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Monday, August 24, 2009

IAAF World Champs awards

The IAAF World Champs - our Oscar awards

The IAAF World champs are over. It has been a frantic 9 days of athletics, some remarkable performances, and some dramatic controversies.

Perhaps one day, we'll look back at the 2009 Championships and remember them for Usain Bolt's double world record performance, for Kenenisa Bekele's 5000m-10000m double, and for the dominance of Jamaica in the sprints. In many respects, these World Championships have looked a lot like the Beijing Olympics.

On the other hand, they have been the Championships of surprises - no Ethiopian gold medal over 5,000m or 10,000m, no Isinbaeva medal, and a host of mild surprises over the hurdles, and it was a highly entertaining and dramatic event.

Then there was the controversy over Caster Semenya, which has dominated the media here in South Africa. Her countryman, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, yesterday won 800m gold and sees South Africa having both 800m champions, which is a great achievement, but one which has really been tarnished by the whole situation.

However, today's post is a recap of the track and field action, not the drama currently being played out in the media. And so here are the Science of Sport "Oscars" for the IAAF World Championships.

The "Make it a double award"

This award goes to many athletes who have won double world titles in the last week. And there are many: Kenenisa Bekele stands out as having done the distance double, a remarkable achievement, and a repeat of the Beijing Games. Then there are a host of athletes who doubled up thanks to relay golds: Kerron Clement in the 400m hurdles and relay, LaShawn Merritt in the 400m and 4 x 400m relay, Sanya Richards in the same events, Allyson Felix over 200m and 4 x 400m, and Shelly-Ann Fraser in the 100m and 4 x 100m relay.

Then there athletes who medaled in two events, but not golds - Bernard Lagat in the men's 1500m (bronze) and 5000m (silver), and Yusuf Saad Kamel in the 1500m (gold) and 800m (bronze). I'm sure there are other who won multiple medals as a result of relays (Jeremy Wariner comes to mind), but you get the idea...

The "Make it a triple" award

There was only one athlete who scooped three gold medals, and that person was Usain Bolt, the star of the show for the second successive multi-day athletics meeting. After Beijing 2008, few would have thought that Bolt could repeat that level of performance in one Championships, let alone surpass it. And I guess Beijing had three world records, Berlin "only" two, but Bolt stole the show in Berlin, and has pushed athletics very much to the front of people's minds. The sport has never enjoyed such a profile, thanks to his personality and his performances. So along with the "Make it a triple" award, he also gets the "Athlete of the Championship" award.

The "Make it a quintuple" award

Once again, this goes to Usain Bolt, though this award stretches over Beijing and Berlin. Five races, five world records, and Usain Bolt was on a perfect streak. Starting on the 16th of August 2008, Bolt simply did not win gold medals without breaking world records. A 200m record, a relay record, and then a demolition of BOTH the 100m and 200m records meant that Bolt had run in five major finals and bagged five world records. The streak was ended when Jamaica "only" ran the second fastest time ever in the relay, but Bolt's star is about as bright as it can be.

The "So near, yet so Defar" award

Also called the "Go 99% and then stop", this goes, predictably, to Meseret Defar, of Ethiopia, who, in the final 10m of both the 5,000m and 10,000m races basically gave up and lost places as a result.

Defar was a heavy favourite to win gold in at least one of the two events she'd entered, particularly once Tirunesh Dibaba, the Olympic Champion, had withdrawn. In the end, she got neither, being outkicked first by Linet Masai in the 10,000m and then by Vivian Cheruiyot in the 5,000m. Defar basically stopped running in both races - in the 10,000m, she seemed injured, so rapidly did she "go backwards", and she was caught, not only for first, but all the way down to fifth. In the 5,000m, once passed by Cheruiyot, she jogged in and finished third.

Defar's greatest strength has always been her kick, but she has been matched in Berlin. Interestingly, Defar has not gotten slower - the others have caught up. The last lap in Osaka in 2007 was run in just under 59 seconds, the same as the last lap in Berlin this year. So while Defar's speed has in the past been unchallenged, she is now finding women with her, and she doesn't seem to have the sprint or the composure to hold it together all the way across the line.

