

The video below shows the final 500m and watch for the Kemboi kick as they clear the third-last barrier at the end of the back straight.  It's so good, as mentioned, that he had time to start celebrating after the final jump, 50m from the line.  He danced over the line, and continued to celebrate, stripping off the vest and dancing, perhaps the Kenyan equivalent of Usain Bolt's "chicken dance" from Beijing!  Kemboi is a great entertainer, the sport needs it.  In all, it was a magnificent performance - that final 200m was as impressive a sprint as anything I've seen.

In case you missed it, here is a clip (not English, but the quality is the best I could find on YouTube now).  It really is worth a watch.

Jennifer Barringer-Simpson wins the 1500m title

The biggest surprise came from Jenny Barringer Simpson, who won gold in the women's 1500m in what was a strange race for a number of reasons.  For one, none of the favourites came through.  A fall with 550m unfortunately took out one of those favourites, Morgan Uceny of the USA.  Even more strange was that the big favourite, Maryan Jamal of Bahrain, began drifting away from the front of the race as early as 450m to go, was completely out of contention with 250m to go, and trailed in last place, fully 17 seconds behind the winner.  And yes, she shut down once out of contention, but her "challenge" was notable because, well, it was completely non-existent in the final 300m (she was seemingly bumped with about 450m to go, and perhaps that affected her finish.  She certainly has developed a habit of producing massively inconsistent performances though)

The USA would have had high hopes for this race, but most of them were with Uceny, who had been winning Diamond League races this season.  Barringer-Simpson was, not to be unkind, "the other American", though her 1500m credentials are impressive, including a sub-4 PB back in 2009.  It's jsut that she hadn't really showed that kind of form this year.  And so when Uceny went down in a pretty spectacular tumble with 550m to go, it seemed that the USA's chances took a drastic turn for the worse.

Not according to Barringer-Simpson - she ran a perfect race, always in contention, avoiding the barging and congestion that comes with a slow pace.  She moved out into lane two with about 150m to run, and as the final straight unfolded, she was right there, with clear track in front of her, and she took advantage.  Hannah England was a strong (and delightedly surprised) second, and Natalia Rodriguez of Spain (another pre-race favourite) faded somewhat having led into the final straight to come third.

In the end, the pace was slow, which made it all the more peculiar.  The first lap was 68.78, followed by a 65.16, leading to the congestion that would ultimately end Uceny's challenge in the fall.  The pace was ramped up with 500m to go, when Rodriguez went to the front.  She led through the bell, and all the way to about 40m to go, when Barringer-Simpson swept by. 

The final 300m were covered in about 46s, which is fast, but not spectacular - final laps of under 60 seconds have been run before (sub 45s for final 300m), off more or less the same pace.  But in the end, it was a race of attrition, a wide open race to begin with, that opened up repeatedly during the final, and Barringer-Simpson was there, deservedly, to move through and claim gold.  The race is below if you missed it

Men's 400m hurdles - Dai Greene for Great Britain

Great Britain have had a good, though perhaps slightly disappointing World Champs until tonight.  They would have been very positive about their chances for gold with Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon and Mo Farah in the 10,000m, but ended up with silver instead.

Tonight would have rectified their predictions somewhat - first came Hannah England's silver in the 1500m (surely an unexpected medal), and then Dai Greene delivered by claiming the men's 400m hurdles gold with a storming final 80m.  It's perhaps not a huge surprise - Greene was always going to be in contention, and looked strong in the semi-finals, but he was not an overwhelming favourite.  He beat Javier Culson into silver, while LJ van Zyl of South Africa claimed bronze, holding off a fast finishing Felix Sanchez.  Bershawn Jackson and Angelo Taylor finished sixth and seventh, which is significant because it's the first World Championships since 2001 where a medal has not gone to the USA in the event.  Greene's medal also has historical significance - it's the first medal for GBR in the event since 1991!

The time was also relatively slow - 48.27s.  There was some wind, of course, but it's interesting to note that this was the slowest winning time in the 400m hurdles in the history of the World Championships, dating back to 1983.  The 400m hurdles has been this way all season, in fact - since LJ van Zyl's world leader back in April, very few sub-48s performances have been seen.  Like the women's 1500m, the 400m hurdles is wide open leading into London.

Women's 400m hurdles - Demus runs a perfect race

"Slow" is not a word you'd use to describe the women's 400m hurdles final.  In fact, it was the third fastest race in history, as Lashinda Demus of the USA picked up the gold with a brilliant 52.47 performance, holding off Melaine Walker, the Jamaican defending champion who started out in Lane 8 as a result of her relatively poor semi-final performance.

Walker had a great race, actually, running a season's best of 52.73s (anything sub-53s is rare - only 15 women in history have done it), but Demus was just better.  They raced into the final hurdle together, Demus slightly ahead, but Demus had the stride pattern perfect, hit the hurdle at speed, and extended the margin to win, improving on her silver from Berlin two years ago.  The race is below


oscar grant said...

Hi! Regarding the discussion about the fairness of the starting rule following the false start by Usain Bolt I think it would be great if you could investigate the first 200m semi-final for men. It looked like someone triggered Viana to false start who was disqaulified. Perhaps it was lane 7 Maslák, but I'm not sure since i don't have access to any high quality replay.