Bolt shock and awe

Despite the reversal in the Worlds 100 metres, where he had some problems of fitness and form coming into the event, Usain Bolt took the IAAF ‘Athlete of the Year' award. He won the 200m in Daegu in 19.40s, the fourth fastest of all time at that stage in the season. Over to K. P. Mohan.

The shocker of the year was also the top ‘highlight of the year'. The man who provided that shock eventually ended up as the ‘Athlete of the Year'.

Three strides into the start of the 100 metres final in the World Championships in Daegu, Usain Bolt knew he had false-started. He held his head, in disappointment, peeled off his vest and started walking off even as the starter was confirming from replays who the ‘culprit' was.

With the world watching in disbelief, the seven others settled down in their blocks once again. Another Jamaican, Yohan Blake, took the most coveted sprint title in a modest 9.92s, with American Walter Dix coming in for the silver at 10.05s.

It was the poorest winning time since Kim Collins won in Paris in 2003 in 10.07. The top five had cracked 10 seconds on the last occasion in Berlin. None barring Blake came under 10 this time. In Blake's defence, and in defence of the rest of the field, it should be noted that there was a headwind of 1.4m/s in the Korean city for the 100m final.

Blake, a World junior bronze medallist in 2006, ended the year with an all-win record. He had a personal best of 9.82s in Zurich after the World Championships.

Despite the reversal in the 100 metres, where he had some problems of fitness and form coming into the Worlds, Bolt took the IAAF ‘Athlete of the Year' award. He won the 200 metres in Daegu in 19.40s, the fourth fastest of all time at that stage in the season.

Little did anyone imagine that Blake would clock the second fastest 200 metres time ever, 12 days after the Worlds, in winning the Ivo Van Damme Memorial in Brussels. It was a stunning 19.26s, a huge improvement over his previous best of 19.78s, clocked in Monte Carlo in 2010.

Bolt also timed his best for the season in the 100 metres in Brussels, 9.76s. Barring the setback in Daegu the Jamaican, who holds the world records of 9.58s and 19.19s for the two sprints, remained unbeaten through the season. His winning streak in the 200 metres, beginning from June, 2008, has touched 17 races.

Bolt, Blake, Nesta Carter and Michael Frater powered Jamaica to a world record in the 4x100m in Daegu, with 37.04s, bettering the previous record of 37.10s set by another Jamaican team in Beijing 2008.

A prominent figure missing in the Daegu sprint field was American Tyson Gay. He had a hip injury, and just as it turned out during the Olympic trials in 2008, he pulled out of the U.S. championships this time, too. Gay is the last man to have beaten Bolt over a completed dash over the straight, the win coming in Stockholm in August, 2010.

You might not have even heard of Kirani James. But the 19-year-old lad from the Caribbean island of Grenada, a former World junior and Youth (200m) champion, is the new World champion in the 400 metres. He had the measure of defending champion LaShawn Merritt of the U.S., coming back from a doping suspension, over the final few strides.

James clocked 44.60 in pulling off this great upset, with Merritt home in 44.63s. Jeremy Wariner, whom Merritt had beaten in the last Olympics, was absent due to injury. James was to clock a PB and National record of 44.36s while winning the Weltklasse in Zurich a few days after the Worlds. Once again, he beat Merritt. James was just one of several youngsters who made a big impact this season.

Daegu marked the return of Kenyan middle distance runners in a big way. World record holder David Rudisha (1:43.91) won the 800 metres and Asbel Kiprop took the 1500 (3:35.69). The year also saw the emergence of a youngster in the 800. Ethiopian Mohammed Aman made sensation through the year, taking the silver in the World youth, making the final in the World Championships, bettering the Ethiopian national record with a 1:43.37 and finally beating Rudisha in rain in Milan. Aman will be turning 18 on January 10, 2012.

Englishman Mo Farah's emergence as a new World champion in the 5000 metres after narrowly missing the 10,000m gold, contrasted with the eclipse of Kenenisa Bekele. The Ethiopian great, who had not run since January, 2010, was clearly ill-prepared while gunning for his fifth 10,000m title and went out after 17 minutes.

