There was Bolt, there were others, too

Outside of Bolt and his spectacular sprinting and Bekele’s distance double, Yelena Isinbayeva’s shock elimination without a height against her name in women’s pole vault, and a world record (77.96m) by Polish woman hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk were the highlights of the nine-day championships.

In a championships where one man, through his superhuman efforts, cornered all the attention, it was almost impossible for the rest to make an impact. The IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin was all about Usain Bolt and his lightning sprints, though there were many personalities, performances and contests that whetted the appetite of the enthusiasts.

“In my eyes it is correct that Usain gets that much more attention, because what he did was unique. He not only won the two golds, but broke two World records as well. What Usain Bolt does is good for the development of our sport,” said Kenenisa Bekele, who also performed a unique feat that of winning the distance double in the Worlds.

Bekele has said that he would be ready for an 800m contest against Bolt. “I would definitely beat him at this distance,” he said. But 800 looks doubtful for Bolt who is not even giving much thought to the prospects of running the 400 metres that almost everyone has been suggesting.

Outside of Bolt and his spectacular sprinting and Bekele’s distance double, Yelena Isinbayeva’s shock elimination without a height against her name in women’s pole vault, and a world record (77.96m) by Polish woman hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk were the highlights of the nine-day championships. Six championships records were bettered, four Area records re-written, 48 National records tumbled, including the one by Indian walker Babubhai Panocha, and 16 world-leading marks set.

Ethiopian Bekele is truly the undisputed distance king. He had a historic double in Berlin when he claimed gold in the 5000 metres and the 10,000 metres, just as he had done in the Beijing Games. Only the great Haile Gebrselassie, Bekele’s illustrious countryman and predecessor, had come close to achieving that feat in the Worlds, winning the 10,000 and taking the silver in the 5000 in the 1993 championships in Stuttgart.

“Kenenisa has really everything that it takes to be a champion. I would love to be like him. He is really great and I presume we will have to wait for a long time before we will see another runner like him in the future. Kenenisa is one of the greatest athletes of all time,” said Bernard Lagat, the Kenya-born US runner who came second to the Ethiopian in the 5000 metres. Lagat had won the 1500-5000 double in the last World championships in Osaka.

Isinbayeva, unbeaten in championships for six years, owner of 14 world records outdoors (she registered her 15th in Zurich on Aug 28 by clearing 5.06m) and looking for her third World title to add to the two Olympic gold medals in her collection, fumbled once at 4.75m, her starting height, and then passed that height to try 4.80m. She failed twice there. The world was stunned. The beneficiary was Pole Anna Rogowska, who had beaten the Russian, on a countback at 4.68m, at the London Grand Prix a month earlier.

Isinbayeva admitted later that she was a touch overconfident and lacked concentration to be able to pull off a simple task. She said she was thinking about winning at 4.80 or 4.85 and then going for the world record which stands in her name at 5.05m.

Pole Wlodarczyk had come into the competition, having won 11 of 13 meets she figured in this season. She also had five of the top 10 marks for the season. Wlodarczyk, a sixth-place finisher at the Beijing Olympics, was, however expected to face a strong challenge from defending champion Betty Heidler of Germany and that is how it turned out.

A near-capacity crowd had turned up to watch a German win, but they were disappointed in the end. Wlodarczyk’s record-breaking throw came in the second round. Unfortunately, as she jumped across the track to celebrate with her coach, she injured her ankle and had to sit through the rest of the competition bar a final attempt that was a foul. Heidler tried her best till the very end, coming up with a personal best and National record 77.12 in the last round that put her as the fifth best performer on the all-time list.

The previous world record of 77.80 belonged to Tatyana Lysenko of Russia, set in Tallinn in August, 2006. Lysenko (72.22), incidentally, finished sixth.