The "Who is he" award?

This goes to the biggest surprise winner in Berlin, Ryan Brathwaite. The injury to Dayron Robles took out one of the week's biggest favourites, and Brathwaite stepped in to claim the title by the narrowest of margins, with three men diving for the line. A great race, and a completely unexpected champion.

The "Who is she" award?

The winner of this award depends on how you want to define "surprise". The newest surprise in the women's events was probably Caster Semenya. That said, she did come into the Champs with the worlds fastest time this year, a full second faster than anyone else, and so to say she won as an outsider is not entirely true. Her world ranking was number 1, and she finished number 1. However, consider that three weeks ago, you'd probably never heard the name Semenya, and now she may just be the most talked about woman in the sport (for the wrong reasons, from her perspective) and you appreciate just how big of an impact she had on these Championships.

But the winner of the award is Anna Rogowska, of Poland. She is not unknown (so it's a little harsh to ask "who is she?", but she was a big surprise. The biggest favourite of the whole week was Elena Isinbaeva, and she couldn't clear a height. The Pole (pardon the pun) took gold, and scoops the award for biggest upset win in women's events.

Race of the championships

There were so many, it's impossible to decide. The women's 10,000m was amazing, there were perhaps 3 lead changes in the final 120m, and a surprise winner. The men's 5,000m was incredible, with Kenenisa Bekele holding off the 1500m specialist Bernard Lagat in a great sprint.

But the winner is the men's 100m, simply because it was such an incredible performance by Usain Bolt, and Tyson Gay. Yes, Gay was beaten soundly, but he ran into previously unchartered territory, and can stand tall for his efforts. As for Bolt, well, what more can be said?

The "Kissing the tartan" award

There were an incredibly high number of falls during the week. Left, right and centre, athletes were going down and then being re-instated on appeal. First Jepkosgei fell after colliding with Semenya (talk about making a big entrance). Then a number of athletes in the women's 1500m went down. Then in the 800m for men, Abubaker Kaki fell, taking Bram Som and Marcin
Lewandowski with him. We even had medal results changed as a result of falls, when Natalia Rodriguez of Spain won the women's 1500m title after putting Gelete Burka on the ground with 200m to go. Her disqualification, and Burka's ultimate failure, may have been the most significant fall of the week.

However, for "crowd pleaser" status, Abubaker Kaki's fall takes the prize, as seen in the picture to the right! He didn't get reinstated, but he gets the consolation of having this picture of his fall receive our award for "Kissing the tartan!". You can see the whole sequence of pictures here.

The "week off award"

And finally, I'm giving myself the week off award, to recover from Berlin, where I wrote 12 articles and responded to maybe 300 comments on the Caster Semenya story in the last week! I feel as tired as Meseret Defar looked at the end of her races!

Only kidding! I'll be back later in the week when the European athletics season resumes! There's a lot of other work to be done between now and then, so do forgive some silence on the site for a day or two! Thanks for following the IAAF World Champs with us, there's more to come, especially on the Semenya story, and a whole season of athletics still to go.


Oh, wait, one last award...

For the coolest mascot ever at a sports event. All mascots should be encouraged to bring such humor to sport, because athletics needs all the growth and entertainment value it can get! Meet Berlino:

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Anonymous said...

Trey Hardee (decathlon)should be considered for the "who is he" award.

Unknown said...

Bolt is the man but phelps is almost as phenomenal as usain, but since we live on the ground we consider bolt's achievements bigger than phelps'
p.s: i still think usain is better overall so don't insult me, please


Anonymous said...

The 800m is probably one of the hardest events to go out and win.

Short enough to be hard on mistakes, long enough that you can't just 'be the fastest', lots of jostling, probably the most tactical.

The South African, Malaudzi deserves kudos for running it in the only way that could have ensured a victory...leading from the front to nullify being outkicked.

Isn't it great to see a 'balls on the line' 800m...classic and deserving of at least a mention, don't you think?

Eric said...

