Track and Field Sports (Athletics)

Track and Field Sports (Athletics)
▪ 2009

      Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt (Bolt, Usain ) stamped his name on the 2008 track and field season, breaking world records four times, three of them in spectacular fashion at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Bolt was far from alone in record breaking, though, as 17 Olympic records, including 5 world records, fell in Beijing.

World Indoor Championships.
      With many stars preparing for the Beijing Olympics, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world indoor championships, held March 7–9, 2008, in Valencia, Spain, showcased a largely different group of athletes from those who later won in Beijing. Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and shot-putter Valerie Vili of New Zealand were the only champions in Valencia to add Olympic crowns in the same events. Isinbayeva cleared 4.75 m (15 ft 7 in), well below her world record, and triumphed over American Jenn Stuczynski (who cleared the same height) only on the countback.

       Bryan Clay of the U.S. scored 6,371 points to win the heptathlon as a prelude to his eventual Olympic decathlon victory. Tia Hellebaut of Belgium won the women's pentathlon and went on to take Olympic gold in the high jump. Adding another chapter to a fabulous rivalry, 2004 shot-put champion Christian Cantwell threw 21.77-m (71 ft 51/4 in) to defeat fellow American and 2006 titlist Reese Hoffa.

      Russian Yelena Soboleva set an apparent world record of 3 min 57.71 sec in her 1,500-m victory over teammate Yuliya Fomenko, but at year's end it appeared that both would lose their medals. IAAF testing determined that during out-of-competition doping controls in 2007, Soboleva, Fomenko, and five other Russian women had submitted urine samples that belonged to other people. They faced a two-year competition ban, but the IAAF planned to challenge the Russian federation's decision to make the ban retroactive to the time of the tests, and the disposition of the world indoor medals remained unclear.

Olympic Games.
      Although Jamaican Usain Bolt, whose nickname was “Lightning,” had lowered the 100-m world record to 9.72 sec in New York City in May 2008, a close contest with countryman Asafa Powell was expected in the 100-m final at the Beijing Olympic Games in August. Instead, the long-legged Bolt overcame his slow reaction time—second slowest among the finalists—to pull away with an unmatchable stride after 35 m. So thorough was his dominance that Bolt dropped his arms at 80 m, looked around, and thumped his chest but still cut 0.03 sec from the world record. The race was only the second in which six men finished in under 10 sec, yet Bolt defeated Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson by an astounding 0.20 sec. Powell finished a disappointing fifth.

      Bolt's approach to the 200-m final was different. Observers who had previously considered American Michael Johnson's 19.32-sec world record from the 1996 Olympics virtually unbreakable calculated that it was now in jeopardy. So did Bolt, and this time he sprinted full speed throughout the race to cut the record to 19.30 sec. Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles finished second, in 19.82 sec, but Martina and third-place finisher Wallace Spearmon of the U.S. were subsequently disqualified for running on their inside lane lines. American Shawn Crawford (19.96 sec), the defending Olympic champion, was awarded the silver medal.

      Bolt's third act was the 4 × 100-m relay. With the United States absent from the final owing to a botched baton exchange in the heats, Bolt ran for Jamaica on the third leg and passed to Powell, history's second fastest 100-m runner. Despite a merely serviceable pass, Powell powered to the finish in 37.10 sec, 0.30 sec faster than the old world record first run by an American relay team in 1992 and matched again in 1993 by another American squad.

      Meanwhile, the Jamaican women held up their end. Unheralded Shelly-Ann Fraser led a Jamaican sweep of the women's 100-m medals; Veronica Campbell-Brown defended her title in the 200 m; and Melaine Walker took the 400-m hurdles in an Olympic record time of 52.64 sec.

      The U.S. team was somewhat disappointed atop the track and field standings with 23 total medals, just 5 ahead of Russia. The American men's haul of four golds was a record low, but medal sweeps in the 400-m and 400-m hurdles led by LaShawn Merritt and Angelo Taylor saved face, along with Bryan Clay's decathlon win.

