This is Dave Hunter’s column for day nine, at the Oregon 22 World Athletics Championships, July 15-July 24, 2022.
Oregon22 World Athletics Champs,
WC / Day Nine: Relay Madness Reigns!
July 23, 2022
Track & Field is primarily an individual sport, and often a lonely one, as those dedicated athletes work out, toil, and compete primarily on their own. Ah, but when global championships roll around, the relay events provide the opportunity for these nomadic warriors to bond with their track & field countrymen, whom they normally view as their competitors, and to collaborate with them to achieve a common goal: to compete in a first round, to make a final, to win a medal, maybe even a gold medal. And the fans get caught up in this as well – doing their customary horn-blowing, flag waving, and even engaging in a rhythmic chant of their country’s name – “USA! USA! USA!
The crowd’s festive attitude was most apparent in the Day Nine closing events – the finals of the 4×400 meter relays. The women were up first, with the USA squad looking sharp after their 1st place performance (a world-leading 41.56) in the prior day’s preliminary round. The quartet for the final included three of the four athletes who raced the day before: Melissa Jefferson, Jenna Prandini, and Twanisha “T.T.” Terry. But in a personnel move, Abby Steiner, 5th in the women’s 200m final, was substituted for Aleia Hobbs. The USA’s biggest obstacle among the other 7 finalist nations was the Jamaican team which had won gold in three of the last four world championship finals in this event and had in their lineup the outstanding sprint trio of Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herah, and Shericka Jackson which swept the women’s 100m final.
The crowd was silent while the lead-off athletes got into blocks. But the din was deafening once the starting pistol was fired. Jefferson got the Lady Yankees off to a good start, forging a slight lead over the Jamaicans. Steiner, running a blistering 9.86 on her straightaway leg, pushed out the lead. Prandini, one of the all-time best on the curve, roared around the oval, giving a 0.26-second lead to Terry. Jamaica’s anchor – Shericka Jackson – drove hard and did close on the Americans, but Terry held on for the win as the USA crossed first in 41.14, with Jamaica next in 41.18. Germany finished 3rd for the bronze in 42.03. USA’s winning time of 41.14 is #1 on the 2022 world list, #3 on the all-time world list, and the fastest ever run on U.S. soil. The excited USA sprinters were absolutely elated. “This is the most fun race of my life,” revealed a hoarse Steiner. “You can hear my voice. I never scream that loud during a race. Hayward magic is a real thing.” Terry summed it up. “The victory lap was amazing. To be able to feel the energy from the crowd, to shake hands, and sign autographs. It’s just an amazing feeling. The race was electrifying. You heard the stadium. The stadium went crazy. We just brought it home.”
The crowd – international to be sure, but predominantly American – was hungry for more, and they looked to the American men to feed them. The field for the final of the men’s 4×4 was impressive as 7 of the 8 finalist countries were ranked in the 2022 world top ten. Christian Coleman got the USA off to a good start and in the lead. On the 2nd leg, Noah Lyles clocked 8.94 on his straightaway dash with the Americans still in first. After a good pass from Lyles, Elijah Hall raced the curve, ready to hand off to Marvin Bracy on the anchor. When USA’s final exchange took too long, it opened the door for Canada and its talented anchor Andre De Grasse. The door was open, and Canada’s Olympic gold medalist took advantage of it, rocketing down the homestretch – catching and passing Bracey – in a blistering 8.79 to snatch the gold from the Americans. Canada 37.48, USA 37.55. “Of course, we wanted gold. This is a really good team, but we didn’t get to show our best ability,” admitted Lyle afterward. “We still went out there and put it together. We won silver. I am actually pretty happy with that. It’s not about gold every day. We got the stick around.”
In the men’s triple jump final, the serious jumping began immediately. Portugal’s Pedro Pichardo got things rolling right away with a massive hop, skip, and jump with his opening round attempt – a world-leading mark of 17.95m/58’10¾”. It would prove to be the winning gold medal jump for the reigning Olympic champion. Hugues Zango also followed suit as the Northern Mariana Islands athlete delivered his best jump of the day on his first attempt, a leap of 17.55m/57’7”, which earned him the silver medal. China’s Yaming Zhu grabbed the bronze medal with his 2nd round leap of 17.31m/56’9½”. USA’s Donald Scott also had his best jump on his opening attempt, leaping 17.14/56’2¾” to finish 6th, while his countryman Will Claye, multiple time global medalists indoors and out, finished 11th with a best mark of 16.54/54’3¼”. “Since I left my residence, my mindset was focused on 18m,” explained Pichardo. “It did not come out today, but more importantly, I won gold.”
The men’s 800-meter final featured a star-studded field, with 5 of the 8 finalists having posted clockings in this year’s top ten world listing. The championship race started solidly as Algeria’s Simane Moula led the field past 200 meters in 24.95. At the bell, Canada’s Marco Arop led the packed finalists past the start/finish line in 52.04 and the 600-meter mark in 1:17.55. But racing around the final curve and onto the final straightaway, Arop was passed by a hard-charging Kenyan and Tokyo 2020 gold medalist, Emmanuel Korir. And the Olympic champion would not be denied, driving all the way to the line in season’s best 1:43.71. Algeria’s Djamei Sedjati (1:44.14) earned the silver medal while Arop hung on for the bronze. “It was tough. I was expecting a faster race, but I won, and I am very happy about this result,” said the new champion in the mixed zone. “I knew there were some guys close behind me in the last 100 meters. I was expecting someone to come, but no one did.”
