Champion of champions

By the sheer brilliance of his performance, David Rudisha stood out in 2010. The Kenyan bettered the world record in the 800m twice within the span of a week. K. P. Mohan reviews the year that was.

Usain Bolt was beaten after a 14-final, 23-month-long winning streak in the 100 metres by Tyson Gay. But that was not the sole highlight of the year. There were plenty others in a drawn-out year despite the fact that there were no global championships.

By the sheer brilliance of his performance, David Rudisha stood out in 2010. The Kenyan, who would have turned 22 by the time this appears in print, bettered the world record in the 800m twice within the span of a week.

Everyone seemed to be prepared for the record when it happened. That was the kind of promise that Rudisha held out since winning the World junior title in 2006. The man himself said that he expected to break the record twice this season!

“I just knew I was in good shape. The conditions were perfect. I expected to break two records in seven days,” said Rudisha after he brought down the record to 1:41.01 in Rieti, Italy, on August 29. He had clocked 1:41.09 in Berlin the previous week to erase Wilson Kipketer's world mark of 1:41.11 that had withstood assaults by so many runners through the past 13 years.

None other than Kipketer, the Kenya-born Dane, had identified Rudisha as the man who could beat his world record early in the latter's career. But then, another 21-year-old African looked poised to strike. Abubaker Kaki Khamis, the 2008 World junior champion from Sudan, had been threatening to reach that record first since he clocked a 1:42.69 at the Bislett Games in Oslo in 2008.

At the same Bislett Games he clocked another impressive 1:42.23, but this time he was behind Rudisha (1:42.04). The famous 800m rivalries of the 80s looked to be taking shape all over again as the two clashed again more than two months later.

Rudisha won again, in Brussels, 1: 43.50 to 1:43.84. Kaki, the youngest ever World indoor champion, at the age of 18, in Valencia in 2008, has a 5-3 career record against the world record holder but as seniors, Rudisha is ahead. Surprisingly, both did not make the final of the 800m at the last World Championships in Berlin.

Another Kenyan youngster who made a tremendous impact was Silas Kiplagat. The 21-year-old, who comes from the Moses Kiptanui stable in Eldoret, clocked 3:29.27 to win the 1500m title in the Herculis meet in Monaco in July. That was his first race on the European circuit and he became the 10th fastest on the all-time lists for the distance.

Kiplagat went on to win the Commonwealth Games gold in Delhi, in a slow 3:41.78. He became only the fourth Kenyan to win the men's 1500m title in the Games, a feat first accomplished by the legendary Kipchoge Keino in 1970. Kiplagat was disappointed that Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop had pulled out of the Delhi CWG.

The 3:29.27 stood as the world-leading mark till the end of the season, while Kiplagat also won in Berlin (3:30.61) and Villeneuve d'Ascq, France (3:35.50).

The year proved a good one for Kenyans overall. Apart from Rudisha and Kiplagat, there were Kenyan leaders in the season lists in the men's mile (Asbel Kiprop 3:49.56), 5000m (Eliud Kipchoge 12:51.21), 10,000m (Josephat Menjo 26:56.74), marathon (Patrick Makau 2:04.48), 3000m steeplechase (Brimin Kipruto 8:00.90) and in the women's 5000m (Vivian Cheruiyot 14:27.41) and 3000m steeplechase (Milcah Chemos).

The Americans seemed to have regained ground over the shorter distances on the track. Tyson Gay's victory over Bolt, in Stockholm in August, ended the long winning streak in the 100m of the Jamaican superstar, who holds the world records in the 100m and 200m, and has sprint doubles in both Olympics and World championships.

That streak had started with the Olympic title in Beijing, in a world record 9.69s. In 13 of the 14 races till Gay beat him, the Jamaican had clocked below 10 seconds, the exception being in Toronto in June, 2009 when he timed 10.00. Of course that streak also included the world record of 9.58s in the Berlin World Championships in 2009.

Bolt pulled out of the rest of the season in August due to a back injury, opting to preserve himself for the important season in 2011 when the World Championships would come around, and the Olympic year of 2012.

Gay went on to win in London and Brussels to complete the 'Samsung Diamond League' circuit at the top of the standings in the shorter dash to get the ‘Diamond Race' award. The Diamond League was an innovation that the IAAF brought in to expand the Golden League that was confined to Europe earlier.

The new League extended to other continents as well with meetings in Shanghai, China, and Doha, Qatar, apart from Eugene and New York in the US. Thirty-two events were held, in a staggered manner, through these 14 Golden League meets, eventually ending with a jackpot for the athlete, in each event, with the maximum points, worth $40,000 and a diamond trophy.

Gay was unbeaten in the 100 through the season, topping the world lists with a 9.78s, in London in August, which was equalled by Jamaican Nesta Carter in Rieti, Italy, 16 days later.

Meanwhile, dope-tainted Justin Gatlin made a comeback after a two-year suspension. The American had a season best of only 10.09s, but vowed to make his presence felt next season.

Jamaican Asafa Powell was also injured for much of the season, and the Commonwealth Games, in the absence of all the top Caribbeans, lacked the glamour normally associated with sprints. In fact, the overall standards, except for a few events, were very low in the Games, allowing a country like India to win a bronze each in the men's and women's sprint relays.

