Between 4 August 2017 and 13 August 2017, the world’s best athletes pitched their tents in London to compete in the 2017 IAAF World Championships. This year’s edition was a special championship. Prior to the games, eight time’s Olympic gold medallist and the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt indicated that the tournament would be his last. The competition also bid farewell to Mo Farah, Britain’s greatest ever athlete.
The 10,000m Men’s Final was the only medalled event on the opening day of the tournament. After running 24 and a quarter laps around the tracks, Mo Farah increased his pace to reach the finish line ahead of Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei and Kenya’s Paul Tanui. The atmosphere throughout the race was electrifying as 60,000 spectators stood and cheered each time Farah ran in front of them. After his victory, Mo Farah did a lap of honour around the stadium along with his twins and his delighted daughter Rihanna Farah. In the 5,000m Mo Farah’s strategy which has seen him win multiple gold medals did not work as he was outwitted by the team tactics of the Ethiopians, so he had to settle for second best.
The 100m men’s final was what the world was waiting to see. Bolt was expected to cruise to the finishing line first and win his 12th IAAF World Championship gold medal. In the first round, Bolt topped his heat and in the semi-final, he came second behind America’s Christian Coleman. In the final, the crowd cheered as Usain Bolt’s name was announced. In contrast, the crowd jeered Justin Gatlin in each of his three races. When the official shot the starting gun, Justin Gatlin, probably motivated by the crowd’s hostility ran the race of his life and reached the finishing line first. When the results appeared on the big screen and we got confirmation that Bolt came third, one could feel the disappointment in the stadium. I couldn’t believe it and reassured myself that the officials would order the runners to start all over again. After the spectators accepted the results, they began shouting Usain Bolt, Usain Bolt, Usain Bolt. Bolt then did a lap of honour while the winner Gatlin left the stage for the King of the Tracks. In short, the winner was the loser and the loser was the winner.
The 100m women’s final went the same way as the men’s final. The favourite and double Olympic Champion, Elaine Thompson came fifth. America’s Tori Bowie was victorious beating Ivory Coast’s Marie-Jose Ta Lou by a hundredth of a second. Ta Lou emerged as the “Silver girl” of the tournament as she also got a silver medal in the ladies 200m final. Netherland’s Daphne Shippers defended her 200m ladies title and put behind her disappointment in coming third in the ladies 100m final.
Ethiopia’s Almas Ayana was on another planet in the 10,000m ladies final. Adopting a similar tactic to the one she used to break the world record at the Rio Olympics, Ayana moved into another gear from the 5,000m mark and with each subsequent lap, she increased her lead over her rivals. By the time she completed the race in 30 minutes and 16 seconds, she had a 350 meter lead over Ethiopian legend Tirunesh Dibaba who finished second. Ayana was unable to complete a double in the 5,000m as she was beaten to second place by Kenya’s Hellen Obiri.
In the Men’s 3,000 steeplechase, Kenya maintained its almost 30-year dominance in the event with Kenya’s Kipruto winning the gold medal (I often wonder why the competition hasn’t been renamed the KenyaChase). In the women’s 3,000 steeplechase, the American’s played the role of spoilers by winning gold and silver and leaving Kenya’s Jepkemoi to settle for bronze. America’s Emma Coburn not only took the gold medal, she completed the race in a World Championship record time of 9 minutes and 2 seconds. Kenya did Africa proud by coming second on the overall medal table with a total of 5 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze medals.
South Africa’s Caster Semenya broke British hearts when she came from behind to deny Britain Laura Muir a bronze medal in the 1,500m ladies final. It was as if she decided to get her pound of flesh from the British public for the manner in which she was disparaged on BBC by Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, the world marathon record holder. Semenya won gold in the ladies 800m on the final day of the competition.