I'm still highly PROUD of the South African athletes! 2014 is going to be very different from the last olympics for South Africa!

Rocky said...

Thanks for the coverage guys. I also (as a biased Australian) want to nominate Steve 'One Jump' Hooker for his Gold in the Men's Pole Vault. He was injured so he only did one vault in qualifying and then in the final only did 2 more jumps and claimed the gold.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Sam

Yes, indeed he was. I should perhaps have mentioned him. And the thing is, he didn't sneak home in a relatively lower standard of competition, he led from the front and really did dominate a deep and very strong event, so he was great!

To Ronnie:
No insult from me, I think Bolt is great, I'd say Phelps is as much a legend in his sport, and some would say even more dominant, because he has had a career over 3 Olympic Games, a champion in two of them, and so for longevity, Bolt has not had the chance to match him. But I agree with you!

To Anonymous, 12h50:

You're right,especially the men's 800m. There are maybe 15 men who could win that - I would be interested to see an analysis of the event at the end of the season, and if you have maybe 20 races, I reckon you might well get 15 different winners, and very few multiple winners. I think most events probably have three or four winners.

So yes, Mulaudzi ran it smartly and bravely, he did very well. It was a great performance.

But give us a break! I can't mention every single performance. I also should have mentioned Vlasic in the high jump, Sanya Richards in the 400m, Felix in the 200, and so forth. I don't think the 800m stood out more than any other event, and I had to stop somewhere!

To Eric:

You mean 2012, obviously, but certainly, there are positive signs for South Africa. There are also some negative signs, and I think one must acknowledge this, because the Olympics are still 3 years away, and so I would rather wait until the 2011 World Champs before I agree with you.

From my point of view, we now have four great athletes, and nothing else. Three of those four won medals in Berlin (LJ van Zyl is the fourth). In Beijing last year, we had three world class athletes, one won a medal.

Semenya, depending on the outcome of these tests, can become a world record holder and dominant 800m runner, and so she is a good prospect. Mokoena has proven himself to be our best athlete for consistency. And Mulaudzi has been the best 800m runner for many years, and deserves gold. The question mark against him is age, because he's been around for 7 years at the top level, and it's difficult to go on for another 3. I'd be very surprised if he does so, though he has surprised before.

So I would not get too carried away. When you look at sports achievements, you must not look at the quality of the athletes you happen to have - this is not a sustainable competitive advantage. rather, you must look at the system that manages the athletes, and ASA has done little to suggest to me that we will be able to sustain these performances.

Time will tell. One thing to be very worried about is the absence of women from our team (only 5 in the squad) and the lack of depth.

Finally, to Rocky:

You don't need bias to nominate Hooker - I should have done so in my original post, that was an incredible performance! We'll give him the "one jump wonder" award, or maybe call it the big impact award.


Frans Rutten said...

I didn't see the outcome of the Pole Vault, so I was very surprised to see Hooker on top. He is in for the "Houdini reward", while Isinbaeva, who had to challenge more or less the same situation, didn't do the trick.

Pole Vault on a major championship apparently is one of the most challenging events you can imagine.

Rens Blom, Dutchman, got under very difficult conditions quite unexpected the Gold Medal in 2005.

He NEVER again nearly succeeded in doing remotely the same. He finally quit pole vaulting being extremely frustrated. "From Heaven to Hell".

Anonymous said...

Dear Sam Callan,
Hardee's triumph hardly came surprising. A great victory, a huge PB - in a competition wich boasted 20 (twenty!) performances of 8000+ pts [even without Clay, Pappas; Maurice Smith/ Mikk Pahapill (hurt themselves in Berlin), Michael Schrader (injured before), Karpov (not in best shape), Schwarzl from Austria... !!]

But I really consider it a shame most (US-) American decathletes seem not be able to perpare properly for a decent final 1500m. Watching Clay jogging home in Beijing - not even trying to better the Olympic record or the American record by Dan O'Brien -> a lousy 1500-metres-runner himself - made me lose much respect...
Don't they see how many points can be gained in the final run?!


Steve said...

hey have you guys thought about looking at what usain might run in the 400m?