2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook, Day Four: Emotions Swirl In The Mixed Zone by Dave Hunter

Dave Hunter provides us a behind the scenes of the mixed zone, on Tuesday, after a tremendous night of track and field.....

Luzhniki Stadium, photo by PhotoRun.net

2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook

Day Four: Emotions Swirl In The Mixed Zone

August 14, 2013
Moscow, Russia

Day Four of the 2013 world championships here in Moscow was a superlative day of track & field.  Nearly every event was gripping, but several special moments stand out.  From the concluding 800 in the Heptathlon - where a half dozen athletes still had pathways to medal - and the m800 final - where Nick Symmond's career long pursuit for a championship medal was at last fulfilled - and the m400 final - where LaShawn Merritt reestablished his event dominance - to the wPV - the long-awaited east/west vault showdown between Jenn Suhr and Elena Ishinbaeva which may prove to be the signature event of these championships, athletic drama prevailed during a truly magical evening session.

The so-called mixed zone - the inter-active post-event meeting place for athletes and the media - is always a frenetic bundle of energy.  It was never more so Tuesday evening as competitors - some elated, some introspective, some hopeful, some dejected - stumbled in from the battlefield of championship finals.  Here is some of what was said:

Duane Solomon, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Duane Solomon, crestfallen 6th place finisher in the m800:  "I went out too quick.  I didn't race smart today.  I think my competitors' game plan was to take me out in 22 [actually 23.6] and then they backed off.  It took me out of my game plan a little bit.  But once I was already there, there was no backing off.  I just had to try to keep it.  I'm only human.  I didn't think anybody Dave_Hunter_Right_On_Track.pngcould hold that pace and be able to close."  On his decade-long rivalry with Symmonds:  "It just comes with the territory.  I am just so lucky that he's one of my countrymen and I have to race him all of the time.  We get ready for the competition, because when we come out here and race these guys it is not dissimilar.  I am happy for Nick.  He got us a medal.  And that's what we wanted.  I am glad that one of us did." On the homestretch war:  "Once I saw Nick go by and Aman working to try and hold me, I went to see if I had another reserve in there, but I didn't have a reserve of anything."

Nick Symmonds, Duane Solomon, 
photo by PhotoRun.net
Nick Symmonds, 2013 m800 silver medalist:  "I am disappointed for Duane.  My hat goes off to him.  I don't know if I could have been the silver medalist without him in that race.  It would have been an absolute cluster.  And I would have been fighting traffic like I've done the last three finals. He really made that race and inspired me down the homestretch [the first time] and I said to myself 'I got get up on Duane's shoulder.'  I knew it was a hot pace [50.28], but it was still very crowded and so I wanted to be as close to Duane as possible.  I keyed off him the entire race.  With 100 to go, I flipped that switch like I did in Edmonton, like I did in London.  And at 750 meters, I was pretty sure I was going to be the next world champion.  But Aman is tough.  He finds a way to get to that line and that's why he's your world champion.  I feel like I raced for gold tonight.  I wasn't content to sit in the back and try to hang on for dear life for a bronze or a silver.  I raced for gold.  And there is no shame in finishing second."  On the backstretch box that he and Solomon had imposed on Aman:  "As we were coming around the turn, I looked over and saw Aman and I thought 'there is no way he's going to get through this.'  I boxed him in.  I was on Duane's shoulder.  But he's sneaky and he found a way by."  On the race's first furlong in 23.6:  "You're hanging on my PR for 200 meters!"  His own tactics in the final:  "I think I ran a tactically solid race and was able to save just enough to be able to close that last 100.  I do wonder if I had run just a little bit more conservatively if I could have run slightly faster.  But I did that the last three finals and found myself in traffic.  And I was sick and tired of having the legs in the last 100, but not having a clear shot to the finish line.  And tonight, I risked running a slightly slower time to have great position."  What the medal means:  "To have a medal, I will not go down in history as the guy who couldn't get it done in the finals.  I have one now.  There is always a sense of wanting more.  And this is enough to give me the joy and peace of mind to keep staying here and continuing throughout the season, but also enough fire for the furnace to keep me hot and training hard for 2016."

Merritt, James, photo by PhotoRun.net

Kirani James, pre-race m400 co-favorite and baffling 7th place finisher in the final:  "It didn't go as planned.  I shouldn't have died in the last 100 of the race.  That usually doesn't happen.  I don't know what happened in this final, the last 100.  I need to just move on from that: go over the tapes, see what went wrong, go over this whole event and see what happened."  How he felt:  "I think I was healthy.  If you look at the previous rounds, I looked pretty sharp."  As a defending champion:  "I never looked as myself as a defending champion, because I knew all the guys here are hungry and prepared.  So I just looked at it as a clean slate for everybody.  Everybody wanted a medal and everybody wanted to perform well to get on the podium."  Thoughts on the new champion:  "I think he had a good race - the way he ran the rounds to the last race here.  He was very hungry.  He wanted it really bad.  He did a great job here - being prepared and having a great race plan."

