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2008 Chronicle of the Olympic Games in Athletics

15 AUG 2008 General News Beijing

Beijing 2008 - Day One Summary - 15 Aug

Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba ran the second-fastest 10,000m ever for women en route to winning the gold medal in the first track event of the Beijing Olympics, set an Olympic Record of 29:54.66, and became only the second woman to ever dip under 30:00 for 10,000m.

Dibaba dogged the steps of Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey through the late stages of Friday evening's race (15 August), just as she did when the pair took gold and silver at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007. This year, though, they had Lornah Kiplagat (NED) to thank for a swift early pace, and despite dire predictions, excellent weather, cooler and less humid than Osaka. (Officials reported 26 degrees centigrade and 53% relative humidity.) Abeylegesse took the pace from Kiplagat between 6,000m and 7,000m and whittled the pack, ten when she took over, down to seven, then four, then two, herself and Dibaba. Knowing the sting of Dibaba's kick, Abeylegesse poured on the pace, trying to run it out of her, but with 300m remaining Dibaba was not to be denied. She moved to the front and by the 200m mark had managed to open a small gap which grew, finally, as they reached the homestretch.

Tomasz Majewski unleashes a 21.51m winning throw (Getty Images)

Tomasz Majewski unleashes a 21.51m winning throw

Dibaba won the only significant global title she hasn't won since Athens, and behind her Abeylegesse, in 29:56.34, became the third-fastest ever, set a European record, and won Olympic silver. Wang's world mark of 29:31.78, thought untouchable for fifteen years now, appears at least within Dibaba's reach.

Behind the pair, American Shalane Flanagan was working her way through the wreckage left behind. Flanagan was dropped from the pack along with Kiplagat but passed Kiplagat and set out in pursuit of two Kenyans, Lucy Wangui and Linet Masai, in the closing laps. First Wangui (who finished 7th in 30:39.96) and then Masai were passed by Flanagan, who went on to break her own American record with a 30:22.22 and match Lynn Jennings' 1992 bronze medal as the best-ever American finish in the women's event. Flanagan is the first American to win an Olympic medal of any color in a track event longer than 400m since Jennings, and her place echoed the medal won by teammate Kara Goucher in Osaka. (Goucher finished 10th in a PB 30:55.16.)

Fourth came Masai, in a 30:26.50 clocking which would be a new World Junior Record (pending ratification) and a new Kenyan record. Five more athletes ran their best-ever times.

The honor of the first medal of the Olympic athletics, however, went to Tomasz Majewski of Poland, who took the lead in the men's Shot Put with a titan 21.21m release in the third round which would've been enough to win, and backed it up with a 21.51m improvement in the fourth round. That was more than enough for the win, as silver went to Christian Cantwell's last-round throw of 21.09m, and bronze to Andrei Mikhnevich, whose 21.05m mark was the leader when he put it in the second round--taking over the lead from Majewski, as it happened.

Majewski, unfazed by the presence of World Champion Reese Hoffa and World Indoor Champion Christian Cantwell, produced his winning toss in the same round that Athens silver medalist Adam Nelson fouled for the third time, thereby not recording a legal mark for the competition. Nelson kept his foot in the ring on his first two fouls but threw outside the left edge of the sector and foot fouled the final effort. Hoffa also disappointed, managing only 20.53 with three fouls and finishing seventh. Dylan Armstrong of Canada, in medal position until Cantwell displaced him in the final round, had a 21.04m put in the second round which not only had him close to the medals but should stand as a Canadian national record.

The third final which started today will be finished tomorrow: the first four events of the heptathlon were contested starting Friday morning with the 100m hurdles. Hyleas Fountain led with a 12.78, good for 1158 points, and expanded that lead with a 1.89m clearance in the high jump which put her in first by 50 points. After a lackluster shot put, where Fountain only reached 13.36m, 264 fewer than Nataliia Dobrynska of Ukraine and her 17.29, Fountain slipped to second, but returned to the top with the fastest 200m of the field, 23.21. After four events, then, Fountain won three of them, and ended the first day with 4060 points, 64 ahead of Dobrynska. Third was to Kelly Sotherton with 3938, her 23.39 200m moving her ahead of Russia's Anna Bogdanova (3922). Fountain will try to defend that lead and become the first American heptathlon champion since Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The men's 100m ran its first two rounds Friday, and World Record holder Usain Bolt was no surprise as the fastest of the two rounds. His 9.92 looked easy for him, and most observers are putting their faith in Bolt to take gold on Saturday--provided there's no dramatic returns to top form by Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, both of whom advanced, Powell perhaps more easily than Gay.

Pamela Jelimo, the revelation of the women's 800m this season, advanced in that event easily with a relaxed 2:03.18; the fastest times were provided by World Champion Janeth Jepkosgei (1:59.72) and Sydney gold medalist Maria Mutola (1:58.91), the two perhaps feeling that they needed to remind the world that they, too, can run a fast 800m.

World Champion Bernard Lagat, the silver medalist in Athens, fought his way out of a late-race box to finish fourth and advance in his 1,500m heat. In the fourth of four heats, Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi kicked off the fast pace to a 3:32.89, a mark quite close to the Olympic Record. They will run semifinals on Sunday.

Russian women dominated the first-ever Olympic running of the womens' 3,000m steeplechase, led by Gulnara Galkina-Samitova, who ran 9:15.17 in the first heat. The winner of the final will establish a new Olympic record.

Angelo Taylor (48.67) and Markino Buckley (48.65) were the fastest qualifiers in the men's 400m hurdles, but more notable in the one-lap barrier event was the end of the road for defending Olympic champion Felix Sanchez, who ran 51.10 in the fourth and last heat. Just ahead of Sanchez, two-time World Championships third-placer Dai Tamasue also failed to advance.

The women's Discus Throw qualifying was led by a 62.77m toss from American Stephanie Brown-Trafton. The men's Hammer Throw saw Krisztian Pars of Hungary produce the longest mark of the day, an 80.07m effort.