      Two Ethiopians captured gold in the longest track races as Kenenisa Bekele became the sixth man to win a 5,000-m/10,000-m double and Tirunesh Dibaba became the first woman to win the same pairing. The 26-year-old Bekele set Olympic records (12 min 57.82 sec and 27 min 1.17 sec, respectively) with both his victories. Bekele's title defense in the 10,000 m was so strong that two-time Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia ran his fastest time ever in an Olympics and placed just sixth. Dibaba's defense of her 5,000-m title was the slowest winning time in an Olympics or world championship, but her 10,000-m mark (29 min 54.66 sec) was the second fastest clocking in history.

      The women's steeplechase debuted as an Olympic event, and Russian Gulnara Samitova-Galkina broke her own world record to win in 8 min 58.81 sec. The only other world record set by a woman at the Games went to Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who defended her pole vault title and added a centimetre to her own world record, soaring over 5.05 m (16 ft 63/4 in).

      Two racewalkers set Olympic records: Italy's Alex Schwazer in the men's 50-km event (3 hr 37 min 9 sec) and Russian Olga Kaniskina in the women's 20 km (1 hr 26 min 31 sec). Besides Isinbayeva, two other field eventers also broke Olympic records. Australian Steve Hooker pole-vaulted 5.96 m (19 ft 61/2 in), and Aksana Miankova of Belarus threw the women's hammer 76.34 m (250 ft 5 in).

International Competition.
      The 2008 Golden League series shed dramatic tension quickly but wound up as a rags-to-riches tale. After three of the six elite European invitational meets, just two contenders remained eligible to share in the million-dollar jackpot at season's end: Kenyan 800-m runner Pamela Jelimo and Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic. Experienced internationalist Vlasic, who had won 34 consecutive meets since June 2007 before losing at the Beijing Olympics, seemed a better bet than 18-year-old Jelimo, an unknown internationally before she won the African title in May. Jelimo was undefeated all season, setting five world junior records with the fastest 800-m times in more than a decade and winning the Olympic gold. On a rain-slicked track in Brussels at the final Golden League meet in September, Vlasic lost while Jelimo won easily to bank the million dollars.

      Two American male sprint stars hit bumpy roads in 2008. Tyson Gay, a triple gold medalist in the 100 m, 200 m, and 4 × 100-m relay at the 2007 world championships, hoped to duplicate that feat in the Olympics. At the U.S. Olympic Trials, he won the wind-aided 100-m final in 9.68 sec (the fastest time ever run in any conditions), but in the quarterfinals of the 200 m, he crashed to the track with a strained hamstring. Gay trained well in the six weeks before the Olympics to heal the injury, but he could not regain top form and was eliminated in the 100-m semifinals in Beijing. Jeremy Wariner, virtually unbeatable at 400 m during 2004–07, parted with his coach and lost four of seven races, including the Olympic Trials, the Olympics, and the season-concluding IAAF World Athletics Final.

Cross Country and Marathon Running.
      Haile Gebrselassie further rewrote the all-time marathon list in 2008, first with a 2-hr 4-min 53-sec race in Dubai, U.A.E., in January, at the time history's second fastest marathon. In September at the Berlin Marathon, the event in which he had completed the fastest time on record in 2007, the 35-year-old Ethiopian ran history's first sub-2-hr 4-min marathon. Gebrselassie passed the halfway mark in 1 hr 2 min 5 sec, 24 sec faster than in the 2007 race. He slowed noticeably at one point but summoned a finishing kick to lean across the line in 2 hr 3 min 59 sec.

      Weather conditions for the Olympic marathons in Beijing were poor but better than expected. Romanian Constantina Tomescu, age 38, pulled clear of the women's field at the halfway point and held on to win in 2 hr 26 min 44 sec. It was the slowest Olympic-winning time since 1992 but 22 sec ahead of silver medalist Catherine Ndereba of Kenya. The men raced in higher temperatures but less humidity and eschewed caution. Kenyan winner Sammy Wanjiru's 2-hr 6-min 32-sec time broke the Olympic record by almost 3 min; runner-up Jaouad Gharib of Morocco also ran under the old standard in 2 hr 7 min 16 sec.

      At the world cross country championships, held in Edinburgh on March 30, Ethiopia swept the individual titles. Kenenisa Bekele earned a record sixth title in the senior men's 12-km event; Tirunesh Dibaba prevailed in the senior women's race; her sister Genzebe won the junior women's race; and Ibrahim Jeilan took the junior men's event.

