World Champs, Day 9-Final Session Ends Great Competition

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The evening session ended the 11th IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan. The city, the JAAF and the IAAF should be pleased. Great things happened over these past nine days. But there are some issues that need to be addressed in order for track and field to grow and prosper in this modern culture.First, the races!

Men's 800 meters...

Hitting the first lap in 55 seconds should have told us something. Gary Reed of Canada had kept his self out of trouble in the rounds, and in fact, had been my pick from round 1. Reed made his move, a long drive and took control and looked like he had the race, until the 799th meter. At that time, Alfred Kirwa Yago of Kenya, had made a stretch run and eaten up the six meter lead that Reed had and nipped the Canadian at the finish, 1:47.09 to 1:47.10. Russia's Yuriy Borzakowski of Russia showed up, taking third in 1:47.39.

Women's 1,500 meter

Just when you think you've seen two jaw breakingly slow middle distance races, the fairer sex shakes us back into reality. Yelena Soboleva of Russia, the odd's on favorite had seen that 5,000 meters and the 800 meters, and she was not having any of that rubbish. Running a nice 65.82, then sliding in a 63.75, and just for kicks, or to end some kicks, a 63.09, Soboleva cut the race down to her and one other runner, Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain. Over the last 300 meters, Soboleva and Jamal battled, running faster and faster, with Maryam Yusuf Jamal getting the gold in 3:58.75 to Soboleva's 3:58.99. It was the first victory at a Worlds for Jamal. In third, the bronze position, was Iryna Lishchynskaya of the Ukraine in 4:00.69.

Men's Javelin

Big guys throwing spears. What better way to end a great nine days of track and field! Coming back from fourth in Helsinki, Tero Pitkamaki of Finland had taken control from Olympic gold medalist, Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway in the second round. Thorkildsen threw 88.16m, so Pitkamaki throws 89.16m. Nothing changed until round five, where the U.S. Breaux Greer after a series of ever better throws, scored bronze with 86.21m. In round six, just after the finish of all the track races, less than a minute! Tero Pitkamaki popped a 90.33 m throw that made the entire audience ooohh and ahh!

Women's high jump

A three hour competition. Blanka Vlasic of Croatia takes her first major title, with a fine clearance at 2.05 on her third attempt. So high was her clearance that many thought she could have a real shot at Stefka Kostandinova's world record of 2.09 from Rome in 1987! Vlasic made three good attempts, but it was not to be tonight.

In the silver position, at 2.03 was Russia's Anna Chicherova, her personal best. Bronze was Italy's Antonietta di Martino who also cleared 2.03 meters, which equalled her Italian national record.

And then the 4 x 400 meter relays....

Women's 4 x 400 meters

Allyson Felix has three gold medals, and she earned numero trois with her second leg dashing of the field. This woman can run the 400 meters, please Coach Kersee, let us watch her run a couple next year? Seriously, Ms. Felix just demolished her fellow competitors. Sanya Richards anchored and took the gold in 3:18.55. Jamaica set a national record in 3:20.04 in the silver position, and the UK caught Russia with a come from behind run by Nicola Sanders for the British Isles, with UK getting the bronze in 3:20.25.

I thought the Russians were supposed to win that one...ooops.


Mens' 4 x 400 meters

When the going gets rough, the long relay comes along. The U.S. team ran a fine 2:55.56, with the three medalists from the 400 meters ( Wariner, Merritt,Taylor) doing their wonderful job, running great 400 m relay legs, not dropping batons or wandering out of exchange zones. Makes a former coach just want to cry.

U.S. wins numero 13 in 2:55.56, Bahamas takes silver in 2:59.18 and Poland takes third in 3:00.05.


Some thoughts, too few...

I am finishing up this final column in the Inchon Airport in Seoul, Korea. It is 5 pm on Monday and my stomach has finally, after wandering somewhere in my hotel for two days, returned to my body. I was able to witness the final session at the stadium, and had some pasta and was fine.