Competition resumes Saturday morning at 9:00 when the men's 20km walk steps off.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

16 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

Beijing 2008 - Day Two Summary - 16 Aug

Usain Bolt's 9.69 World record* left other gold medal performances in the shade after the end of the second day of Athletics at the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, Beijing 2008.

It was still Saturday morning in Jamaica, and we imagine this means there was plenty of day and evening left to celebrate the 9.69 World record run by Usain Bolt in Saturday night's (beijing time) 100m final, which concluded the second day of Olympic athletics at Beijing's National Stadium.

The race was pitched as a three-way battle between Bolt, former World record holder Asafa Powell, and World champion Tyson Gay, but Gay was unable to make it out of the semifinal round, blaming a lack of race conditioning since his injury at the U.S. Trials in July. And Powell, too, was a non-factor in the end, fading to fifth (9.95) as Bolt unfolded his absurdly long stride and walked away from the field in the second part of the race.

Usain Bolt with the world record figures: 9.69 (Getty Images)

Usain Bolt with the world record figures: 9.69

Bolt looked around at 70m and visibly shut off his top gear, gesturing and celebrating even before he crossed the line. After setting his first World record of 9.72 in late May, Bolt told reporters that records were one thing, but Olympic medals meant more.

"The World record means nothing without gold medals," he said then. "If you are the Olympic champion, they have to wait four years to try to beat you."

The other medals go to Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago (9.89) and Walter Dix of the USA (9.91) when they're awarded at the beginning of the evening session on Sunday (17).

Vili dominates

Valerie Vili of New Zealand has dominated the women's Shot Put since winning the event at last summer's World Championships in Osaka, and she reminded her competitors of that fact as quickly as possible in this evening's final. Vili's very first pitch was a 20.56m PB, and given her PB was already the Oceania AR, the mark was established for the others to toss at for the duration of the evening.

Vili eventually delivered five consecutive marks over 20m, including three good enough to win (the silver went to the only other putter over 20m, Natallia Mikhnevich of Belarus at 20.28m), but didn't improve on that awesome opener. Mikhnevich produced her silver-winning release in the second round, and the remaining medal movement came when her teammate Nadzeya Ostapchuk moved into third with a 19.86m toss in the fifth round. Vili declined to make a sixth attempt with the gold medal locked up.

Fountain's long jump upset is Dobrynska's gain

It was a long day for the Heptathlon leader-after-four-events Hyleas Fountain. Fountain entered the morning session ahead, but had a disappointing long jump (6.38, only the 7th-best in the field), and that was when Ukraine's Nataliia Dobrynska struck. Dobrynska's 6.63m leap bounded her into the lead, and she expanded it with a solid 48.60m Javelin Throw where Fountain could only manage 41.93m.

Arriving at the 800m, then, Dobrynska had a 145-point lead over Fountain, and Lyudmila Blonska, the silver medallist from Osaka, was a bare six points behind Fountain in third. The final heat of the 800m produced PBs for seven of the eight starters--the exception being Dobrynska, finishing eighth but, with 855 points, clinching her gold medal. Blonska, in 2:09.44, picked up 973 and closed 118 points of Dobrynska's lead; Fountain with 2:15.45 (886) only made up 31, and slid to third. The trio were awarded their medals by one of the most successful Ukranians in athletics history, World Pole Vault record holder Sergey Bubka, IAAF Senior Vice President.

Borchin couldn't believe its his gold

Even the Saturday morning session had a final, as the men's 20km Race Walk stepped off at 9:00. For 15km a large pack of walkers revolved around a narrow course in the midst of the Olympic Green, led largely by Italy's Ivano Brugnetti and Spain's Francisco Javier Fernandez. At 15km, however, World champion Jefferson Perez of Ecuador moved strongly to open up the race, and his move was covered only by Russia's Valeriy Borchin and Australia's Jared Tallent. Tallent, pursued doggedly by Brugnetti, couldn't handle the pace as Borchin took the lead with Perez on his shoulder, but those two leaders slugged it out until the closing kilometres.

It would be Borchin who finally made the conclusive break and entered the Bird's Nest tunnel first. Crossing the finish line in 1:19:01, Borchin appeared unsure that he had really finished, maintaining stride around the corner just in case, before the truth sunk in. Perez was just 14 seconds behind, then Tallent arrived in 1:19:42.

Tallent was pursued closely by Wang Hao of China, who celebrated his 19th birthday with a 1:19:47 PB; Brugnetti in 5th and Tallent's teammate Luke Adams were also under 1:20 and therefore within a minute of Borchin.

Qualifying

Saturday morning's qualifying rounds included the men's 3000m Steeplechase, where a full squad of Kenyans safely advanced to the final, and the women's Pole Vault, where eleven women cleared 4.50m before Yelena Isinbayeva wrapped everything up with a single successful jump at the automatic qualifying height, 4.60m. Isinbayeva had the highest clearance, but only tied for fewest jumps; Jen Stuczynski cleared 4.50m with a single attempt as well. The first round of the women's 400m was also run as well with no significant casualties.

The afternoon's qualifying included the women's 100m, where sixteen women advanced to the semi-final round (Sunday) but not France's Christine Arron.

The extraordinarily tough three-heat semifinal of the women's 800m saw a veritable slaughter of world-class two-lap women but qualified Maria Mutola for her fifth Olympic final as well as world season leader Pamela Jelimo and World champion Janeth Jepkosgei. Three Americans were among the eight advancing to the men's 400m Hurdles final, but for the first time in Olympic history the men's Long Jump final will not include a single competitor from the USA.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

17 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

Beijing 2008 - Day Three Summary - 17 Aug

The women's Steeplechase was destined to be historic before it even started on Sunday evening at Beijing's National Stadium, the third day of athletics competition at the 29th Olympic Games.

On the 80th anniversary of women first competing in the Olympic Games, a new women's event would be run for the first time, establishing a first Olympic Record and bringing women's events to parity with men's on the track. Then Gulnara Galkina-Samitova dug in, taking the lead almost immediately and pushing hard from the gun.

