FROM THE ATHLETES’ perspective, this year’s World Championships were never going to be quite the all-or-nothing date with destiny that major athletics meets usually are.
Any world-beating performance would achieve a major accolade, of course, but with the London Olympic Games less than a year away, failure or underperformance in Daegu could easily be viewed in the optimistic light of that bigger, more iconic event.
As Great Britain’s Phillips Idowu had it, after taking silver in the men’s triple jump, an event he had been heavily favoured to win: “this world championships [sic] are a stepping stone to next year’s Olympics.”
The shadow cast by London 2012 may have blunted the World Championships’ competitive edge, then, but that’s not to say the week was at all lacking in drama. As we found out, there was plenty of euphoria and catastrophe to go around… and I’m not just talking about Ortis Deley.
The absence of Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell from the starting list for the men’s 100m appeared to deprive the week’s showpiece discipline of its drama before it had even begun, but ever true to his showman’s instincts, Usain Bolt contrived a way to inject some drama into an otherwise predictable narrative.
After looking in imperious form during the qualifying rounds, a successful start appeared to be all that stood between Bolt and a successful defence of his 2009 title. To the disbelief of millions, the fastest athlete of all-time false-started and, in accordance with the IAAF’s zero tolerance policy, found himself forced to cede the track (and title) to his talented compatriot Yohan Blake.
The event sparked high-profile criticism of both the IAAF’s disqualification policy and the Jamaican’s trademark histrionics, but the fallout was to prove short-lived, however: a determined Bolt reappeared later in the week to dominate the 200m and the run probably the fastest anchor leg in history to help the Jamaican 4x100m team to a gold medal (and a new world record).
Elsewhere on the track, Great Britain’s great medal hope in the long distance events, Mo Farah, found himself deprived of a gold medal in the final strides of the men’s 10,000m. What could have proven a career-killing moment of heartbreak for the Briton instead provided the catalyst behind his redemptive final-lap sprint to victory in the 5,000m.
Ireland’s Johannesburg-born Alistair Cragg struggled to match the blistering pace of the race’s closing stages and crossed the line in fifteenth position
In the women’s 100m hurdles, an event from which Ireland’s Derval O’Rourke was forced to withdraw through injury, Sally Pearson ran a championship record time of 12.28 en route to collecting her first World Championship gold. An athlete at the peak of her powers, the Australian is running times unrecorded since the dark days of the Easter Bloc steroid regime.
Ireland’s Ciaran O’Lionaird proved his championship credentials in becoming only the third athlete in Irish history to qualify for a 1500m final at the World Championships. The 20-year-old subsequently ran the third fastest time of his career to finish in tenth place.
In the women’s 800m, controversial Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya found herself passed in the home straight by Maria Savinova, the same athlete who had referred to the South African as “a man” in the wake of her record-breaking performances in 2008 and 2009.
While the track events offered a degree of predictability, thrilling though it was, the field was the scene of a number of high-profile upsets. Yelena Isinbaeva looked a shadow of her former self as she crashed out of the women’s pole vault for the second World Championships in a row.
Germany’s Matthias De Zordo pulled off a stunning upset in the men’s javelin; his first round throw of 86.27m proved enough to unsettle Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen, none of whose efforts came anywhere close to matching his season’s average.
And in the women’s high jump, Russia’s Anna Chicherova outperformed charismatic Croatian favourite Blanka Vlasic to take her first World Championships gold medal. The event also provided the highlight of the week from an Irish perspective, as Deirdre Ryan jumped impressively to finish the event in a tie for sixth, a mere four centimetres shy of a medal placing. The Dundrum woman’s performance also guarantees her place at next year’s Olympic Games.