Sieg Lindstrom

▪ 2008


World Outdoor Championships.
      At the 2007 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world outdoor championships, held August 25–September 2 in Osaka, Japan, the United States led the medal count. The U.S. equaled its record for overall world championship medals (26), set in 1991 in Tokyo, and its record for golds (14) from the 2005 championships in Helsinki.

       Shot putter Reese Hoffa, the 2006 world indoor champion, took the U.S.'s first gold medal in the meet's second final with three throws farther than defending champion teammate Adam Nelson could muster. Hoffa's best of 22.04 m (72 ft 33/4 in) made him the second longest thrower ever at a world championships.

      American sprinters Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix won three gold medals each. For Gay, who placed fourth in the 200 m at the 2005 championships, a battle with world record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica was expected in the 100 m. Although Powell had been slowed by injury earlier in the season, he displayed dominating acceleration in his quarterfinal and semifinal. Powell eased up at the end of both races, so much so in the semifinal that his second cousin, Derrick Atkins of The Bahamas, passed him to win. Gay's 10.00-sec clocking in the other semifinal was the fastest of the preliminaries, but Powell was still expected to claim the gold. Powell led early in the final, but Gay passed him at about 75 m and pulled away to win in 9.85 sec; Atkins also passed Powell to take silver. Gay produced an even bigger effort in the 200 m, in which he reached 100 m in 10.15 sec (0.02 sec ahead of early leader Usain Bolt of Jamaica) and surged in the homestretch to a meet-record 19.76-sec win. Gay finished the meet as the third leg in the 4 × 100-m relay, which the U.S. team won with a time of 37.78 sec. (Only American Maurice Greene in 1999 had previously won this triple at the world championships.) Boosted by Powell's astonishing 8.84-sec anchor leg, Jamaica's relay team (37.89 sec) edged Great Britain by 0.01 sec for the silver.

      Felix defended her 200-m title in a personal-record 21.81 sec, the fastest at a world championship since 1999. She then shared the gold in the 4 × 100-m and 4 × 400-m relays, running the second leg for the U.S. in each. The winning time of 3 min 18.55 sec on the long relay, with Felix contributing a lap of 48.0 sec, was the fastest at a world championship meet since 1993. Only Marita Koch of East Germany, in 1983, had previously matched Felix's triple-gold performance in these events.

      American Jeremy Wariner defended his 400-m title in 43.45 sec, while his U.S. teammate Bernard Lagat became the first athlete to win both the 1,500 m and 5,000 m at a world championship, taking each with a burst of unmatched speed in the final 100 m. Lagat had competed for Kenya at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, in which he earned bronze and silver, respectively, in the 1,500 m. Lagat's time of 13 min 45.87 sec was the slowest-ever 5,000 m at a world championship, as were the winning times in most other distance races. With the heat and humidity testing endurance athletes, the women's 3,000-m steeplechase was exceptional. Yekaterina Volkova of Russia won in 9 min 6.57 sec, a meet record and the second fastest clocking ever.

      Swedish heptathlete Carolina Klüft (Kluft, Carolina Evelyn ) took the gold medal with a score of 7,032 points, the second highest in history, trailing only world record holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee of the U.S. Hammer winner Ivan Tikhon's mark of 83.63 m (274 ft 4 in) earned the Belarusian an event-record third consecutive title. Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva defended her title with a jump of 4.80 m (15 ft 9 in).

International Competition.
      Although beaten in Osaka, Powell rebounded at his next competition (in Rieti, Italy, on September 9) to break the 100-m world record (in a qualifying heat) with a time of 9.74 sec. Powell had shared the old record, 9.77 sec, with Justin Gatlin of the U.S. since May 2006. Although Gatlin subsequently received an eight-year ban for doping in 2006, as of the end of the 2007 season, the IAAF had not yet nullified his mark. In Rieti Powell sprinted the final in 9.78 sec with a wind-reading of 1.7 m per sec, the fastest 100 m ever when adjustments for wind and altitude were taken into account. Through August, Gay dominated the sprints, winning 10 consecutive finals at 100 m and 200 m and taking the U.S. 200-m title in 19.62 sec, the second fastest time in history. Gay's unbeaten streak ended with his first race after the world championships, when his training partner Wallace Spearmon won the 100 m at a meet in Shanghai.