The World record holder split 2:58.63 for the first 1000m of the 3000m race with a big pack still on behind her, then pulled away as the race approached the second thousand (which Galkina-Samitova reached in 6:01.20). Accelerating into the last third of the race, she went to a flat out sprint after getting over the final barrier and crossed the line in 8:58.81. Pending ratification, that mark will be a new World record (the second of the Games) and the first women's steeple ever under 9:00.

Shelly-Ann Fraser wins the 100m by more than two metres to lead a Jamaican medal sweep with Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart sharing the silver (Getty Images)

Shelly-Ann Fraser wins the 100m by more than two metres to lead a Jamaican medal sweep with Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart sharing the silver

Behind her, it was a melee for the lesser medals. Hard-charging Marta Dominguez of Spain was actually in position for bronze and moving up for silver when she tumbled hard over the 33rd barrier and hit her head on the track. Dazed, she took some seconds to get up and tried to resume the race, but was unable to stay standing without the help of an official for several seconds. Meanwhile, Eunice Jepkorir (KEN) fought off Ekaterina Volkova (RUS), 9:07.41 to 9:07.64, establishing a new African record in the process. National records were set by Cristina Casandra of Romania (9:16.85), Zemzem Ahmed of Ethiopia (9:17.85) and Jennifer Barringer (USA, 9:22.26, an AR for North America).

A sweep for Jamaica

History was made in the women's 100m as well, as Jamaica produced its first Olympic gold medal just as it had in the men's 100m, but also swept all three medals for the first time in the women's event. The last time the men's 100m medals were taken by the same nation in 1912, London, by the USA.

The first start was the live one and Shelly-Ann Fraser made the best of it, getting a slight lead by halfway and building it to the finish line. She won in 10.78, ecstatic, but then had to wait while teammates Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart awaited their results.

Stewart and Simpson were so closely matched that both were clocked in 10.979 and rounded to 10.98. With nothing to distinguish them, both will be awarded silver medals.

Athens silver medallist Lauryn Williams was left out of the medals along with the rest of Team USA.

Bekele waits until bell to attack

The men's 10,000m did not feature a sweep (though Ethiopians took gold and silver and had three runners in position to medal with a lap to go), nor was a World record set, but with 1996 and 2000 champion Haile Gebrselassie as his domestique, Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele successfully won his second gold at that distance in an Olympic Record time of 27:01.17.

Much of the early pacemaking was handled by Eritreans, first Kidane Tadesse and then former World Cross Country Champion Zersenay Tadese. They set a brisk pace which made the Olympic record possible, but they couldn't shake three Ethiopians, three Kenyans, and the odd Kenyan-born Qatari. There were six men in contention at the bell, and it was only Bekele's 53.42 last lap that gave him the victory over teammate Sileshi "Mr. Silver" Sihine (27:02.77, also under the old Olympic mark). Micah Kogo of Kenya took bronze in 27:04.11; Gebrselassie was sixth in 27:06.68.

Mbango retains with African record

Bekele wasn't even the first to successfully defend an Athens gold medal. As the 10,000m was getting started, the last attempts of the women's Triple Jump confirmed that Francoise Mbango Etone of Cameroon had defended her title, Cameroon's second-ever Olympic gold medal. She did it with a 15.39m leap in the second round, a new Olympic and African record. Tatyana Lebedeva in second was 1cm away from the old record with 15.32m, and Hrysopiyi Devetzi won bronze with a 15.23m leap, also in the second round.

Dita's front running prevails at last

Early Sunday morning the women's Marathon started in Tiananmen Square. Constantina Tomescu Dita of Romania has been a major-marathon stalwart for years, with her trademark being an early breakaway and all cards on the table very early.

She played exactly to form this morning, breaking away from the pack after a relatively slow first half and building a lead of as much as a 80 seconds in a much faster second half.

The pursuit pack, which numbered up to twenty including 2004 silver medallist Catherine Ndereba of Kenya when Dita made her move, decided not to risk covering the move, and thereby conceded the gold medal: this time, Dita was not coming back.

Ndereba and China's Chunxiu Zhou bided their time as the chase pack dwindled to eleven, then ten, then six. Zhou would surge to drop another few runners, then back off short of mounting a campaign to close Dita's lead. Only when Ndereba finally came to the front and joined battle did Zhou commit fully, and together they trimmed Dita's lead to 22 seconds at the finish. Dita won gold in 2:26:44, with Ndereba fighting off Zhou in the last 50m for silver in 2:27:06, Zhou taking bronze in 2:27:07.

Other pre-race favorites fared less well, with 2004 bronze medallist Deena Kastor (USA) dropping out with an apparent foot injury just shy of the 5km mark, and World record holder Paula Radcliffe (GBR) struggling with a calf cramp late in the race and falling to 23rd in 2:32:38. Osaka World Championships bronze medalist Reiko Tosa of Japan also did not finish, and Great Britain's Mara Yamauchi, the Osaka Marathon champion last winter, was 6th in 2:27:29.

Slovenian first

Lest we forget, the men's Hammer Throw produced yet another first: the first athletics gold medal ever for Slovenia. Primusz Kozmus heaved the hammer out to 82.02m in the second round and was barely approached afterward, with Vadim Devyatovsky and Ivan Tsikhon of Belarus at 81.61m and 81.51, respectively.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

18 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

Beijing 2008 - Day Four Summary - 18 Aug

After Friday for competition to 'warm-up', it's been three days, three World records in Beijing's National Stadium, and in a sport which does not give records lightly, the pace seems incredible.

5.05!

Yelena Isinbayeva proved how hard those records are to come by Monday evening in the women's Pole Vault final. The Russian star, defending her title from Athens, carefully husbanded her energy, passing all heights up to 4.70m, as five other finalists crashed out, and clearing that height on her first attempt.

It would be five vaulters at 4.75m (where Isinbayeva passed) and four at 4.80m (which she also passed), but only American Jen Stuczynski cleared 4.80m, so Isinbaeva took a second pass down the runway to raise her mark to 4.85m. When Stuczynski racked up three misses at 4.90m, settling herself with silver and assuring Isinbayeva the gold, the dominant vaulter of the last five years started the serious work of setting records.

