Candace Hill is the real deal
When the 16-year-old ran 10.98 for 100m last month, some thought it may have been a fluke. Even Hill herself admitted in Cali that “it could have been a once-in-a-lifetime moment”. Over the past week, however, she proved – with two gold medals and two championship records – that she may well be the future of female sprinting.
Her first came in the 100m, where she obliterated the championship record with an 11.08 clocking which, accounting for wind, was actually inherently better than her 10.98 run. On the final night of competition, Hill did just the same to the 100m field, winning in 22.43 (into a 0.7 mps headwind).
In doing so, she proved she has the mentality to perform her best when it matters most, an invaluable tool for a sprinter. Make no mistake; she’s here to stay.
Sani Brown is a potential star
In Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, Japan may have found an athlete who can challenge the Americans and Jamaicans at senior level. The 16-year-old Tokyo schoolboy blasted to victory over both 100m and 200m last week, stamping his mark on these championships the same way Usain Bolt often does at senior level.
In fact, it was Bolt’s 200m championship record that Sani Brown broke on Sunday night, running 20.34. This was in addition to his 10.28-second win in the 100m earlier in the week. It will take a few years, but Japanese sprinting has another potential star on its hands.
Return of Ruckstuhl
Before the girls’ heptathlon, only two athletes appeared capable of taking the title, Austria’s Sarah Lagger and Ukraine’s Alina Shukh. Even in the words of the eventual gold medallist, “third place was the best I could imagine”.
However that athlete, Geraldine Ruckstuhl of Switzerland, produced a second day to remember on Saturday, moving from sixth to first in the javelin with a whopping 52.87m throw. In the 800m, she produced a nine-second personal best of 2:17.58 to take the title and break the 6,000-point barrier for the first time, her total coming to 6,037.
In the mixed zone, this correspondent had the enjoyable task of telling an overjoyed Ruckstuhl of her 800m time and overall points total, which went something like this. “You ran 2:17 for the 800m.” “What? No.” “Yeah, and broke 6,000 points too.” “What? No way!” “Yeah, it’s about 6,030.” “What? No, I can’t believe this.”
Cue Ruckstuhl’s coach, who was overseeing the interview, breaking into euphoric celebration, along with his tearful athlete.
Samantha Watson’s racing brain
She was one of the youngest athletes in the event, but the USA’s Samantha Wilson ran with the wisdom of a wily veteran to take the 800m title on Sunday, making a race-winning burst with 200m to run at a time when race favourite Marta Zenoni of Italy was boxed on the rail. Try as they might, Zenoni and Ethiopia’s Gadese Ejara just couldn’t close the gap thereafter.
It was a lesson in timing, tactical awareness and sheer, raw acceleration, and Watson did it all at the tender age of 15.
Grimes could be great
Perhaps the busiest athlete of the week in Cali was the USA’s Norman Grimes, who won gold in both the 400m hurdles and mixed 4x400m relay. The 17-year-old also competed in the 110m hurdles, but was eliminated in the semi-final after a ragged race. However, he shrugged that off and turned in a performance to remember on Saturday night, destroying the field in the 400m hurdles final with his 49.11 winning time.
Grimes came back the following night and helped the USA team to a facile win in the 4x400m mixed relay. “I’m exhausted,” he said afterwards. “I’m ready to go home now and nap for a whole day.”
The relay was his sixth race of the week, and Grimes is now slated to compete at next week’s Pan American Junior Games. A busy time for a potentially brilliant athlete.
Colombians love their sport
There was a slight fear coming to Colombia that the championships might not take off with the locals, but the very first day in Cali, those fears were put to bed as a sizeable, supportive crowd made its way into the Pascual Guerrero Stadium. To most seasoned observers, the overall crowds were the biggest in the 16-year history of this event, and that says a lot for the sports-mad public.
Though Colombia is a country where football comes first, and everything else a distant second, the crowd sizes were highly impressive each evening. What’s more, they supported every nation’s athletes, not just their own. Athlete after athlete came through the mixed zone and noted the incredible atmosphere, and the field eventers were never a side show, but often made the centre of attention by an extremely attentive crowd.
Cali: a town of contrasts
The people were great, but what of the place? Cali is a curious city, nestled in a valley at 1,000m altitude, well off the backpacker trail of South America. Because of this, tourism is not a visibly huge industry here, which is often a good thing and gives it a genuine Colombian feel.
With the country unfortunately bearing the reputation that it has, many teams had highly rigorous security protocols in place, with some not allowing their athletes to see much more than the hotel, practice track and stadium in the week, which was a shame as the city had a lot of offer and this reporter found it safe at all times. With a few minor improvements in logistics and security, Cali could host an even bigger championships down the line. Next up after the IAAF World Youth Championships, meanwhile, is the World Underwater Rugby Championships. Yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing either.
Yator’s youthful looks
At underage championships, the question of age cheating is as old – pun intended – as the event itself, with the chief accusers often pointing to the matured looks of East African middle distance runners as chief culprits. Indeed, there were some in Cali whose facial features made you wonder if you were looking at a 17-year-old or a 27-year-old – and not just Kenyans – but to this writer’s eye, it didn’t appear quite as widespread as at previous events.
One athlete who ran like a senior, but certainly doesn’t look like one, is Kenya’s Richard Yator Kimunyan, who produced a 55-second last lap to take the men’s 3,000m title in fine style. Sight alone is never enough to make a correct assessment either way, but it was nonetheless good to see a Kenyan athlete reign supreme while also looking like a youth.
Bahrain’s brilliant teen
With the exception of imported athletes, it’s quite rare that Bahrain has a medal contender at major championships, but in Salwa Eid Naser, they have produced an athlete capable of going all the way at senior level. Naser – who has a Nigerian mother, Bahraini father and moved to Bahrain as a child -took gold in the 400m final on Friday wearing a full-length body suit and what’s perhaps most impressive about her 51.50-second run in the final is that she did it after recently finishing the holy month of Ramadan, where fasting is mandatory in daylight hours.
Mixed relay master stroke
The concept was simple – so simple and so brilliant that it’s amazing no one thought of doing it sooner at a major underage championship. Four athletes, four laps, two boys, two girls, and teams given the freedom to set up how they please. This led to some superb tactical manoeuvring by management and some truly riveting races. In the final, the USA unsurprisingly ran away with the gold, but the race for silver was, in this writer’s mind, the best moment of the week.
South Africa’s Kyle Appel, having blasted through the first 200m of his anchor leg, found himself in a head-to-head, battle-of-the-sexes duel with Canada’s Kyra Constantine for the silver medal, one he edged, just about, to take silver for South Africa, who were credited with the same time as Canada: 3:23.60. The perfect end to a near-perfect championships.