Osaka Notes, Day 1-by Mary Nicole Nazzaro

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Mary Nicole Nazzaro has covered the World Champs for us since 2003 in Paris. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese and Russian, she has provided some interesting insights into events and into athletes from around th world. Nicole will be doing a column from Osaka, covering a differnt topic of her choice each day....

Osaka Notes
By Mary NicoleNazzaro
Day 1: Saturday, August 25, 2007

Welcome to Osaka, the land where the track and field dictionary is being rewritten on a daily basis.

"Heat"? An early-round race, right? "Fan"? Somebody who pays money to be in the stands to cheer for the athletes as they heave the shot, round the bend, or pass the baton.

Not here. Not now.

For the next ten days, weather management will mean as much to the athletes as personal management – getting ready to peak for competition in the face of a level of heat and humidity that hasn't been seen for years in the outdoor world championships. In 2003, Paris had just suffered a massive, deadly heat wave before worlds began, but the weather broke and became temperate and sometimes downright cool and drizzly. Helsinki in 2005 was even cooler, with temperatures hovering in the mid-autumn range, with one blistering rainstorm in the middle of the event that cooled down the earth even more.

In Japan, there will be none of that. The temperature when the men's marathon began on Saturday morning was 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) with 81% humidity. By the end, it was 33 degrees Celsius (92 degrees Fahrenheit) and just a bit less humid (67%). War of attrition? You bet. One-third of the men's marathon entrants didn't finish the race. The winning time was 2:15:59; Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe won the Helsinki world championship marathon (admittedly in much more favorable conditions) in a time that would have placed her fourteenth among the men yesterday in Osaka.

Now about those fans. There are fans here, as in spectators, and there are fans here, as in fans – they're being handed out by event sponsor Mizuno as spectators enter the grounds, and they're very much needed. At moments Saturday evening one could look around the stadium and see the mass of spectators literally fanning themselves in almost perfect unison, like a huge butterfly. It's going to be that kind of week.

Given the massive challenge of the weather, Saturday's performances were inspired. Kenyan Luke Kibet won the men's marathon – oddly, given their success at major marathons it was the first Kenyan men's world marathon title since Douglas Wakiihuri in 1987 – and the heptathletes had a strong first day of competition as well, with defending world champion Carolina Kluft of Sweden posting the strongest first-day performance in the field with 4162 points.

But the evening session belonged to two stellar performances by Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba and a pair of American shot putters. Dibaba ran a truly inspired race, pulling herself back together after an on-track collision to capture the 10,000 meter title in 31: 55.41 over Turkey's Elvan Abeylegesse. Sarah Goucher of the United States did the almost-unthinkable, capturing the bronze medal in a field that included 2007 world leader Mestawet Tufa and Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor. It was that kind of race, and that kind of day, where the distance runners rolled the dice and saw where their bodies and hearts could take them on a day meant for lolling on the beach with a lemonade, not suffering through twenty-five laps of a major championship.

The men's shot put was a clinic. Reese Hoffa, the American and 2007 world leader, won the competition on his first throw (21.81m) and continued to heave strongly throughout, posting a 22.04m mark in the third round of throws for his first outdoor world championship gold medal. Defending champion and fellow American Adam Nelson had to settle for the silver medal, and gave the whole stadium something to cheer about when after missing the gold with his last throw, a foul (he fouled his last four throws), he immediately turned around and started leading the stadium in cheers for Hoffa, who had already locked up gold but was preparing to put on a show with his last attempt.

Afterwards Nelson was circumspect about his cheerleading duties. "I like to see people throw long," he said with a smile as the new gold medalist sat to his right in the post-event press conference. For his part, Hoffa was sportsmanlike all the way, giving Nelson credit for having taken Hoffa under his wing when Hoffa was, in his own words, "not too good!"

Day One is in the books. Eight days of heat, humidity – and, oh yes, a few marvelous performances, we're sure – to come.


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M. NicoleNazzaro
The China Sports Blog: http://chinasports.wokpopcorn.com

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