1) When it comes to Championship races, Ayanleh Souleiman is the man
Speed kills; it kills everyone who doesn’t have it. That middle-distance dictum was never more in evidence than during the men’s 1500m on Saturday, as Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman added the Continental Cup title to his World Indoor and African Championships victories earlier this year.
Indeed, when it comes to Championship races, Souleiman is quickly showing himself to be the best 1500m runner on the planet. He took the lead as the field approached the last lap on Saturday, and turned a pathetically slow pace into an all-out sprint by the time they had reached the back straight. Covering his final 300 metres in 36.79 seconds, Souleiman got the better of Asbel Kiprop for the second time in a month inside the Grand Stade de Marrakech.
2) Moroccans don’t like watching athletics; not many of them, anyway.
Let’s not sugar-coat this. The crowd which turned up in the stadium on Saturday for the first day of the competition was, it’s fair to say, embarrassing. It was embarrassing for the Local Organising Committee, embarrassing for the athletes who were turning in such high-level performances in a mostly empty stadium; it was, quite simply, embarrassing for the sport.
At first, it appeared as if maybe the stands would start filling up through Saturday evening’s session, In fact, the opposite occurred. The couple of thousand locals who did show up gradually began to filter out of the stadium early in the session, leaving an attendance literally in the hundreds watching the majority of the evening’s action. There have been funerals with better atmosphere.
The second day, things thankfully picked up, no doubt thanks to a concerted effort by the organisers to bus in a few thousand locals but still, Marrakech could still only produce a fraction of the attendance that the previous edition in Split, Croatia, when approximately 25,000 fans turned up for the final day’s action.
In this regard, the IAAF is caught in something of a catch-22. Do you stick to the tried and trusted venues where good attendances are guaranteed, or continue to try to expand the sport into new territories? The willingness, or lack thereof, to host events such as this is also a major problem given the cost and the fact that the event is not one which garners massive amounts of international media exposure.
Either way, something has to change. Rent-a-crowd situations are becoming almost commonplace for several host venues. Is that what this sport has been reduced to? It shouldn’t have to resort to such tactics, but then again, maybe we’re being idealistic.
What’s certain is that empty stadiums simply make it look to the general sports fan like no one cares about athletics, even though that isn’t the case. If people begin to think that no one cares, though, then eventually they’ll start to wonder why they should, too. If that happens, the sport is royally screwed.
3) When all else fails, you can count on the women’s sprint hurdles
Think about it, how often does the women’s sprint hurdles disappoint? Whether it be the brilliance of Sally Pearson or Brianna Rollins running times that challenge the world record in the last few years, or the ever-consistent Dawn Harper edging yet another blanket finish over the horde of athletes on the circuit, it’s one race you can always count on to deliver something entertaining.
In Marrakech yesterday, we saw another example of the event producing the goods, as the Americas team’s Dawn Harper edged Europe’s Tiffany Porter in a blazing race that saw Harper set a Championship record of 12.47 seconds and Porter produce a national record of 12.51.
4) Emma Coburn is the real deal
When Emma Coburn took victory at the Shanghai Diamond League earlier this year, many considered it a fluke. After all, her rivals had mistaken her for a pacemaker, realised their error too late to make amends, and let her steal victory from their grasp.
As the season has progressed, though, we soon began to realise that the 23-year-old was in fact the real deal, lowering the American record to 9:11.42 in Glasgow, a time that saw her enter the very top tier of the women’s steeplechase.
On Saturday, Coburn raced to a convincing victory in 9:50.67 over Ethiopia’s Hiyot Ayalew, the world leader this year, to round out a superb year. Coburn joined Ayalew over the last hurdle, at which the Ethiopian stumbled, clipping it with her trail leg and conceding a crucial two metres to the American. It was an invitation Coburn was happy to accept, and she duly strode clear to victory.
It’s been quite the year for Coburn, and at just 23, all signs are she’s only going to keep improving.
5) Even when it’s bad, the men’s high jump is still good
The top four jumpers in the world this year all came to Marrakech for the finale to the track season. All four men – Mutaz Essa Barshim, Bohdan Bondarenko, Derek Drouin and Ivan Ukhov – have soared over 2.40m this year as the event enjoyed the season of seasons.
On Saturday, all four men underperformed – understandable given the timing of the event and just how good they are at their best – as Bondarenko took victory with a 2.37m clearance over Ukhov (2.34m) and Barshim (2.34m).
It wasn’t the best day for the men’s high jump, but even still, watching the contest unfold, despite the lack of atmosphere, was one of the highlights on an otherwise very ordinary session. The high jump men are assured to offer us more of the same next year, given their relative youth. We should be thankful for their presence.