Outside of world records and world-record holders, the championships produced many thrilling contests, none better than the women’s high jump duel between Blanca Vlasic of Croatia and Ariane Friedrich of Germany, men’s shot put contest between Christian Cantwell of the US and Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland, women’s long jump match-up between Brittney Reese of the US and veteran Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia, and women’s 1500 metres clash between Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain and Natalia Rodriguez of Spain.

Vlasic cleared 2.04m to clinch the high jump gold in a tense competition in front of a capacity crowd which had obviously come to cheer home favourite, Ariane Friedrich in her bid to wrest the title from Vlasic. In the event, Friedrich failed twice at 2.04m that was the winning height for the Croatian, and gambled with a last-gasp 2.06 which she could not clear. She had a season best, world-leading 2.06 at the very same Olympic Stadium in June when she beat Vlasic.

Vlasic was a picture of calmness throughout the contest while Friedrich, weighed down by the expectations of her home fans, just could not touch her best. The Croat demanded and received excellent backing from the spectators.

Cantwell and Majewski locked horns in an epic shot put contest. Cantwell had opened with a 21.54m that held through to the fourth round when Majewski came up with a 21.68m. It looked the Olympic champion would walk away once more with the gold, when he stretched that lead to 21.91m in the next round. Cantwell, silver winner at the Beijing Games, had not touched 21.9 this season, but the big American had to respond to the Pole’s challenge. And what a way he responded, when his turn came, with a 22.03m that was the world lead and the gold-winning mark.

Ralf Bartels of Germany had a personal best 21.37m to take the bronze, upstaging two other favourite Americans, Reese Hoffa (21.28) and Adam Nelson (21.11).

Twenty-two-year-old Brittney Reese had not been able to live up to her promise so far. On this occasion she did that opening with a 6.92 which Lebedeva overhauled in the second round with 6.97. Reese then crossed seven metres in the third round to end the argument. Both the jumpers fouled the rest of their attempts. Little-known Karin Mey Melis of Turkey took the bronze with 6.80m.

.“I knew Tatyana could easily go seven metres with any of her remaining jumps so it did put a little pressure on me. I kept my focus and in the end she did not jump seven,” said Reese.

Maryam Yusuf Jamal was the overwhelming favourite to win the women’s 1500 metres title. As it turned out, Spaniard Rodriguez all but upset her plans. She in fact crossed the line first, with Jamal following a hundredth of a second behind, but was disqualified for elbowing Ethiopian Gelete Burka.

Burka had taken the lead from about 300 metres and she and Jamal looked set to fight it out, but with 200 metres to go, the mishap occurred, sending Burka down and forcing Jamal to skip over the falling Ethiopian and losing fractions. Jamal’s was the second gold for Bahrain following Youssef Saad Kamel’s victory in the men’s 1500 metres.

Kamel, formerly Gregory Konchellah, son of former World champion Billy Konchellah of Kenya, beat a tough field that included defending champion Lagat, the top Kenyan and world-leader Augustine Kiprono Choge and European champion Mehdi Baala of France.

Kenyans dominated the women’s distance events in the absence of double Olympic gold-winner Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia who pulled out because of an injury. Vivian Cheruiyot won the 5000, pushing favourite Meseret Defar of Ethiopia to the third place, and Linet Masai claimed the 10,000m gold, holding off a stiff challenge from Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu.

.“Normally when I race Defar I finish second,” Cheruiyot said. In 11 races before the Worlds, the Kenyan had beaten Defar just once. Apart from Bahrain’s two gold medals, both through runners of African origin, Asia had one more gold, that by Chinese woman marathoner Bai Xue. She clocked 2:25:15, nowhere close to her Personal Best (PB) of 2:23:27, set last year.

The cream was missing from the field — world record holder Paula Radcliffe of Britain, world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, Olympic champion Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania and World Marathon Majors series champion Irina Mikitenko of Germany.

Among those who made a big impact for the first time were British heptathlete Jessica Ennis, who won with a PB of 6731 points and Australian woman discus thrower Dani Samuels who also had a career-best 65.44m, while winning a surprise gold.