The Kenyan steeplechasers celebrate their two medals in the Olympic final (Getty Images)

The Kenyan steeplechasers celebrate their two medals in the Olympic final

First, on her third attempt, Isinbayeva cleared 4.95m to establish a new Olympic record, erasing the 4.91m (then a World record) she had posted in Athens. Already the bar was higher than any woman not named 'Yelena Isinbayeva' had ever gone. After a brief celebration, the standard was raised to 5.05m, a centimetre higher than Isinbayeva's three-week-old World record.

The first attempt was ugly; the second very, very close. The third was perfect, and the crowd, which had by then hung out every Russian flag available on the Olympic Green, roared. Elated, Isinbayeva executed a flip on the mats, and let the clearance stand as the period on her concise competitive sentence.

American turnaround includes hurdle sweep

Stephanie Brown Trafton's first-round 64.74m Discus Throw stood through five more rounds of throws to give the USA it's first gold medal of the Games, albeit a little-expected one.

The drought broken, the previously snakebitten Americans added a tremendous success in the men's 400m Hurdles, where Angelo Taylor, the 2000 champion in Sydney, stormed down the homestretch to reclaim the title of Olympic Champion. With the first Athens winners defending yesterday, Taylor became the first Sydney winner to claim a title here in Beijing.

Taylor, perhaps fortunate not to have run the 400m heats in the morning (he attempted to earn spots in both events, stymied by the American Trials schedule), pulled away from teammates Bershawn Jackson, who started quickly, and Kerron Clement, who came on late, after the last hurdle. Taylor's mark of 47.25 is his best ever, and he will likely try for a second gold as a member of the 4x400m relay.

Clement, the 2007 World champion, won the silver in 47.98, and Jackson, the 2005 World champion, took bronze in 48.06 to complete the sweep for Team USA, the fifth time the Americans have swept this event in the Olympics.

Panama's first gold in long jump


The men's Long Jump was somewhat more volatile than the women's Discus Throw, but it was the World champion who came out on top, with Irving Saladino building to an 8.34m leap in the fourth round which would stand as the winner. Godfrey Khotso Mokoena of South Africa, left in second, tried mightily to reclaim his lead, but fouled his remaining jumps (as did Saladino, as it happened) leaving the Panamanian the lead and their first-ever gold. Mokoena would take silver with 8.24m and Ibrahim Camejo of Cuba bronze with 8.20m.

Four medals for Kenya between two events

The women's 800m was, as predicted, a romp for Kenyan Pamela Jelimo. Accompanied for the first lap by World champion Janeth Jepkosgei, Jelimo moved into the lead before the 400m mark (55.41) and pulled away on the backstretch of the second lap to win in a new World Junior record of 1:54.87. Jelimo already holds that record, so any PB she runs establishes a new one. Jepkosgei took silver with a 1:56.07, the pair unchallenged until the last strides, as Morocco's Hasna Benhassi came up for bronze. Benhassi was clocked in 1:56.73.

Kenya's romp in the women's 800m echoed a marginally less successful men's Steeplechase. While the dominant nation over the barriers had a representative (Ezekiel Kemboi, the defending champion) close to the front throughout the race, he and his teammates never moved to establish control of the race, leading to the bizarre spectacle of an Olympic steeple final led, at different times, by an American and a Swede.

When the pack arrived at the bell, medals were still in reach of as many as five athletes without the Kenyan shield on their uniforms, and in the mad dash of the last lap, one of them, Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France, went stride for stride with Brimin Kipruto and Richard Mateelong to the very end. Kipruto claimed gold in 8:10.34, but Mekhissi-Benabbad stole silver from the Kenyan storehouse in 8:10.49. Mateelong held on to bronze in 8:11.01, while Kemboi faded to seventh.

A passing rainstorm treated the Beijing air to a rinse after competition concluded, so the athletes may expect to continue the run of spectacular weather on the fifth day of athletics competition on Tuesday.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

19 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

Beijing 2008 - Day Five Summary - 19 Aug

There are no Olympic medals given out for being ranked #1 in the world, and two different finals Tuesday evening at Beijing's National Stadium underlined that point.

Ohuruogu not a fluke


400m favorite Sanya Richards was looking to improve on a disappointing 2007 in which she failed to even qualify for the U.S. team at the Osaka World Championships in the event where she was top ranked. Instead she found herself walked down in the homestretch by the winner of that Richards-less Osaka final, Christine Ohuruogu. After the sort of quick start she's practiced through the rounds here, Richards arrived on the homestretch first, but couldn't hang on to the lead. "My right hamstring grabbed on me, and I just couldn't move it anymore," said Richards. "I tried to hold them off, and I just couldn't."

Andrey Silnov celebrates his high jump victory (Getty Images)

Andrey Silnov celebrates his high jump victory

Ohuruogu, on the other hand, came through with the strong closing 100m she's been practicing through the rounds, and just like in Osaka, it carried her to the front in time to claim the gold medal with a 49.62 clocking. "I know I can perform well when I need to," said Ohuruogu, who shouldn't need to make that point with two major titles now in her pocket. "I may not have a good season, but [this] is what I train all year for."

Richards faded to third in 49.93, with Jamaica's Shericka Williams also getting by to win silver in 49.69.

Harper steps in for hurdle win


The women's 100m hurdles was supposed to be a walkover for World Indoor Champion Lolo Jones, the world leader and winner of the U.S. Trials. But things started going wrong for Jones right from the start. Behind from the gun, Jones shifted into her top gear and started to pull away after four or five hurdles. Her sheer sprint speed would be her undoing, however, and she found herself out of her own stride pattern at the ninth hurdle. Clipping the hurdle didn't bring her down, but it almost brought her to a dead stop, and she lost all the ground she'd just made up.

It was the next slowest starter, teammate Dawn Harper, who was there to capitalize on Jones' catastrophe. Harper sailed through the line in a PB 12.54 for gold, a blink ahead of another surprising medalist, Australia's Sally McLellan. McLellan was almost indistinguishable in the photo finish from another surprise medalist, Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. The slowest start of all came from the third American, Damu Cherry, whose 0.239 reaction time compared to the sharp 0.138 from McLellan left her fourth and out of the medals.