But Bekele was to run the world's leading time in the 10,000, with a 26:43.16 in Brussels in his only completed race of the season, after the Worlds!

The Kenyans also dominated the women's distance events, with Vivian Cheruiyot scoring the 5,000-10,000 double in the Worlds.

The disqualification of Cuban Dayron Robles, after crossing the line first in what was billed as an explosive clash of the best ever field in the 110m hurdles, proved no solace for Chinese Liu Xiang. The Chinese was returning to the big stage after his Beijing Olympics disappointment and he looked ready to challenge the Cuban before being impeded by the latter's arm.

Robles' disqualification brought American Jason Richardson into the number one spot with Liu Xiang taking silver. American David Oliver, one of the pre-race favourites, finished fourth. The winning time was 13.16s.

The women's high hurdles gold went to Australian Sally Pearson in 12.28s. She was also adjudged the ‘IAAF Woman athlete of the Year'.

The Commonwealth Games champion clocked the fourth fastest time ever and bettered a championship record (12.34s) that was set 24 years ago. She broke into tears as she crossed the line.

If that was a great moment for Australia and an emotional one for Pearson, disappointment was in store for the Aussies as Olympic and defending champion Steve Hooker went out in the men's pole vault competition, no-heighting at 5.50m during qualification. He happens to have a best of 6.06m.

The biggest name in women's pole vault, Yelena Isinbayeva, also went out without making an impact in the World Championships, finishing sixth with just 4.65m. The Russian had come back after skipping the outdoor season last year. Her best this season was 4.76m in Stockholm, her only big meet win, as against her world record of 5.06m.

Leading the youth brigade, apart from the likes of James and Aman, were American triple jumper Christian Taylor and German shot putter David Storl. Taylor jumped an astonishing 17.96 in Daegu to win the title ahead of such stalwarts like Philips Idowu of Britain, Nelson Evora of Portugal and Christian Olsson of Sweden. Teddy Tamgho, the Frenchman, who would have been the odds on favourite, was absent because of an injury.

Former World youth and World junior champion Storl completed his haul of World titles, scoring an upset in the shot put competition, at 21.78m, ahead of Canadian Commonwealth Games champion and season leader Dylan Armstrong and Belarus's Andrey Mikhnevich. Defending champion Christian Cantwell of the U.S. came fourth. The last time the Americans failed to win a shot put medal was in 1991.

Maria Abakumova of Russia and world record holder and Olympic champion Barabora Spotakova of the Czech Republic were engaged in an epic battle in the women's javelin contest in the Worlds. The Russian won with a fifth-round throw of 71.99m, the second farthest in history. Spotakova, who had taken the lead in the same round with 71.58, had to be content with the silver.

Betty Heidler of Germany had a world record in women's hammer, at 79.42m, at Halle, Germany, in May. However, she could not win the World title, the honour going to Tatyana Lysenko of Russia at 77.13m.

Kenyan Patrick Makau brought off a sensational world record in the marathon, winning in Berlin in two hours, three minutes 38 seconds, slicing 21 seconds off Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie's mark set on the same course in 2008.

* * * Spurt in 'positive' tests

Indian athletics was put to shame as six woman 400m runners, all aiming to make it to the London Olympics, tested positive for steroids in May-June.

Mandeep Kaur, Ashwini A. C. and Sini Jose, part of the gold-winning relay quartet in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, along with Jauna Murmu, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas, were the ones to get into the doping controversy. The athletes have been banned for one-year.

The year generally saw a spurt in ‘positive' tests among athletes, something that was of concern to the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) apart from the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA).

On the brighter side, discus thrower Vikas Gowda and woman long jumper Mayookha Johny made the finals in the World Championships. Gowda came seventh with 64.05m while Mayookha finished ninth with 6.37m after a 6.53m in the qualification round.

Tintu Luka, the middle distance prodigy from the Usha School of Athletics, could make only the semifinals in the women's 800 metres, but had the satisfaction of qualifying for the Olympics with a time of 2:00.95.