This morning, I packed up, grabbed a little Japanese breakfast-my favorite-Miso soup, a little tofu, and some fish, and off to the Osaka airport for my two hour flight to Seoul.

I have loved my time in Osaka, Japan. The people were gracious, hospitable and above all, so concerned that all was okay. I felt very much at home, except that I did not speak Japanese.

Their media culture makes ours look unsophisticated. Their taking of our Culture and Media and adding a Japanese twist is fascinating to me. I will speak to that in my next column, done from the plane.

Osaka should be proud of their hosting of the World Championships. The facilities were strong, the transportation options were very good, and the hotel quality and types were great. I make a choice each time to stay in neighborhoods that are culturally part of the host country. I walked my neighborhood at three am, walking to the 7-11 to get water or Aquarius sports drink and never felt unsafe.

I learnt to take a business card of my hotel with me so that while most taxi drivers did not understand English they would understand the card and nod and say Hi!

I am glad that Japan finally got a medal on Saturday. Coming from a country that is so blessed athletically, we do not appreciate the focus and pressure that must accompany the host country and their need to a) sell the sport and b) sell the championships.

On the media side, the IAAF is ahead of the curve. Their website-brilliant. The use of radio and broadband TV is excellent. The IAAF gives the broadcast away to many developing countries and is kind enough to assist reporters from those countries as well.

But, until Dentsu, the global agency that represents the IAAF realizes that their sponsors would have something to gain by advertising in North America, then
the sport has lost what could be its most remarkable moment. Toyota, Seiko, Epson, TDK alone could gain market share promoting and building the global awareness of the sport.

The performances in athletics at these world championships, by the U.S. team was the most well rounded performances ever. Distance medals, Javelin medals, all relays. If there is not a time to shout from the mountain tops that the best sports team dynasty in North America is not the Yankees ( Sorry Boston), buy the U.S. track team, then the World Champs and the perception of the sport will not change.

Drug testing is working. However, it would be naive to suggest that our sport is 100 percent clean. My beliefs are the following: Out of competiton drug testing is the ONLY thing that works. Anyone who gets caught at championship should be beheaded on a public stage--they are just plain stupid ( my mother banned that word from our home when I was growing up, sorry Mom), and to beat the system someone must spend $60k or more to get something that can not be tested as of yet. There will always be cheaters. Blood tests and out of competition testing for top 25 in world once a month. Don't race or compete for year and show up at a world competition? Does not happen, unless athlete has been tested several times during the year.

This is my sixth world championships. I have enjoyed each and every one of them. The reinforce my faith in the goodness of people, that global village thing, and the fact that most of our major differences are workable if only the parties, could pardon me, pull their heads out of their backsides.

Sport is a mirror of our culture and society. Athletes from over 200 countries came to Osaka, Japan, competed, had fun, did the tourist thing and remembered, after their events, what it was like to have a life. I am struck by something Australian Craig Mottram said to me last week, during a group interview, : " I do have a life besides athletics, I have friends, family, my studies." A good lesson from a great athlete.

I am starting to fade, so I need to get in some thankyous. Thanks to Victah and Lisa for their photo brilliance and help. Thanks to the IAAF Communications Dept for their help. Thanks to James Dunaway for his personality, charm, and notice of the minutest details-and happy 80th birthday.

I wanted to thank my family for their supports and emails ( Adam I miss you), Brian Eder for his work on www.runblogrun.com, Brenda Barrera, media web goddess and editor of all things Running Network.com, Mike Lukitch, our web production guy, who deals with my ad queries and other questions. Hello to all in Fort Atkinson, Wi.

Goodbye from Seoul, thanks for reading our coverage of the world championships!

For related stories: http://osaka2007.iaaf.org/news/kind=2/newsid=41481.html#osaka+2007+highlights+day

For results: http://osaka2007.iaaf.org/results/bydate.html#racedate=09-02-2007

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