Silnov's perfect series

Russian Andrey Silnov's winning clearance of 2.36m may have been 3cm below the Olympic Record set by Charles Austin in 1996, but as usual in the high jump the competition is not always to be judged by the winning mark. After passing the opening height of 2.15m, Silnov hit every successive height on his very first attempt, clearing 2.20m, 2.25m, 2.29m, 2.32m, 2.34m en route without a single miss. With the medals decided, Silnov had the bar moved to 2.42m, the European record height and well beyond the Olympic record, and only there did he miss any jumps. Silnov's first attempt at that height was almost a clearance as well, the second not so sharp, and the third, again, just a whisper away from perfect. Only in the vertical jumps does the competition end by design in failure, or Silnov might have left the Bird's Nest without a single miss.

Just less than perfect was Britain's Germaine Mason, who took his only miss at 2.29m as a cue to pass up to 2.32m. He hit that height on his first try, and had he done the same at 2.36m he might have pressed Silnov to the end. Instead he equalled his PB at 2.34m, and his one-jump clearance of 2.32m gave him silver ahead of Yaroslav Rybakov, who used all three attempts to get over that height before matching Mason at 2.34m.

4th-throw heroics for Kanter


For three rounds it looked like Piotr Malachowski of Poland was going to swipe the discus title for the red and white just as his teammate Majewski had the shot put gold on Friday. With similar high-trajectory throws, Malachowski pitched the disk three times beyond anyone else's best, including a second-round 67.82m fling, but Estonian Gerd Kanter was not to be denied. A single fourth-round spin of 68.82m, exactly 1m beyond Malachowski's, sealed the win for Kanter. The Baltic sweep was completed by the Lithuanian stalwart Virgilijus Alekna, who also delivered a long fourth-round throw to 67.79m.

Ramzi's sprint still unsolved

The last final of the evening was the men's 1500m, left without World Champion Bernard Lagat. Instead it was 2005 World Champion Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain who had the furious long sprint for the win. Though the pack seemed to want to sap Ramzi's kick with a faster early pace, they couldn't settle who would do the work, and as a result when Ramzi broke free on the backstretch there were few ready to chase him.

Kenya's Asbel Kiprop gave his best attempt, though, and as Ramzi began to feel the effort on the homestretch Kiprop was actually gaining ground. He ran out of track before heading the Moroccan native, however, and Ramzi took gold in 3:32.94. Kiprop was 3:33.11, a sprint's margin behind, but even closer was the gap between New Zealand's Nick Willis (3:34.16) and France's Mehdi Baala (3:34.21) which earned the Commonwealth Games champion an Olympic bronze. Parker Morse for the IAAF
20 AUG 2008 General News

Beijing 2008 - Day Six Summary - 20 Aug

Wednesday was always going to be a slow day at the Bird's Nest. With no morning session, only three finals in the evening, and Liu Xiang not running in the men's 110m hurdle semifinals, it was bound to a let-down after the three World Records witnessed by capacity crowds earlier in the week.
We're joking, of course.
Usain Bolt 19.30

It's easy to wax rhapsodic about the fastest 200m ever run. We'll dispense with the poetry, or at least try: Usain Bolt's 100m World Record was only four days old. He was relaxed and joking in the blocks for the race he still considers his specialty, the 200m. There were no false starts, and Bolt got out of the blocks in lane 5 with a leisurely .182s reaction time. He ran a solid corner and arrived in the homestretch with perhaps a full running stride on Wallace Spearmon out in lane 9.

Usain Bolt with his world record figures (Getty Images)

Usain Bolt with his world record figures

Then he got down to business and ran away from the field. For the first time in these Olympics, Usain Bolt ran hard through the finish line, and stopped the finish line clock at 19.31. That was then corrected to 19.30. Bolt, voluble and expressive under any circumstances, flopped over on his back on the track in disbelief. Then he pointed at the scoreboard. Is that real? his face asked.

Michael Johnson, who held the former world record of 19.32, suggested earlier this year that his protege, Jeremy Wariner, might take away his 400m World record this year, but it was that otherworldly 200m which celebrated it's twelfth birthday as the fastest in history a week before the Beijing Games opened which has come down first.

In a bizarre footnote to the scorching race, both of the apparent minor medalists - Churandy Martina and Wallace Spearmon - were eventually disqualified for lane violations. Left in silver and bronze were the pair who crossed the line fourth and fifth, Shawn Crawford (19.96) and Walter Dix (19.98) respectively.

Olympic Record for Miankova

Before Bolt put the hammer down, Aksana Miankova of Belarus threw it out and up. On the fourth attempt of the women's Hammer Throw final, Miankova spun the weight out to 74.40m, the second-longest throw in Olympic history. It looked like Miankova's massive fling might have closed out the contest - the infield was pockmarked with craters around the 71m and 72m marks - but then Cuba's Yipsi Moreno pitched her sixth and final attempt all the way to 75.20m, well beyond Olga Kuzenkova's 75.02m record from Athens.

Miankova wasn't done, though. With only one chance to reclaim gold, she delivered a titanic 76.34m throw, over a metre beyond Moreno's, and hammered her own name into Olympic history.

Moreno's fifth throw, a 74.70m mark which moved her into second, displaced Wenxiu Zhang of China, whose attempts, like those of Chinese athletes throughout the Games, were preceded with raucous chants of "Jiaoyou!" from the crowd. Zhang's second-round mark of 74.32m stood as the bronze medal throw.

Jamaica adds yet another gold

Sheena Tosta of the USA looked in control of the women's 400m Hurdles, but that turned out only to last 300m. Coming off that corner, Jamaica's Melanie Walker drew even with Tosta, then took a lead with one hurdle to go. After clearing that last hurdle, Walker ran away from Tosta like Bolt away from pretty much anyone, and added a second gold to Jamaica's haul for the night. Her winning time of 52.64 was only an Olympic record (three finals, three Olympic records, a perfect sweep for the night) and a Jamaican national record, so perhaps not as impressive as a dozen-year-old World record, but it did achieve another historic milestone for Jamaica.