The women’s 5000-meter final was a dawdling affair as no one wanted to pick up the pace in the early going as Caroline Kipkirui led the field of 15 through the first lap in 78 seconds flat with Karissa Schweizer tucked in behind in 4th. Slowly, Ethiopians drifted forward to take over the upfront leadership as Letsesenbet Gidey, the 10,000-meter champion earlier in the week, and Olympic bronze medalist Gudaf Tsegay took turns with the steering with 8 laps remaining. The Ethiopians were still up front when, with 6 circuits to go, the turgid pace started to pick up, stringing out the field as the Americans were mid-pack. With 1200 meters remaining, Gidey and Tsegay were joined by Beatrice Chebet with the reigning world champion Sifan Hassan in 6th.
Tsegay took the bell with the clock at 13:46 as the racing stepped up in earnest. When Hassan, working for the position, moved toward the front by passing on the inside with 250 meters remaining, it looked like the Netherlands athlete was poised for the kill. But that was not the case. Tsegay fought hard to hold on to her lead heading into the homestretch. On the final drive to the line, Tsegay even deftly slid outside to force the oncoming Chebet to swing wide. Tsegay crossed first in 14:46.29 for the gold medal, and Chebet captured the silver in 14:46.75. And a strong close by Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum (14:47.36) earned her the bronze. Hassan faded to 6th. Afterward, the gold medalist shared her thoughts with the media. “I have been training well for 1500m, and this helps spring on the home stretch. I am happy with this result. This win is for all of Ethiopia,” said Tsegay. “I was trying to control the race coming from first place during the run, so it was very hard for me. But that was our plan because I felt in shape, and my victory confirms it was a good plan.”
Granada’s Anderson Peters dominated the men’s javelin final and successfully defended his world championship javelin title. Peters, who authored a spectacular series with 3 throws over 90 meters, saved his best for last, throwing his final spear nearly the length of a football field: 90.54m/297’0”. His winning throw is #2 on the 2022 world list, behind only his world-leading mark of 93.07m/305’4”. India’s Neeraj Chopra was the silver medalist with the best mark of 88.13m/289’1,” and the Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch took home the bronze medal with a best throw of 88.09m//289’0”. “I was pretty happy that I managed to defend the title, but I was hoping for longer throws today. But you know, I was not capable of it at the moment. So I just wanted to go out there and enjoy the event and to put on a show,” said the gold medalist. “This is actually the second final of my three world champs appearances. And it is my second gold, so I am very grateful for that.”
In the opening morning round of the women’s 100m hurdles, USA’s Nia Ali struck a hurdle, was off balance and was thrown into the lane of Belgium athlete Ann Zagre. Ali, the reigning world champion, was disqualified. An appeal was filed on Zagre’s behalf, and it was determined that Zagre had been impeded. Zagre was given a late Saturday afternoon “substitute round” that would determine if she would be added into the semi-final round of the women’s 100m hurdles scheduled to run Sunday afternoon. Zagre, running alone and with adjacent hurdles on either side of her lane, was hurdling quite well when she hit the 10th and final hurdle, sending her to the ground. She managed to roll over the finish line. Her finishing time of over 14 seconds will be insufficient to earn her a place in Sunday’s semi-final round.
A real battle is shaping up in the decathlon, where the top three athletes are separated by only 137 points. After the completion of 5 events, multi-athlete Ayden Owens-Delerme has compiled 4606 points for the end-of-Day One lead. Close behind are Canada’s Pierce LePage with 4485 points and USA’s Zack “Double Z” Ziemek with 4469 points.
m4x400m Relay / Prelim: The USA men, perhaps inspired by the solid performance of the USA women, ran well, clocking 2:58.96 – the fastest time of the day and #2 on the 2022 world list – and sent a message to the other countries that they are ready to win gold. The other 7 finalists are Japan (3:01.53), Jamaica (3:01.59); the Czech Republic (3:02.42); Poland (3:02.51); Trinidad & Tobago (3:02.75); France 3:03.13; and the Netherlands (3:03.14). “We are very happy with the way we performed,” said USA veteran relay medalist Vernon Norwood in the mixed zone. “We got the stick around, everybody home, so we will be ready for the next round tomorrow.”
w4x400m Relay / Prelim: The USA quartet looked sharp as the preliminary athletes of Talitha Diggs (51.01), Allyson Felix (50.61), Kaylin Whitney (51.01), and Jaide Stepter Baynes (50.75) won Heat One in 3:23.38, the fastest clocking of the day. The other countries advancing to the Sunday afternoon closing event will be Great Britain (3:23.92), Jamaica (3:24.23), Canada (3:28.49), Italy (3:28.72), and France (3:28.89), Switzerland 3:29.11; and Ukraine (3:29.25). The most decorated track & field athlete of all time told the media how she was added to the USA’s relay team. “I just ran the prelim. They just called me and asked if I am willing to be in, and I am here. I jumped on the plane, and here we go,” explained Allyson Felix. “It is really cool. I did not expect it to happen. But I am always up to running with this team. All of us ran pretty hard to put our team in a position for tomorrow. This is really special. It feels so nice to come out and run here at home. For my last big race, I am really having fun.” / Dave Hunter /