Tony McQuay, photo by PhotoRun.net

Tony McQuay, m400 silver medalist in 44.40:  "Today it was just about coming out and competing and that's what I did.  My coach told me to just set up the race the first 30 meters and just move down the backstretch comfortably.  The whole goal was to get to 300 meters as comfortable as possible.  And once I got to the homestretch, it was just about giving it what I had."  On the war zone that was the final 100:  "My coach had prepared me with sit and kick drills.  That was the whole goal:  keep my form.  I was focused on my body posture and putting myself in a good position to make my next move.  And that's what I did.  At 300 I felt great.  I felt like I hadn't even started my race.  So I knew I was going to be in a great position once I was able to step on the gas.  I left it all out on the track."  On the USA's Men's 4x400 team:  "We are going to have a great team - a young team - coming in.  I gonna run the second leg.  And we're definitely going to go out there and close the door."  Can he get the USA the lead on the pole on that critical second leg?  "That's definitely why they put me there.  For the USA, I definitely have to step up to the plate and close it."

Suhr_Jenn-Worlds13.jpg                                                               Jenn Suhr, 
                                                    photo by PhotoRun.net

Jenn Suhr, silver medalist in the epic pole vault showdown with Elena Ishinbaeva:  "Everyone definitely got their money's worth.  It was one of the best pole vault competitions ever put on. 4.82m took third. 4.75m took fourth.  There were great performances all the way around.  Not to mention the crowd:  the cheering, how into it they were.  I have to look at it as a success.  I am happy with the silver.  I look at the whole year: Olympic gold, a world record indoors, and a silver at the worlds.  That's quite a year and I am happy with that."  On the challenges in preparing for the world championship and the heels of her Olympic gold medal performance and post-Olympic obligations:  "It is hard.  I didn't take indoors off.  I jumped indoors.  I jumped 5.02m indoors.  And to come out and start competing again outdoors, I felt it at the end.  My legs were tired, my body was fatigued.  But I was glad to be a part of this."  On her unsuccessful attempts at 4.89m:  "I was just tired.  I put everything I had into it early.  The anxiety, the adrenalin, all the emotions, they got to me at 4.89m and I was just tired.  I couldn't put anything else into it."  On the gold medalist:  "I am happy for her.  She had a great night.  And the support she had was fantastic.  I am happy with how it turned out."  On Ishi's possible retirement:  "I have to look at it knowing there is always someone coming up.  If it's not Elena, it's someone else coming up.  And if it is not that person, it is someone else.  If she's out, I can guarantee you someone else is going to come and push it.  That's the way the event is."  How she was accepted in Moscow:  "I was nervous coming in.  I didn't know how I would be accepted.  But after doing the victory lap, I understood the crowd:  they got their winner and they also cheered for me.  That was special. I really felt the love as I was going around.  For me, that meant a lot."

LaShawn Merritt, photo by PhotoRun.net

LaShawn Merritt, 2013 m400 world champion:  Do you think you're back?  "I never left.  I've always be around. I've always worked hard.  Even last year, I had an undefeated season up until the Olympic Games.  Unfortunately, I got hurt.  I was ready to go last year.  So I went and broke my body down and came in to have a great season this year.  I said in the semi-finals that this was not a two-man race.  Eight men were going to the line who were hungry to represent their country and their sponsor.  I wanted to go out and put a great race together.  I was ready mentally and physically to put a :43 race together.  That was what I did and that is what it took."  The long road back?  "Life is full of ups and downs.  I am a type of guy for whom things happen.  You always have to move forward.  I've never stopped training.  I never stopped being confident.  I've always kept God first.  And I've always let my hard work be my confidence.  I feel confident in my ability and my speed and it showed tonight."  What does this championship mean?  "To be on a world stage and to run around this stadium with the flag, and to stand on top of the podium later this week, is big for me.  And it is big for the USA when we didn't have anybody in the final last year. And we come here and get 1st and 2nd .  That's big."  On his rival Kirani James:  "There is a lot respect among 400 meter runners.  He's won a world championship.  He's won an Olympic Games.  He is in the book of great champions.  We'll go at it a lot more. There are young kids coming up every day.  I am not as young any more, but I am not old either.  I am going to continue to work hard and come out and put great performances together."        

Reflection upon Tuesday's terrific evening session could suggest that the best of these championships may now be history.  Yet a great deal of comfort is gained by perusing the remaining sessions - an examination that affirms that many equally compelling battles for world athletic crowns remain to be fought.  And that is a good thing.  

~Dave Hunter

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