At the end of Day 6, this tiny Caribbean island with a sprinting tradition leads the medal table in athletics, with four gold medals (the same count as massive Russia) and three silvers. If medal tables were weighted inversely to population, Jamaica would be uncatchable, and they still have the women's 200m and both 4x100m relays to look forward to.

Parker Morse for the IAAF
21 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

Beijing 2008 - Day Seven Summary - 21 Aug

Two Olympic records, two closely-matched field events which came down to the final rounds, and athletes overcoming the elements as well as their competition characterized the seventh day of competition at Beijing's National Stadium.

Spotakova breaks a record just minutes old

The women's Javelin Throw looked to be over from the first throw, as Maria Abakumova launched a 69.32m mark which looked unassailable. World Champion Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic was the only one to approach it, throwing 69.22m later in the same round, but when Abakumova flung the spear out to 70.78m on the fifth round, a new European record, Spotakova looked finished.

Barbora Spotakova and Christina Obergfoll celebrate their gold and bronze medals (Getty Images)

Barbora Spotakova and Christina Obergfoll celebrate their gold and bronze medals

Not so: there was something left in the Czech's arm. In the sixth and final round, Spotakova found it (even though she admitted afterward, "I don't know how I did it,") and threw a whopping 71.42m, shattering Abakumova's European record (though it will stand as a Russian national record) and swiping her Olympic gold. Abakumova had a single chance to better Spotakova's mark, but couldn't manage it.

With former World Championship silver medallist Christine Obergfoll of Germany solidly in third (66.13m), the competition was the deepest in the recent history of the women's Javelin, and doubled the number of women to have bettered the 70m mark in just under fifteen minutes.

Kaniskina prefers long walks alone

Russia's 2007 World champion in the women's 20km Race Walk, Olga Kaniskina, didn't waste any time asserting herself at the front of the pack in the Olympic final. Kaniskina opened a 10m lead on the rest of the field before the race had completed its first kilometre on the track, and from there on, the race for gold was functionally over.

Kaniskina appeared undisturbed even by the monsoon-like conditions in Beijing's Olympic Park as the walk proceeded outside the stadium and revolved around a 2km loop between venues. Despite a caution for a bent knee, her lead gradually expanded beyond a minute, and at halfway her pace was swifter than that of the three-year-old World record.

That pace slowed later in the race, however, and Kaniskina was forced to settle for a gold medal and an Olympic record of 1:26:31, trimming a whopping two and a half minutes off the old OR (1:29:05, set in Sydney by China's Liping Wang.)

A large pack pursued Kaniskina until Belarus' Ryta Turava made a strong move to close the gap not long after halfway. Turava was unable to sustain the pace, however, stopping more than once in an attempt to manage some great discomfort, and the chase was taken up by Norway's Kjersti Platzer, who ended with silver and a National Record for Norway in 1:27:07. Italy's Elisa Rigaudo took bronze in 1:27:12 with China's Hong Liu just five seconds outside the medals.

Evora tops Idowu in last rounds

Like Spotakova in the Javelin, Portugal's Nelson Evora had to fight for every mark to win the men's Triple Jump, an event characterised by frequent lead changes in the early stages. Phillips Idowu started out with a 17.51m mark in the first round, but Evora topped that with a 17.56m in the second. Idowu went to 17.62m in the third round before Evora finally locked up the gold medal with his 17.67m leap in the fourth round. Idowu's 17.62m stood for silver, and the Bahamas' Leevan Sands picked up bronze with a 17.59m effort, putting the entire field of medallists within 8cm.

Campbell-Brown delivers

There's a UPS office in the Main Press Centre here in Beijing, but their brown trucks are nowhere near as electric as Veronica Campbell-Brown's deliveries. With the women's 200m expected to be a duel between Jamaica's Campbell-Brown, the 2004 Olympic Champion, and Allyson Felix of the USA, the 2007 World champion, Campbell-Brown decided to end the race as soon as possible. She came off the turn in the lead, and despite ragged form in the last 50m she will ship yet another gold medal in the sprints home to Jamaica with a PB time of 21.74. Felix held on for silver in 21.93, and Jamaica's Kerron Stewart, co-silver medalist in the 100m, took bronze here in 22.00 - just .01s ahead of Muna Lee of the USA.

Robles unopposed

Cuban Dayron Robles took Liu Xiang's World record earlier this season, and without Liu in tonight's 110m Hurdles field, he took the Olympic gold medal as well. Robles broke from the field early and apparently coasted to victory in a relaxed 12.93 - leaving Liu his Olympic record of 12.91. 2007 World Championships bronze medallist and last-minute traveller David Payne cashed in his frequent flyer miles for an upgrade to silver here, nipping David Oliver, who bested Payne at the U.S. Trials, 13.17 to 13.18.

Advantage Merritt

LaShawn Merritt and 2004 Olympic gold medallist Jeremy Wariner have dueled at 400m throughout the season, arriving in Beijing matched with two victories apiece, all by narrow margins. They'll leave with Merritt the leader, as Merritt's pacing in tonight's 400m final brought him to the line ahead of Wariner by almost a full second, 43.75 to 44.74. The margin was greater than all four previous decisions between the two added together, and was a PB for Merritt.

Third went to their teammate David Neville, who literally drove for the line to catch Christopher Brown of the Bahamas. Neville would win few style points in the Water Cube, but he did get a bronze medal for his (literal) pains, in 44.80 over Brown's 44.84. That victory kept Neville waving off medical attention at the finish.

Decathlon Day One

After five events on the first day, Bryan Clay of the USA holds a lead of 88 points over Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus, 4521 to 4433. Just five points back from Krauchanka is the USA's Trey Hardee with 4428, and Ukranian Oleksiy Kasyanov remains in striking distance in fourth with five more events coming on Friday (22). Parker Morse for the IAAF
22 AUG 2008 General News

Beijing 2008 - Day Eight Summary - 22 Aug

Three finals, three golds, three World records. That's an Olympic record not even Carl Lewis could claim, and at the end of the eighth day of athletics competition in Beijing's National Stadium, the easiest way to get a roar from the capacity crowd in the Bird's Nest was to say the words "Usain Bolt" over the public address system.