      At the same meet, Ethiopian distance star Kenenisa Bekele, unbeaten in 2007 in 10 track races of 2,000 m and above, ventured down to the 1,500 m and lost to Kenyan Daniel K. Komen. During the season long-jump champion Irving Saladino of Panama was unbeaten in nine meets, giving him 17 consecutive wins dating back to July 2006.

 In women's competition Ethiopian Meseret Defar broke three distance world records in 2007—the indoor 3,000 m (8 min 23.72 sec) and the outdoor 5,000 m (14 min 16.63 sec) and two miles (8 min 58.58 sec)—and never lost in her 10 races during the season. Isinbayeva, who won 18 straight major finals, set only one indoor record (4.93 m [16 ft 2 in]), but she claimed seven of the nine seasonal vaults above 4.83 m (15 ft 10 in). Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic won 18 of 19 outdoor finals and jumped 2 m (6 ft 63/4 in) or higher 20 times.

      The fortunes of American 400-m runner Sanya Richards, the 2006 IAAF Women's Athlete of the Year, rode a rollercoaster in 2007. Richards's spring training was set back by a viral illness. She rebounded to win her first two races in June, but when she tried a double at the U.S. outdoor championships, she placed fourth in the 400 m and failed to qualify for the world championships. She bounced back the next day to place second in the 200 m behind Felix and qualify for Osaka in that event. At the Stockholm Grand Prix meet in early August, Richards again tried a double. She ran a then personal best 11.05 sec in the 100 m but lost to American Me'Lisa Barber. Richards returned later in the evening for the 400 m but lost again to Felix. After finishing fifth in the 200 m at the world championships, Richards reeled off five straight 400-m wins. At season's end Richards and Isinbayeva, the only undefeated athletes in the five meets of the Golden League series, split the $1 million jackpot.

      Repercussions continued from the BALCO doping scandal, which broke in 2003. In October sprinter and long jumper Marion Jones pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to having lied to federal agents and admitted, after three years of denial, that in 1999 and 2000 she had used the steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG). Jones claimed that her coach, Trevor Graham, had initially misled her that the drug, undetectable by doping tests prior to 2003, was flaxseed oil. After her admission Jones returned the five medals she won at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and announced her retirement. At year's end she faced an almost certain retroactive suspension by sports authorities and a possible prison sentence. Graham was scheduled for trial on charges of having lied to federal agents. Meanwhile, Gatlin hoped to win early reinstatement from his doping suspension in return for his cooperation in the investigation of Graham.

Cross Country and Marathon Running.
      On September 30 in Berlin, Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie broke the marathon world record with a time of 2 hr 4 min 26 sec. In his seventh serious marathon, Gebrselassie earned his 24th world record by slashing 29 seconds from the standard set by Kenyan Paul Tergat on the same course in 2003. Twice, in February and March, Kenya's Samuel Wanjiru improved on Gebrselassie's former half-marathon record. Wanjiru was timed at 58 min 33 sec in the second race. On December 2, just 22 days after his 21st birthday, Wanjiru won his debut marathon, run in Fukuoka, Japan, with a course-record 2 hr 6 min 39 sec. Lornah Kiplagat of The Netherlands broke the women's half-marathon world record at the world road running championships in Udine, Italy, in October. The 33-year-old Kenyan-born Kiplagat ran the distance in 1 hr 6 min 25 sec, a 19-sec improvement on the previous record.

      With a repeat victory at the Boston Marathon, Robert K. Cheruiyot of Kenya won the men's title in the first two-year cycle (2006–07) of the World Marathon Majors (WMM), in which athletes earned points in the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City marathons plus the world championships and Olympics. Cheruiyot split the $1 million prize with Gete Wami of Ethiopia, who placed second in London, won Berlin, and placed second in New York to take the women's WMM title. Wami and Kenyan Martin Lel, with wins in London and New York, led in the 2007–08 series.

      At the world cross country championships, held in brutally humid heat in Mombasa, Kenya, Kiplagat won the senior women's crown. Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea prevailed in the men's race. Bekele, undefeated in world cross country the previous five years, suffered heat exhaustion and did not finish.

Sieg Lindstrom

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

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