Monday, August 19, 2013

No gold, but titles have silver lining

Friendly foes: Silver medallist Kim Mickle (left) hugs German Christina Obergfoll, who won javelin gold.

Friendly foes: Silver medallist Kim Mickle (left) hugs German Christina Obergfoll, who won javelin gold. Photo: AP

For the first time since 2005 Australia did not win gold at an Athletics World Championships. Yet this was a successful performance by Australia.

Two silver medals in the last two days to go with an earlier bronze meant Australia won its regular quota of medals. The only thing lacking was a gold.

It would be churlish and wrong to challenge Olympic and former world champion Sally Pearson's silver as having fallen short given she ran a season's best to take silver after overcoming injury during the year.

Kim Mickle's javelin silver came after three personal bests in thee days – two in the final – to absolutely deliver when it mattered. This was a vast improvement on other major events for her given she missed the finals in London last year.


The reliable Jared Tallent again was able to provide a medal, this time a bronze in the 50km walk – his fifth at a major championship – to be not only one of Australia's most consistent race walkers but one of the most consistent in the world.

The first glance impression might be that the London games were more successful, because of Pearson's gold and Mitch Watt's silver, but significantly, Watt was injured at the championships and unable to compete. He had won silver medals at the previous worlds as well as the Olympics. A reliable medal winner, his absence was keenly felt.

Nor was former Australian team captain Steve Hooker in the field. Prior to London, Hooker had been as reliable a medal winner as Usain Bolt, but not any more. When or if Hooker is able to return to competing at the level he once occupied is doubtful, but he remains a hope to be back.

The difference between Moscow and London or even the previous World Championships in Daegu was the clutch of performances one rung below medals. These were the efforts by emerging talents who delivered personal best efforts to make finals and sit just off the dais.

Zoe Buckman's seventh-place in the 1500m after her aggressive first in the semi-final was the mark of a maturing athlete who built on her semi-final run at London.

Jess Trengove ran 11th in just her third marathon to deliver the best ever finish by an Australian woman in this event at a world championships. She automatically qualified for the Commonwealth Games next year.

Walker Dane Bird-Smith came 11th in his first race in a 20km walk at a major championship to follow in his father's footsteps as a rising talent.

Discus thrower Julian Wruck's US college season drew world attention to him as one of the fast emerging talents in field sports and his effort to make the final as a 22-year-old in a sport of old men was meritorious.

Were it not for Kim Mickle's silver medal more attention would have focused on the strong performance of Kathryn Mitchell to come fifth in the women's javelin.

There were also some thrilling occasions. Tristan Thomas's surging effort in the men's 4x400m relay to drag Australia from fifth to first in the semi-final and into the relay final was inspiring.

These were matters of parochial interest in a championship where the thrill was delivered again by Usain Bolt and Mo Farah confirming their peerless status with gold in each event they walked onto the track for.

Bolt's three gold – the 100m, 200m and 4x100m - means he has now joined Allyson Felix, Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson in winning eight world championship golds when relays are included.

His two sprint gold medals gave Bolt his fourth and fifth individual world championship golds and elevated him alongside Lewis and Kenenisa Bekele on five, leaving him behind only Johnson and Sergey Bubka in winning six.

Right now it is hard to fathom him being beaten within two years and surely it would seem he becomes what he is driven by – being "the greatest the world has seen in the sport".

The multiple world-record holder has already done that in sprinting, but one or two more gold would confirm that in athletics.

Farah's effort to replicate his 5km and 10km gold in London with the same medal haul here also promoted him into race territory in distance running,

The biggest noise was made for and by Russian darling Yelena Isinbayeva who was lifted by the crowd to claim another pole vault gold at a time when her best seemed to be a memory.

She then weighed into matters of politics with all the delicacy of a shot putter at an all-you-can-eat buffet when she scolded foreign athletes for protesting about the country's new retrograde anti-gay laws and began speaking of her country's beliefs in opposing homosexuality.

But then the athletics was on again the next day and matters of the track took over again.

Notwithstanding political matters of the new gay laws and the threat to boycott next year's winter Olympics in Sochi, these were successful games for the host country.

Crowds were much thinner early on than is ordinarily the case but that had something to do with the number of roubles asked for a ticket.

And the the host country won. They topped the gold medal tally with six so for the first time since 1983 the US did not top the gold medal tally. The US won the overall medal tally but with 5 golds they were behind the Russians.
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