Jamaica 37.10 WR

Nesta Carter and Michael Frater set up the two fastest 100m men in history for Jamaica's 4x100m relay. Carter got a safe start, made a competent hand-off to Frater, and Frater made sure Usain Bolt got the baton with a lead. Then Bolt, with his long legs already unfurled, ran the second bend, something he does better than anyone else currently running, and handed off to the man whose 100m World Record he broke late in May.

The changing of the guard: 2004 Olympic decathlon champion Roman Sebrle salutes the new champion, Bryan Clay (Getty Images)

The changing of the guard: 2004 Olympic decathlon champion Roman Sebrle salutes the new champion, Bryan Clay

When Asafa Powell stopped the clock at 37.10, it meant a staggering .30 second improvement over the old record, set in 1993 by the World Championship squad of the USA. With the field weakened by numerous disqualifications and dropped batons in the rounds, it also meant the Jamaicans were Olympic champions by almost a full second. Trinidad and Tobago, inside the Jamaicans in lane 4, arrive in Powell's slipstream to clock 38.06; immediately after them, the Japanese quartet clicked 38.15 to bring home a landmark bronze medal for a nation not known for sprinters.

If Bolt hadn't already performed unprecedented feats of speed, Carter to Frater to Bolt to Powell might have established the image of peak performance for the Beijing games. And Powell confirmed a change in athletics government: "Jamaica is the sprint capital of the world."

Jamaica keeps Jamaica from perfection

The sprinters in yellow and green had already made a clean sweep of the four individual sprint records, but before the Jamaican men set their stunning World Record, complete domination of the sprint medals had already slipped from Jamaica's fingers like a relay baton on the second exchange. Exactly like it, in fact, as Jamaica's heavy-metal female foursome (including all three 100m medalists and the 200m gold and bronze medalists) crashed out of their 4x100m relay on the far corner. With Sherone Simpson leading, the handoff to Kerron Stewart bobbled and then went out of the zone.

"I did what I was supposed to do," said Stewart. "She did what she was supposed to do. But it wasn't done."

The medal instead went to the quartet from Russia in 42.31, pressed to the line by Belgium (42.54) and Nigeria (43.04). "Our coach told us we could never accomplish anything," reported the Russian team, "and we told him to go to the devil," the traditional Russian call-and-response of wishing luck without saying so.

Hooker's last-minute pole vault record

The Jamaicans were far from holding a monopoly on records on Friday. As their men's relay celebrated their win, Australia's Steve Hooker, the men's Pole Vault gold meal already in his pocket from an event-winning third-attempt clearance at 5.90m, set the bar at 5.96m. He missed one attempt, accepted a second miss by allowing his attempt timer to run out, and then on his second (but last) attempt got over that bar to better the four-year-old Olympic mark of 5.95m. It was a long vault and tested the patience and stamina of both of the first medalists - Hooker put up his pole twelve times, and silver medalist Evgeniy Lukyanenko (Russia, 5.85m) eleven - to the point where bronze medalist Denys Yurchenko of the Ukraine didn't even finish the competition, giving up with an injury after assuring himself of the bronze medal (5.70m).

After clearing his opening height of 5.60m on the first try, Hooker required three tries to clear 5.80m, 5.85m, and 5.90m. "I should have skipped the second jumps altogether," he joked. "They were not working for me. I should have gone straight to the third," as he did for the record vault.

Schwazer walks to another OR


Italy's Alex Schwazer established another Olympic Record when he cruised in to the Bird's Nest after 24 laps on the matted loop outside. Schwazer was at the forefront of the 50km walk from the beginning of the race. "I didn't want anything but the gold," he explained. Schwazer's 3:37:09 trimmed eighty seconds from the Olympic Record set in Seoul some months before Schwazer's fourth birthday. Australia's Jared Tallent, bronze medalist in the 20km walk earlier this week, picked up silver behind Schwazer in a PB 3:39:27.

Clay's lead unassailable

Bryan Clay started Day Two of the Decathlon with a healthy lead, and he finished it with an even bigger one; in fact, after nine events he had a lead of a staggering 479 points over Krauchanka of Belarus. That he didn't hold that margin to the end - his gold-medal total was 8791 - testified to the battle for silver and bronze which was fought over the final 1,500m. Krauchanka led Russia's Alexander Pogorelov and Cuba's Leonel Suarez by 13 points (after nine events, Pogorelov and Suarez had the same score.) Suarez, a strong runner, attempted to erase Krauchanka's lead, but found the Belarussian kicking by in the homestretch to hang on to silver.

Friday night also brought Beijing one of the more bizarre women's 5,000m finals in Olympic history. After practically jogging through the first kilometer in 3:39.20, a pace more commonly seen in local all-comers meets, the race was set up for the kickers, and as it happened the medals went to three Ethiopian-born women. Tirunesh Dibaba won a 5000m gold to go with her 10,000m title, in 15:41.50, a clocking which wouldn't even qualify her to run in the Olympics and is almost a minute and a half behind her World Record. Silver went to 10,000m silver medalist Elvan Abeylegesse, marking not only the first time the same woman has won both distance events, but the first time the same two women have topped both events.

The women's long jump went to Brazil's Maurren Maggie with a 7.04m leap which was her first of the competition, making it over almost before it began. Triple jump silver medalist Tatyana Lebedeva got out to 7.03m on her final jump to win her first medal's twin. The best story turned out to be for bronze: Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare was 13th in the qualifying round, but was advanced to the final following the doping disqualification of Ukraine's Lyudmila Blonska. The door opened, Okagbare produced a 6.91m leap in the first round which stood up through the competition, taking her from non-qualifier to medalist.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

23 AUG 2008 General News

Beijing 2008 - Day Nine Summary - 23 Aug

It's not quite Usain Bolt, but Kenenisa Bekele completed an iconic distance double in the Bird's Nest Saturday evening which had escaped the reach of even his hero, Haile Gebrselassie, and lowered one of the oldest Olympic Records in the process.