Among those who lived up to their reputations and form were British triple jumper Phillips Idowu (PB 17.73m), Dwight Phillips of the US, who took his third World title in long jump, with 8.54m, Olympic champion javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway (season best 89.59m), and US woman quarter-miler Sanya Richards (SB 49.00s), who at last has a global gold to justify her rating. The one to crash, in the wake of Richards’s surge to victory, was Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu of Britain who finished fifth.

Jeremy Wariner could not live up to his billing in the men’s 400 metres. Instead it was the Olympic champion, LaShawn Merritt who underscored his supremacy over the lap. Merrit clocked a world-leading 44.06s; Wariner was well beaten at 44.60s.

“I had run the race in my mind a million times before I stepped on the track and every time I had won,” Merritt said. “So it was all about taking it from my head and putting it on the track. The gun went off, I clocked into work. I was prepared, I came out, and I conquered. The last time I ran here I won. I have great memories of the track — big lanes, big blue track, great audience, great atmosphere.”

Jamaica once again asserted its sprint supremacy, not just in the men’s section, but in the women’s as well. But the Caribbeans could not stop Allyson Felix winning her third 200 metres world title on the trot. The American clocked 22.02s in beating Veronica Campbell-Brown (22.35s) and Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie (22.41s) of the Bahamas.

Shelly-Ann Fraser took the 100m gold to assert that her Olympic victory was no fluke. And she did that in a world-leading 10.73 with Jamaican team-mate Kerron Stewart coming behind her in 10.75s. Jamaica claimed the sprint relay gold medals in both sections. The US did not make the final in either section. Disasters have become very common for the US in major championships but there was no stopping the Americans in both the 4x400m relays. They won with plenty to spare, too, in both races.

The championships drew big crowds on days when Germans were in the medal hunt or when Bolt was running. The IAAF website also registered a record of more than one million unique users on August 20, which day also saw another record, 16,346,353 page views. That was the day Bolt ran the 200 world record and home favourite Friedrich crashed to defeat in women’s high jump.

A Special Correspondent * * * Panocha walks away with some credit

Walker Babubhai Panocha’s National record in the 20km event where he stood 20th out of 45 finishers was the saving grace for the small Indian squad of six athletes at the World championships.

Panocha clocked 1:23:06, a remarkable achievement since he had clocked his previous National record of 1:24:05 in Bydgoszcz, Poland, only a fortnight earlier while qualifying for the World meet. To have returned two National marks within such a short span of time in an event like the 20km should be an achievement in itself.

Registering a personal best is the least that is expected of Indian athletes in such meets, no matter how the authorities look at the task and the distorted picture of Indian athletics presented year after year.

In the event, barring Panocha, and to a lesser extent woman discus thrower Seema Antil, none came up to expectations. Antil missed making the final narrowly, finishing 15th overall among 39 starters in the qualification round, with a season best 59.85 metres. The top 12 made the final. Antil’s National mark stands at 64.64m.

In contrast, Krishna Poonia, who had a better season best than Antil before the Worlds, that of 60.78m achieved in London in July, fared poorly, ending up 28th with 56.75m.

Surendra Kumar Singh could do no better than a 19th place among 25 finishers in the 10,000 metres, in 28:35.51, his fourth best timing. The Armyman had clocked 28:02.89 in Vigo, Spain, last year to make the qualification grade. By Indian standards a sub-29 is nothing to be scoffed at, though.

Joseph Abraham was disqualified in the heats of the 400 metres hurdles for allowing his trailing leg to go below the plane of the hurdle.

The mishap occurred on the sixth hurdle after Abraham went off too fast over the first three.

The most disappointing proved to be heptathlete Susmita Singha Roy who finished 26th and last among the finishers with a tally of 4983 points. She had a season best of 5366 points and a personal best of 6027 points.