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Previews18 Aug 2023

Five things to look out for on day one at WCH Budapest 23


National Athletics Centre - venue for the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)

Day one of any major championships offers a smorgasbord of highlights – while it may be light on for main courses, there’s a huge variety of dishes to delight the taste buds.

The mains on day one of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 – the men’s 20km race walk, men’s shot put, women’s 10,000m and the mixed 4x400m – will see the first gold medals of the championships decided. For the rest, no fewer than 10 events will get under way.

Forget the fact only a few events are decided and rejoice in the opportunity to cast an eye over so many of the world’s top athletes and assess their form.

Six more heroes for Heroes’ Square

Heroes’ Square on the Pest side of the Danube commemorates, among others, Prince Árpád and the six Magyar chieftains whose confederation at the turn of the ninth and tenth centuries is widely recognised as Hungary’s foundation.

The number six is appropriate: the WCH Budapest 23 will crown six more heroes in the historic square which is the start and finish for the men’s and women’s 20km and 35km race walks and both marathons.

The opening day sees the men’s 20km. It could be plus ça change, plus ça la même chose with Japan’s Toshikazu Yamanishi going for his third win in a row following successes in Doha and Oregon.

Yamanishi sits well down this year’s world list, led by China’s Zhang Jun at 1:17:38. Yamanishi finished third in Rio Major in May behind Brian Pintado of Ecuador. Olympic champion Massimo Stano is entered, as is Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom, the athlete who tops the world rankings. Brazil’s Caio Bonfim and another Japanese race walker, world and Olympic silver medallist Koki Ikeda, won in La Coruna and Kobe respectively.

Any or all of these could pounce should Yamanishi put a foot wrong.

The big men let fly

Don’t stand within 23 metres of the shot put circle at the National Athletics Centre would be this column’s advice as the big men let fly in the shot put – make that 24 metres actually; defending champion Ryan Crouser has raised his world record to 23.56m this year.

Since the memorable battle between Joe Kovacs, Crouser and New Zealand’s Tom Walsh in Doha in 2019 which saw Kovacs upset his US teammate Crouser with a winning 22.91m, edging out him and Walsh by a mere centimetre, the level of performance has remained through the roof.

Crouser dominates the territory beyond 23 metres with no fewer than eight of the 12 contests won at that distance or further. But Kovacs, and Walsh, remain capable of upsetting him – Kovacs three times, including at the Diamond League final late last year (admittedly when Crouser was not at his best physically).

Where the big three have led, others have followed. Eight others have thrown beyond 22 metres this year; seven of them will be throwing in Budapest.

To this moment, no one has thrown beyond the 23 metre-line and lost the competition. That statistic is surely on borrowed time.

Hassan does the matinee and the evening show

The Netherlands’ seemingly indefatigable Sifan Hassan sets off on her quest for three gold medals on day one. There’s the 10,000m final in the evening session but before that comes the heats of the 1500m in the morning.

Assuming Hassan’s hopes survive the first morning – she did fall in the 1500m heats at the Tokyo Olympics (but got up and won) – she faces a massive battle in the 10,000m against rivals led by Ethiopian world record-holder and defending champion Letesenbet Gidey and her teammate Gudaf Tsegay.

The 10,000m is a race for those who like the ‘how’ of winning as much as the ‘who’, its 25 laps allowing plenty of scope for race plans to be hatched and dispatched, sometimes several times over.

Mixing it up

Relays never fail to entertain and the mixed 4x400m will close day one.

The USA won the inaugural world title in the event in 2019, but they were beaten by Poland at the Tokyo Olympics and by the Dominican Republic at last year’s World Championships. All three nations will clash here in Budapest, and the world record looks to be in danger.

Doing the rounds

Keep an eye on everything else, too

The men’s and women’s 1500m heats will lead to the semifinals on day two; there are heats in the men’s 3000m steeplechase; the first day of the heptathlon is followed by the second (obviously); there’s field event qualifying in the men’s hammer, women’s long jump, men’s discus and triple jump; and qualifying and round one of the men’s 100m.

You will have seen the gold medallists in all of those events, but you may not know who it was.

Len Johnson for World Athletics