The World Athletic Championships in Oregon, U.S., is currently the focal point for athletics enthusiasts.
Many athletes, media and officials spent anxious weeks facing unprecedented visa challenges by a poorly resourced and complex processing through the U.S. state department.
Over 375 people were awaiting visas in the last week. Some failed to make the trip and others, such as Kenyan top sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala, were unquestionably disadvantaged arriving off intercontinental flights hours before their events.
Every country is entitled to its immigration rules, but this is the first time in at least two decades that World Championships, or Olympic, accreditation did not come with a visa.
China and Russia both provided a visa with accreditation, yet the U.S., whose State Department knew of the massive consulate backlogs, were unable to find a more efficient process. Frustratingly, the American public were incorrectly blaming certain federations and countries.
With the visa die cast, the athletics has flowed into a fantastic gourmet offering.
While encouraged by Akani Simbine’s first round 100m progression followed by a 9,97-second semi-final, the hopes of a medal were dashed by a U.S. trio led by Fred Kerley in 9,86, leaving Simbine filling fifth in 10,01.
Of course, disappointing when looking for a podium, but fifth in the world is another great achievement.
Not surprisingly, fatigue caught up with Omanyala, whose 10,14 in the semis left him out of the final.
A similar fate saw Carina Horn, one of SA’s seven visa-stranded athletes in Italy, out in the women’s 100m heats.
Wayde van Niekerk has reignited hope in the SA camp with a blistering, controlled 45,18 to qualify for the semi-finals at 4.15 am (SA time) on Thursday.
KZN chests are proudly pumped for Zakhiti Nene of Fast Feet club, who will go in the first semi following his 45,69sec third-place qualification.
With many of the visa-delayed athletes failing or missing their individual sprints, this can increase South Africa’s chances in the relays, where podiums are never out of question. It starts with ensuring the baton goes the distance.
Championship distance running
The 10 000m running has been dropped from many top events on the basis that it takes too long and is not sufficiently exciting.
This week’s 10 000m finals totally dispelled this myth.
A fascinating final five laps saw Joshua Cheptigui take gold, ahead of Stanley Mburu and Jacob Kiplimo, in 27:27,43 with only 0,54 seconds separating the medals and 1,04 seconds between gold and fifth place.
The women’s race delivered national records for Eritrea, Kazakhstan and Uganda, seven PBs and a world lead time of 30:09,94 for gold medallist Letesenbet Gidey, who controversially put out her right arm, debatably blocking Kenyan Hellen Obiri.
No protest was lodged by Obiri, who set a PB. Margaret Kipkemboi took bronze only 0,13 seconds adrift. Despite starting her comeback in May, double Olympic champion Sefan Hassan finished a very creditable fourth.
Disappointingly, South Africa’s Dominque Scott-Effard had one of her poorer races in finishing 17th in 31:40,73.
A tale of two marathons
Marathons can be raced in many ways and Oregon has delivered two totally different, but equally exciting strategies.
The men’s race literally trundled around the first of three 14-km laps, reaching the halfway in 64 minutes.
Given the massive bunch of 33 runners, it was not surprising that there were trips and falls, particularly at personal drink tables.
It was only around 31 km that Ethiopian Tamarit Tola pushed the booster to open an untouchable lead for a new championship record of 2:05:37, reducing the previous mark by 1min:17sec. Team-mate Mosinet Geremew took silver while Bashir Abdi gave Belgium a bronze.
In a performance in the Durban International Marathon that nearly wasn’t, Zimbabwean Isaac Mpofu finished 10th with a national record time of 2:07:56.
The Durban marathon winner, who was initially disqualified by officials for having no rear number, took over two minutes from his PB.
This game-changing championship performance could so easily have been lost due to poor technical and administrative attention in the Durban Call Room function.
The initial slow pace played into the hands of Eastern Province-based Melikhaya Frans, who kept contact through to the break, and even fought his way back from 23rd to 18th to achieve a new PB of 2:09:24.
The puts the 32-year-old’s career at totally new international levels, with seemingly even more to come based on his ability over five kilometres.
Fortune did not favour Tumelo Motlagale, the SA champion and second place to Mpofu, in 2:11:15 at the Durban race.
Although in the pack early on he slipped off pace before halfway to be three minutes 24 seconds adrift by 25 km, the 35-year-old battled on to finish in 2:20:21 — one of his slowest times and debatably an indication of too little recovery from Durban.
Venus and Mars
The slow start of the men’s race was countered by the lightning-fast women’s pace that saw eight runners winding up from 3:18 per kilometre to dipping inside the World women’s only record pace at five kilometre in 16:10.
The teamwork between the Kenyans drove the pace to eight kilometres before there was any respite for the group that included three Ethiopians. Although slowing to 32:39 at 10 km, the damage had been done, leaving Kenyan Judith Korir and Ethiopian Gotytom Gebrsalse to take control after halfway.
Deceptively, Korir looked the stronger, but it was Gebrsalse who kicked with two kilometres to go, securing a championship record of 2:18:11 and pulling the top four under Paula Radcliffe’s old mark of 2:20:57.
Korir’s 2:18:20 was a PB by almost 90 seconds, and Israel’s Lonah Salpeter, who was fifth at halfway, powered through to take Bronze in 2:20:18. Eritrea’s Nazret Weldu shadowed Salpeter from halfway to gain a national record in fourth.
Two completely different strategies seen, but two totally engaging marathons — and even more days of thrills to come.