As David Hunter will tell you, if you are a track fan in Rio for the Summer Olympics, you know sleep deprivation. But the morning sessions have featured wonderful finals each and ever day!
The Games Of The XXXI Olympiad
Morning Session Magic
Early Olympic Sessions Producing Great Performances
August 16th, 2016
Rio de Janeiro
So you say you’re too tired, you returned back to your hotel too late after yesterday’s evening session of track & field, you had a few adult beverages to unwind, and you just can’t make it to the morning sessions. Well, suck it up princess. This is the Olympic Games. Don’t let a little sleep deprivation cause you to miss the action of this quadrennial celebration of sport. After all, you can sleep when you’re dead.
The daily agenda for track & field here in Rio almost always calls for two stagings: a “morning session” and an “evening” presentation. This makes for very long days – especially for media types like me who are attempting to attend to business without the benefit of media credentials. With the morning schedule running typically from 9:30 to 12:30 and the so-called afternoon contests usually presented from 8:30 p.m. until nearing midnight, most – fans, athletes, media personnel, etc. – face difficult, sleep-depriving choices. Do I, with no access to internet, stay at the stadium and attempt to be productive? Or do I make a 75 minute return via train to my hotel to work, only to return to the stadium later that evening? It’s a choice between two undesirable alternatives.
But if you can handle the sleep deprivation, the experience is terrific. The weather is quite often ideal with events held before the unrelenting Brazilian sun begins to take its toll on the athletes – and the fans. The crowds are lighter in the morning which – in a strange way – seems to make the link between the competing athletes and hardy spectators just a little more intimate. Also with a crowd far from capacity, choice seating at a variety of select locations is readily available. You could start by sitting high up on the backstretch to secure terrific views of the jumps, later move downstairs to the top of the backstretch to enjoy starting line views of early rounds of the 1500, and then slide down near to the water jump to take in the steeplechase final. Such mobility is more difficult to achieve in the afternoon sessions.
The intrepid souls who rally to battle the early morning rush on the metro have been rewarded at these Games. And the rewards began flowing early. On Day One – a cool, overcast morning at the stadium – those in attendance were treated to a terrific race in the women’s 10,000 meters, a final normally reserved for prime time staging. Some in the stands questioned the early pacing after the first kilometer was passed in 3:01. “Too fast,” they shrugged. It turned out to be the slowest kilo in a race many who now consider this final to be the best women’s 10,000 ever run. Shortly after the 5K mark was passed in 14:47, Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana rushed to the front and unleashed what only could be called an attack on the world record. As the pace slowly quickened, the once-skeptical crowd settled in and simply appreciated the classic performances that were unfolding – by Ayana and those who followed. The Ethiopian hammered the final 5000, covering the last 12Â½ laps in 14:30.4 – some 10 seconds faster than the Olympic record for 5000 meters – to win easily in a new world record time of 29:17.45. 22 of Ayana’s competitors recorded PR’s or national records. Consider this: Tirunesh Dibaba – two-time defending Olympic champion who had never lost a 10,000 – ran a PR 29:42.56 to finish 3rd. Nearly lapped by the incredible winner, USA’s Molly Huddle kept her focus, battled through the field, and finished 6th in 30:13.17, bettering Shalane Flanagan’s American record by 9 seconds.
Later that same day, morning session magic struck again in the heptathlon high jump. Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam – who would go on to win gold in the multi – set a new heptathlon high jump world record by clearing 1.98m / 6’6″ – a height cleared moments later when Great Britain’s Katarina Thompson also made it over that lofty bar.
Day Two’s morning session featured a men’s discuss final full of 6th round surprises as 4 athletes played musical chairs for the 3 medals. On his final throw, Estonia’s Thomas Kupper moved from 6th to 2nd – undoubtedly believing a medal of some color would soon be his. Daniel Jasinski of Germany fought back with a final throw that pushed him into 2nd and threw his countryman Christoph Harting off the podium. But the German had perhaps the biggest surprise of all – a terrific final heave that propelled him into the lead, relegated Piotr Malachowski to 2nd and kicked Kupper – who had earlier appeared to be a certain medalist – down to 4th. A valiant final attempt by the Pole was not enough for him to regain the top podium position.
Lightning struck again on Day Three with a terrific early morning performance by world record holder and hammer throw goddess Anita Wlodarczyk. The knowledgeable fans in the stands anticipated a big performance from the Pole and they were not disappointed. After a first round throw of 76.35m – her shortest of her series, but still better than any of her challengers’ marks – the reigning world champion got down to business with three heaves beyond 80 meters, including two beyond her world record standard. Her best – 82.29m/269’11” – bettered the silver medal distance by over 5 meters.
While Wlodarczyk was dazzling in the field, Ruth Chebet was scintillating on the track as she delivered yet another impressive morning performance. In the women’s steeplechase final, the Kenyan grabbed the lead early and employed a quick cadence to run away from the field. Only an inexplicable last lap sag – when her victory was certain – denied Chebet the world record as she crossed the line 8:59.75. She is one of only 2 athletes [Russia’s Galnara Galkina] who have broken 9:00 in the barrier event. Heady racing by USA’s Emma Coburn – too legit to quit – not only earned her the bronze, but also allowed her to break her own American steeple record when she stopped the clock in 9:07.63.
Today’s morning session was spiced by the men’s steeplechase final. Wedged in between two Kenyans – Conselus Kipruto [gold] and legendary Ezekiel Kemboi [bronze] – USA’s Evan Jager finally got his medal – a silver made possible by the American’s assertive racing which positioned him to secure a his second place finish. Another magical morning session.
Only Thursday’s morning sessions remain, so take advantage of this Rio opportunity and give yourself the chance to be present when morning session magic strikes again. You’ll be glad you did. And you can catch up on your sleep once you’re back home…