The American success also stretched to the men's 400m, where Jeremy Wariner was dominant in the Diamond League, winning in Shanghai, Rome, Lausanne, Paris, London and Zurich and pocketing the ‘Diamond race' award.

The Americans were also prominent in the men's 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles, with David Oliver clocking 12.89 at St. Denis, France, on July 16 for the fourth best timing on the all-time charts, and Bershawn Jackson posting 47.32s in the National championships for the joint 16th place on the all-time lists.

Oliver had the top five timings for the season, all below 13 seconds, while world record holder Dayron Robles (Cuba) and former world record holder Liu Xiang (China) figured below him with 13.01s and 13.09s respectively. Liu Xiang clocked that at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, winning in front of 70,000 screaming fans. That was his third successive Asian Games title. On the field, Frenchman Teddy Tamgho's 17.98 metres in triple jump, in New York in June, was the highlight of the season. It was the best in nearly 12 years since world record holder (18.29m) Jonathan Edwards (Britain) jumped 17.99 in Budapest in August, 1998. Only Edwards and American Kenny Harrison have jumped farther.

Tamgho, world junior champion in 2008, also had a world indoor record of 17.90m while winning the title in the World indoor championships in Doha in March. He was third behind Briton Phillips Idowu and Romanian Marian Oprea in the European Championships in Barcelona. Idowu skipped the Commonwealth Games, allowing Nigerian Tosin Oke to win with a modest 17.16m.

American Christian Cantwell topped the shot put lists with 22.41m and also won the Diamond League overall trophy in his event, while Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen was the only javelin thrower to cross 90 metres in the year. He touched 90.37 in Floro, Norway, in May.

Polish woman Anita Wlodarczyk updated her world record in hammer throw with a 78.30 in Bydgoszcz, Poland in June, improving upon her 2009 mark of 77.96m.

In the 400m hurdlers, American Lashinda Demus (52.82s, joint 11th on all-time lists) and European champion Natalya Antyukh of Russia (52.92s) were prominent among the women. Kazakhstan's Olga Rypakova posted an Asian record of 15.25m in triple jump while winning the Continental Cup in Split, Croatia.

Alongside Rudisha, the woman to be chosen for the ‘Athlete of the Year' award was Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic. She capped a brilliant season with a 2.05m in Split that gave her the Continental Cup title. She was beaten only twice through the season and had an imposing 32 points from seven Diamond League meetings, winning all of them.

There was a flutter when Haile Gebrselassie announced his retirement after he failed to complete the New York City marathon. The Ethiopian distance star, arguably the greatest athlete of our times, reversed that decision soon.

Nothing much was heard of another great distance runner from Ethiopia, Kenenisa Bekele since a calf muscle injury kept him out of the season. Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva also skipped the outdoor season as she had announced that she was taking a break.

Indian athletics had cause to cheer in 2010. With a record haul of a dozen medals in the Commonwealth Games, including two gold medals through discus thrower Krishna Poonia, and the women's 4x400m relay, India received more than the normal attention in the world of athletics.

The five-gold collection by Indian athletes in the Asian Games was also on unexpected lines. Joseph Abraham (400m hurdles), Preeja Sreedharan (10,000m), Sudha Singh (3000m steeplechase), A. C. Ashwini (400m hurdles) and the 4x400m relay team were the gold winners in Guangzhou.

Trust in the ex-Soviet system of training, with Ukrainian and Belarus coaches in attendance, with long stints in Kiev or Yalta, has paid rich dividends to Indian athletics. That someone like Ashwini could cut down her timing from 60.15s at the beginning of the season to 56.15s in the Asian Games, after having started out in the hurdles only this season, confirms the belief that Yalta and Ukrainian coaches and recovery experts hold the key to the phenomenal improvement in Indian athletics.

Outside of the gold-winning batch, Tintu Luka was the one to impress through the season though she could manage only a bronze in the Asian Games and failed to get anything in the Commonwealth Games. The 21-year-old Kerala girl clocked a National record of 1:59.17 for the 800m while coming fifth in the Continental Cup in Split. She had five other timings below 2:02 for the season.

Shot putter Om Prakash and triple jumper Renjith Maheswary disappointed in Guangzhou after promising much. Renjith won the bronze in the CWG, with a National record 17.07m, but finished out of the medals bracket in the Asian Games, while Om Prakash, Asian champion, went without a medal in both the Games. He, however, had a season best of 19.99m.

Long jumper Mayookha Johny could not realise her potential in the Asian Games after having jumped 6.64m at home. She had a 6.33m in Guangzhou for the seventh place after having come sixth (6.30m) in the CWG.

The year saw quite a number of doping cases in India, with walker Rani Yadav testing positive in the CWG, long jumper Renubala Mahanta being ‘caught' in the World juniors in Moncton, Canada, and sprinter Suresh Sathya failing a dope test before the Asian Games.

The other prominent athletes to test positive included Delhi shot putter Saurab Vij, who was able to compete in the CWG and the Asian Games since his provisional suspension was lifted, and Tamil Nadu sprinter Sharadha Narayana.