Yulimar Rojas in the triple jump at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
Six days gone, three to come as we enter the final phase of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.
There are just four gold medals to be decided on day seven – the women’s triple jump and javelin and both men’s and women’s 200m. But there’s quite a few events getting under way, including the men’s decathlon and both 4x100m relays leading into a final two days rich with gold, silver and bronze prizes (plus handy cash bonuses!).
The loneliness of the decathlete
Most of us – even those who follow the scores – see the spirit of the combined events athletes only when they walk (slowly) around a lap of honour after the final event. If you want to see where that spirit is forged, stick around for the shot put on day one, or the discus and pole vault on day two as the decathletes compete in front of a depleted crowd under the noonday sun. If you don’t talk to your fellows, you don’t talk to anyone!
The trick of the decathlon is to maximise your points in your strong events, minimise your losses in the weaker ones (very few are strong across all 10). And if it comes down to the 1500m on day two, grit your teeth and go for it.
Who wins? Well, it looms as a bit of a generational battle between seasoned veterans such as Canada’s Olympic champion Damian Warner, recovered from the injury breakdown in the 400m in Oregon which wrecked that campaign, and defending champion Kevin Mayer, down to emerging talents like Germany’s exciting Leo Neugebauer and Australia’s Ashley Moloney.
Favourites sometimes lose
Valarie Allman one night. Jakob Ingebrigtsen the next. Sometimes unbackable favourites do lose.
If there was any need to remind Yulimar Rojas of this, then now she has been warned. Rojas became the first to win three triple jump titles in a row in Oregon last year and few would bet against her being first to four here. She didn’t top qualifying but walked out with a big Q against her name on her first jump.
Possible rivals who might cause problems if they jump out of their skin and Rojas is a little bit off include Cuba’s Leyanis Perez Hernandez, Shanieka Ricketts and Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk.
I wouldn’t go past Rojas. The question is: can anyone else in the field?
Barber chasing three-peat
Kelsey-Lee Barber has won two world titles in the javelin without ever being the obvious winner until she was. Sort of a big kicker with a javelin, she has lurked in the pack and then unleashed a deadly kick (throw).
There must have been a degree of relief among at least some of her rivals when Barber was struggling in qualifying. But when her moderate 59.66m got through, the nerves may have been jangling.
So, Barber is in, but is she back? We’ll see. Among the many contenders are her teammate Mackenzie Little, Haruka Kitaguchi, Liu Shiying – in short, just about anyone. But no one will be able to relax until Barber is out of the competition.
Doubles at the double in the furlong?
With semis of both men’s and women’s 200m to be run in the evening session of day six, we await the final composition of the finals. But the evidence of day five’s first round is that sprint doubles are very much on the agenda. The 100m champions were prominent. Sha’Carri Richardson topped the women’s results and Noah Lyles was third-fastest in the men’s.
Will they find more gold in the event coach John Smith used to refer to as ‘the furlong’ (the imperial distance of 220 yards)? Usain Bolt made doing – and winning – the sprint double prominent again and now, suddenly, they’re all trying it.
If they make it through those pesky semis, that is.
It’s men’s javelin qualifying in the morning and women’s high jump, too, where defending champion Eleanor Patterson will once again be trying to come good at the right moment after an injury-interrupted preparation. Yaroslav Mahuchikh and Nicola Olyslagers may have something to say about that.
And the baton wars get under way in the evening with heats of the men’s and women’s 4x100m relays.
Len Johnson for World Athletics