Bekele lowers 24-year-old OR

Bekele faced a tough field in the 5,000m which included the World champion, Bernard Lagat, who came up from the 1500m. Perhaps that dictated the team tactics the Ethiopians (Bekele, his younger brother Tariku, and Abreham Cherkos) applied from the beginning of the race. From the gun, one of the three Ethiopians was in the lead, forcing the pace, and thinning the pack. All four intermediate 1000m splits went to one of the Bekele brothers. "It's a team race," Bekele said afterward.

Kenenisa Bekele sprints away to take 5000m gold (Getty Images)

Kenenisa Bekele sprints away to take 5000m gold

The pace got progressively quicker, and the pack correspondingly smaller, until finally Bekele broke from the pack with 2000m remaining and set out on the longest kick we've seen in these Olympics. At first he had the company of the Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Edwin Soi, Lagat, Ugandan Moses Kipsiro, and Qatari James C'Kurui, but first C'Kurui, then Lagat fell back. In the final kilometre, it was Kipsiro who faded, and then with a lap remaining Bekele delivered his real kick and ran away from Kipchoge and Soi, who would take silver and bronze respectively.

Bekele became the first man to complete the Olympic 5,000m/10,000m double since Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter did it in Moscow, 1980. His winning time of 12:57.82 broke Said Aouita's Olympic Record of 13:05.59, the second-oldest standing men's OR (the longest is Bob Beamon's Long Jump mark from 1968).

Thorkildsen's last spear a long one


Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway set another OR when his fifth attempt in the Javelin Throw flew out to 90.57m, well beyond the yellow line in the sector which marked the 2000 OR of the great Jan Zelezny. Thorkildsen led the contest from the first round, when he lofted an 84.72m toss, and improved on nearly every throw, continuing with 85.91m, 87.93m and 85.13m before his Olympic Record release.

Latvian Ainars Kovals produced a PB throw of 86.64m in the last round to vault into second and push World champion Tero Pitkamaki of Finland into third. Pitkamaki improved to 86.16m on his last throw, but it wasn't enough to overtake Kovals.

USA men's 4x400 second-fastest ever


The men's 4x400m relay proved to be a bright spot for an American squad which has largely performed below expectations in this Games. The team of LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor, David Neville and Jeremy Wariner included all three 400m medalists and the 400m hurdles medallist (a contender for the U.S. flat squad if he hadn't been stymied by the U.S. Trials schedule), and there wasn't another team in the race with that kind of depth. Still, the surprising Belgians kept it close early on, and the Bahamas team also made a strong effort to stay with the Americans. When Neville handed off cleanly to Wariner, though, the gold medal was almost assured, and the open question was the time.

Wariner ran the last leg as though someone (perhaps Merritt, who bested him in the individual 400m) was on his outside shoulder. When he crossed the line, the clock stopped at 2:55.39, just .10s slower than the World record and a towering .35s faster than the standing OR, set by the U.S. team which won in Barcelona in 1992.

Bahamas anchor Christopher Brown fought off a strong challenge from the Russian team (anchored by Denis Alexeev) to take silver, 2:58.03 to 2:58.06.

Richards races for women's 4x400m win

Sanya Richards, disappointed in the individual 400m, came through in the clutch to deliver another long relay gold for the USA. The squad of Mary Wineberg, Allyson Felix and Monique Henderson had been strong throughout, but after Felix won the break, third leg Tatiana Firova brought the Russian quartet back into the race, walking down Henderson on the homestretch.

Richards was handed a two-stride disadvantage behind Russia's Anastasia Kapachinskaya, but waited behind the Russian on the backstretch and around the bend. With both runners fully extended on the homestretch, then, Richards swung out into lane two and slowly drew even with Kapachinskaya, then pulled ahead to bring in the win, 3:18.54 to 3:18.82. Bronze went to Jamaica in 3:20.40.

Hellebaut snaps Vlasic streak


Blanka Vlasic had been undefeated since June 2007. Had been. After Vlasic cleared 1.85m, 1.89m, 1.93m, 1.96m, 1.99m, 2.01m and 2.03m all on her first attempt, Tia Hellebaut, the World Indoor Pentathlon champion and a former European high jump champion, managed to gain an advantage on the Croatian star by clearing 2.05m (a Belgian National Record) on her first attempt after Vlasic recorded her first miss. Vlasic cleared on her second attempt, but Hellebaut was in the driver's seat and she knew it. After both athletes missed at a potential Olympic Record height of 2.07m, Hellebaut watched Vlasic miss a second time, then coolly passed her remaining attempts to the next height. When Vlasic put up her third miss, Hellebaut's bluff was not forced, and she won Belgium's first gold medal since 1964 (steeplechaser Gaston Roelants) and first gold medal ever for women. (Belgium's women won their first medal of any color when the 4x100m relay took silver on Friday evening.)

Kenyans dominate middle distances


With two Ethiopians taking the four long distance golds, Athletics Kenya has turned to middle distances to fill its quota of gold. They picked up two tonight, starting with the men's 800m, where Wilfred Bungei held off Sudan's Ismail Ismail on the homestretch to win in 1:44.65 to Ismail's 1:44.70. Alfred Yego took bronze in 1:44.82, picking up another medal for the East Africans. Nancy Lagat [previously better known as Langat] ran a 4:00.23 PB in the women's 1500m to win gold there, running away from two hard-charging Ukrainians, Iryna Lishchynska and Nataliya Tobias, on the homestretch. Lishchynska and Tobias took silver and bronze, respectively, in 4:01.63 and 4:01.78; pre-race favorite and World Champion Maryam Yusuf Jama finished fifth in 4:02.71. Lagat was the second-ever Kenyan woman to win an Olympic gold medal only by a quirk of schedule; the first was 800m winner Pamela Jelimo on Monday evening.

With the conclusion of competition on Saturday evening, only one event remains, the men's Marathon, which will take its traditional closing bow Sunday morning at 7:30.

Parker Morse for the IAAF

 

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