The tournament wasn’t without its share of controversy. Botswana’s Isaac Makwala who was a medal favourite in the 200m and 400m men’s event suffered from food poisoning in his hotel. As a result, he missed the 400m final which Wayde Van Niekerk won. On the day of the 200m heats, Makwala was denied entry into the stadium by the security officials and had his accreditation withdrawn thereby preventing him from running in the heats. The Botswana athletic federation protested Mawala’s ill treatment. Michael Johnson was also supportive of Makwala and made his views heard. The IAAF subsequently allowed Makwala to run a time trial. He had to race against the clock and beat a specified time frame before he could be eligible for the final. When Makwala began his solo race, the crowd rallied behind him. Makwala completed the race in 20.02 seconds. Upon completing the time trial, he did a number of press ups to prove his fitness. A couple of hours later, he won his semi-final heat to book a place in the final. Unfortunately for Makwala, the toil of his sickness, denial of entry and running twice in a day caught up with him in the 200m men’s final where Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev surprised Makwala, Van Niekerk and the crowd to win the event.
In the heptathlon, reigning Olympic Champion, Naffisatou Thiam was unstoppable and added the World Championship to her Olympic crown.
Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim won the men’s high jump easily by scaling his first six jumps at first attempt. With Qatar hosting the next World Championship in 2019, there is no doubt that Barshim will be the poster boy of the tournament. Shortly after his victory, Barshim received the IAAF flag from Britain on behalf of Qatar.
On a lighter note the IAAF Championship mascot, Hero the hedgehog entertained the crowd throughout the championship. Besides dancing, winding up the officials and facilitating the Mexican wave, the mascot swam in the water meant for the steeplechase runners, hung his dirty lining on the high jump bar and rolled down the stairs. As a reward for its efforts, the mascot got a medal.
The last two days of the tournament featured the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays for men and women. Prior to the relays, Britain had resigned itself to winning only two medals courtesy of Sir Mo Farah. In a twist of fate, Britain won medals in all the relay events. In the 4 x 100m men’s final the British crowd were undecided on whether to support the British quartet or support Bolt bowing out with a gold medal for his Jamaican team. Pundits were of the view that the race would be between the Americans and Jamaicans. After the baton was handed over to Bolt he was expected to cruise to victory. In another shocker, Bolt injured his leg, fell to the ground and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake crossed the line first to win Britain’s first World Championship 4 x 100m relay gold medal.
Sister Allyson, the born again American Christian sprinter ranks as one of my most favourite sporting personalities alongside Sister Serena Williams and Sister Venus Williams. I first became a fan of Felix in 2007 during the World Athletics Championship held in Osaka where she won three gold medals. In the build up to and during the games, the focus was mainly on Usain Bolt and to a lesser extent Mo Farah. Allyson Felix, the six times American Olympic gold medallist was ignored by the pundits even though she had amassed a total of 9 World Championship gold medals leading to the competition. In the 400m final, Allyson Felix lost to fellow compatriot Phyllis Francis and had to settle for bronze.
Sister Allyson picked herself up and two days later won a gold medal for the USA in the 4 x 100m women’s relay final.
The following day, she took part in the 4 x 400m women’s final. During the first leg of the relay, there was not much to differ from the competitors, however, once Sister Allyson received the baton from her teammate, she increased the gap between her and her opponents. With this lead, her teammates were able to maintain the tempo and 49.92 seconds after the race began Phyllis Francis crossed the line first to bring the gold.
With the victory, Sister Allyson became the most decorated athlete in World Championship history with a record medal haul of 16 (including 11 gold medals). During this Championship, Sister Allyson won 2 golds and 1 bronze. To put this numbers in perspective, if Allyson Felix were a country she would have ranked 9th on the overall medal table ahead of countries like Jamaica, Netherlands and Brazil.
Allyson Felix: Poetry In Motion
Before the Championship came to a close on 13 August 2017, Usain Bolt was given an award for his contribution to athletics. The track where he started out in the 2012 London Olympics was carved out and presented to him. Bolt then did a lap of honour and when he reached the starting line of the 100m, he knelt down and at the finishing line he did is customary Bolt pose in front of the Seiko clock which displayed his 100m world record of 9:58 seconds and 200m world record of 19:19 seconds.
This was my first athletics tournament and I enjoyed every moment of it. As it the time of writing this essay, I am still suffering from Athletics Withdrawal Symptom.
Below are more of the pictures I took throughout the Championship.