World Championships Roundup: Top Five Moments
By M. Nicole Nazzaro
Before jumping into this one, I’m putting it out there: it’s totally unfair to have to pick just five moments for any “Top 5” list for a world championship track meet, especially one like Moscow. We saw a country slowly embrace the event, a trusted superstar continue his dominance, and some truly awesome performances from a team not necessarily known for extreme consistency in middle- and long-distance running prowess (that would be the Americans) – in addition to many, many other great performances. After mulling the question over for a few days and letting the meet’s many great moments settle into history, I’m not sure that if I wrote this piece again tomorrow, I wouldn’t pick five completely different moments than the ones I’ve settled on below.
But it’s time to weigh in. So, in no particular order, here are my top five moments from the meet.
- Yelena Isinbaeva’s comeback. In a meet with lots of question marks, Isinbaeva provided the early exclamation point. After two sub-par world championship efforts in Berlin and Daegu, the two-time world champion and outdoor world record holder finally put it all together again on the biggest stage in her sport and gave her home country fans a great show. The Tuesday evening of the women’s pole vault final, day four of these championships, was the event that finally helped the week to catch fire. It was the first time the crowd both looked and felt like a world championships crowd, and it catapulted Isinbaeva back into regal status, athletically speaking. (For the record, her pro-Russia comments on the brouhaha over Russia’s gay and lesbian rights issues after winning that gold medal were another story entirely, and disappointed a lot of her international fans.)
- Mo Farah’s double/double in the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races. Both races went out tactical, as track races are wont to do, and it could have been anybody’s race right up until the last laps. But both of them were Farah’s, and he now has to be considered among the best track distance racers in history for repeating his 2012 Olympic achievement.
- The women’s marathon. It’s not an obvious choice for this top-five list, but the conditions (inhuman) plus the outcome (stunning for its demonstration of the depth of the sport) bumped it up to a listworthy achievement. This was the first medal event to be contested and it happened while Moscow still seemed to be warming up to the idea of hosting the world championships, so the crowds weren’t the biggest. But with temperatures soaring and the fully exposed terrain testing them, the world’s top women delivered a stunning podium: not just three countries on the medal stand (Ethiopia, Italy, Japan), but three continents. Now that’s global diversity. The late Grete Waitz, the great Norwegian champion who won the marathon at the inaugural IAAF world championships in Helsinki twenty years ago, would have been proud.
- The Jamaican sprinters. Everyone talked about Usain Bolt, of course, and the eight gold medals he now owns from the 2009, 2011 and 2013 world championships after sweeping the 100-meter and 200-meter races, then anchoring the 4×100-meter relay. But Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price did exactly the same thing on the women’s side. Jamaica’s track fans were plentiful in Moscow and it was clear from the achievements of their sprinters that they had a reason to be there.
- Brittney Reese, three-time world champion. She pulled a Bolt in the women’s long jump in Moscow after winning in Berlin and Daegu, but she’ll be able to walk down the streets of just about any American city unnoticed, thanks to our country’s ambivalence about track and field. That’s a serious bummer, because Brittney was simply awesome in Moscow.
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And two honorable mentions. See, I told you I couldn’t stick to just five.
A night of Slavic superstars. On Thursday, August 15 in Moscow, the Luzhniki Stadium crowd was treated to a great show as Russian and Ukrainian athletes made a ton of noise. Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko won an electric men’s high jump competition, with Russia’s superstar and 2012 Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov taking 4th. In the women’s triple jump, Russian Ekaterina Koneva and Ukraine’s Olha Saladuha (world champion in 2011) took silver and bronze. A lot of other stuff happened that night, of course – but these athletes brought the house down. You had to be there.
American middle- and long-distance runners. We’re used to seeing our sprinters on the medal stand, but when was the last time we had a men’s 800-meter silver medalist, silver medals in both the men’s and women’s 1500-meter races, and a soooooooo-close 4th place in the men’s 10,000-meter event? Not to mention the youngest athlete ever to contest the women’s 1500-meter final – and she told us afterwards that she was running for the win. (The future. American middle-distance fans, is spelled M-A-R-Y C-A-I-N.) Kudos to Nick Symmonds, Matt Centrowicz, Jenny Simpson, and Galen Rupp, respectively, as well as the aforementioned Cain, for bringing everything they had to Moscow. As Rupp reflected after the disappointment of only finishing fourth in the 10,000 (after an Olympic silver medal in the event last year, he understandably had higher hopes for this race), he recognized that he was one of the athletes who’s changed fans’ expectations of American promise at these distances. Being the “top American” was fine for a long time. But these Americans were all on the podium or darn close, and just you wait until Mary Cain gets to Beijing in 2015. Great achievements all around.