Almost exactly a year after London 2012, the world’s finest track and field stars repeated their battles at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for the 2013 World Championships in Athletics. Despite the recent doping allegations, legends such as Usain Bolt, Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Sally Pearson combined with rising stars Adam Gemili and Warren Weir amongst others to provide a captivating contest.
Whenever I turned on the TV to watch the championships (which, admittedly, wasn’t too often as I was on holiday) there was always something fascinating and gripping happening. It’s what I love about athletics – there is never a dull moment. In sports such as football, cricket, rugby (union and league) and Formula 1, which some would argue are the most followed in Britain, there are always periods of attrition where not a lot is happening. With athletics, however, it is almost impossible to find yourself trying to stifle a yawn. You could argue that watching a few men and women run round a track, throwing a weird object or launching themselves into a glorified sandpit is plain and boring, but it’s the simplicity that makes is so attractive. It’s a case of one person pushing themselves to the limit to beat the rest that makes it so endearing to me, as well as the fact that anything can happen and the standings are constantly changing. I also love the simplicity of most of the events – I remember with fondness the times my sister and I spent as youngsters on the beach trying to do the long jump. Of course, with our lack of technique and rather short legs, it wasn’t a pretty sight but we’d been inspired by the athletes we’d seen on TV, despite not being able to name any of them.
The evening of Thursday 15th August is just one great example of the interminable excitement of the championships. Alongside what many pundits are calling the ‘greatest high jump final of all time,’ where Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko broke the Championship record by jumping an astounding 2.41 metres to beat Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar for gold, the outrageous Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya stormed to victory in the men’s 3000m steeplechase. Indeed, it would have been a Kenyan whitewash if it wasn’t for Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad forcing his way to bronze ahead of Paul Kipsiele Koech. Soon after, Zuzana Hejnová of the Czech Republic outclassed the rest of the field in the women’s 400m hurdles, with British favourite Perri Shakes-Drayton stuttering to seventh after a poor race. It wasn’t all bad for Great Britain, though, as Eilidh Child finished off a solid individual season with a fantastic 5th place from the outside lane.
Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago then produced something special to win his first ever major international medal in the equivalent men’s event, beating all three medallists from London 2012 in Michael Tinsley (who couldn’t better his silver medal from London) and the greats Felix Sanchez and Javier Culson, both of whom were surprisingly beaten into bronze by the little known Emir Bekric from Serbia. This was then followed by an amazing women’s 1500m race in which the controversial Ethiopian-born Swede Abebe Aregawi clung on desperately for gold from Jessica Simpson, therefore stripping her of her title as World Champion, while Hannah England’s fantastic finish saw her just miss out on a bronze medal.
Can you feel the adrenaline rush just from reading that? I know I certainly can! That evening epitomised a World Championship that was, despite low attendances, gripping to even the most reluctant of converts. Most of talk was done in the stadium, although Russian hero Yelena Isinbayeva made some ill-judged comments in the heat of her victory. Bolt and Fraser-Pryce both showed that athletics doesn’t need doping to be interesting. The latter was unstoppable, securing three gold medals from a possible three and improving her solid performance during the London Games. Bolt, however, admitted himself that he wasn’t anywhere near his best yet still secured another three golds to make him the most successful athlete in the history of the World Championships with eight medals, six of the gold. His 100m win was particularly amazing; as the athletes lined up, a thunderstorm hit. It seemed as though the weather gods were sending a message – there was going to be only one winner. But could the big man overcome the elements that made the track extremely treacherous? Of course he could. His time of 9.78 seconds was astounding given the sodden track, further cementing his place as one of the greatest athletes of all time.
So what of Great Britain? I think it’s fair to say that it was a mixed competition for the team – they may have achieved their medal target of six but some performers will not be happy with how they did. Greg Rutherford and Robbie Grabarz, both struggling with injury prior to the event, couldn’t replicate their Olympic medals whilst Shakes-Drayton yet again failed to deliver in a major final. Dai Greene has not re-discovered the form he showed in 2011 and looks as though he may never as he also struggles with persistent injuries, whilst Steve Lewis (who finished 5th in London) had a mare in the pole vault. Our relay stars were also subject to a fair deal of controversy, with the men’s 4x100m team being disqualified and losing a bronze medal after an illegal changeover. It wasn’t all negative, though, as the equivalent women’s team were promoted to bronze after France was disqualified. It was also positive to see youngsters Gemili (5th in the 200m final after becoming the only Brit to run under 20 seconds in the semis), Andrew Osagie (5th in the 800m), England, Child, Shara Proctor (6th in the long jump after qualifying 1st in the preliminaries) and Katerina Johnson-Thompson (5th in the heptathlon with a personal best points haul) putting in solid performances and showing that GB athletic has a fantastic future ahead of it.
Some may worry, though, that there is an over-reliance on certain athletes, namely Mo Farah and Christine Ohuruogu. Between them they won four of the six medals (Farah in the 5000 and 10,000m and Ohuruogu in the 400m and 4x400m relay), and they grabbed half of GB’s athletics medal tally a year previously in London. While at the moment everything is going well, we cannot rely on these two superstars forever and, sooner rather than later, the aforementioned youngsters need to take over. However, with the team missing London poster-girl Jess Ennis-Hill (Achilles) as well as 110m hurdler Andrew Pozzi, pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale and the holder of the British javelin record Goldie Sayers, it was a pretty decent performance that bodes well for the 2014 European Championships, 2015 Worlds and, ultimately, Rio in 2016.
One thing is certain though – the 2013 World Championships have yet again shown just how dynamic, exciting and brilliant athletics is and I for one cannot wait for the Euros next year.