David Oliver in the mens 110m Hurdles Semi Final at the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013
If the opening round heats had a distinctly American odour, the fragrance was unmistakably Russian after the semi-finals as Sergey Shubenkov led the qualifiers for the final later tonight.
The European champion took a couple of good scalps in heat two en route to victory in a time of 13.17 and will fancy his chances of landing precious metal when it most counts a little later.
Predictably, the USA qualified all four men into the final – the first time the world’s most pre-eminent 110m Hurdles nation have done so since the Helsinki edition in 2005.
Yet question marks hang over all the form of the entire quartet in a far-from-vintage showing.
An incident-packed first semi-final witnessed a pair of DNFs, a sloppy but ultimately successful qualification performance by the Olympic champion and the elimination of a former World champion in a race high on drama, if not pure quality.
Defending champion Jason Richardson made a lightning start, but by contrast his US team-mate Aries Merritt crawled out of the blocks and had already conceded a lot of ground by the first hurdle.
Home favourite Konstantin Shabanov’s hopes of a place in the final were over by the first hurdle as he crashed out in pain clutching his leg.
Out front, Richardson retained his lead with Thomas Martinot-Lagarde of France and Jamaica’s world No.2 Hansle Parchment, who had only scraped into the semi-finals as a fastest loser, also prominent in lane two.
Merritt, however, was struggling and mid-race had a lot of work to do if he was to secure a top-three placing. Gradually, though, the World record-holder slowly started to claw back the gap and his top-three mission was made a little easier when Parchment rather agriculturally ploughed through the top of hurdle nine and he slumped to the surface of the track in pain.
Richardson maintained his control of the semi-final to stop the clock in a fairly mediocre 13.34. Martinot-Lagarde of France snagged second (13.39) and a relieved Merritt found a route to the final by just 0.02 in third (13.44).
Trinidad’s Mikel Thomas was the unlucky fourth-place finisher with four-time Hungarian champion Balazs Baji (13.49) in fifth.
There was also disappointment for 2009 World champion Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados, who finished sixth and last in a modest 13.64.
In the second semi-final, USA’s David Oliver – who had looked so impressive in yesterday’s heats after blitzing to a 13.05 heat victory, the fastest ever non-final 110m hurdles time in World Championships history – struggled out of the blocks and it was Wayne Davis of Trinidad and Tobago who held a slight lead over the first hurdles.
By mid-race there was little to separate Davis, Oliver, Shubenkov and US champion Wilson with the true picture of the semi only emerging in the second half of the race. It was here that Shubenkov, roared on by the home crowd, came to prominence and held on to the marginal advantage over the last hurdles to win in 13.17 – 0.01 ahead of Oliver, who looked no way as convincing as he did in the first-round heats.
Wilson was just a fraction behind in third (13.20) and such was the superior quality of this semi-final that the two next fastest – Andrew Riley of Jamaica (13.30) and Great Britain’s William Sharman (13.34) – also qualified for the final. In the case of Sharman it was the third time in succession he had achieved the feat at a World Championships.
Spare a thought for sixth-placed Artur Noga, who was eliminated. Poland’s European bronze medallist stopped the clock in 13.35 – a time quicker than Merritt achieved in qualifying automatically from the first semi-final.
Steve Landells for the IAAF