Neeraj Chopra of India during the men's javelin final at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 (© Getty Images)
Can any event on the athletics programme boast such diverse global representation as the men’s javelin?
While the world record-holder is from the Czech Republic, the reigning Olympic and world champions hail from Trinidad and Tobago and Kenya respectively. Now India has a world record-holder and global champion with Neeraj Chopra highlighting the penultimate day of competition at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz.
Chopra led the 2016 world U20 lists with a breakout 82.23m in February but he hadn’t surpassed the 80-metre line since then, which suggested that he may have peaked too early.
After a solid opening round throw of 79.66m, Chopra produced arguably the standout performance of the first five days, launching the spear nearly two metres beyond Latvia’s Zigismunds Sirmais’ five-year-old record of 84.69m with 86.48m in the second round (subject to the usual ratification procedures).
“I was hoping to throw far but I never expected to throw over 86 metres and break the world U20 record,” said Chopra, who became the first Indian winner in championship history. “My ultimate target was to qualify for the Olympics but I didn’t make it. My other goal was to win at the World U20 Championships.”
South Africa’s Johan Grobler opened his account by adding six metres to his lifetime best with 80.59m to claim the silver medal while Grenada picked up their first ever medal in a technical event with Anderson Peters improving his national senior record to 79.65m.
Volz surprises Marschall
With a 5.45m season’s best outdoors, Deakin Volz wasn’t considered one of the main candidates for the pole vault but the US athlete, who has cleared 5.62m indoors this winter, sailed over an outright lifetime best of 5.65m on his first attempt to defeat pre-competition favourite Kurtis Marschall from Australia.
Marschall had to settle for the silver medal with a 5.55m clearance while US-based world U18 champion Armand Duplantis from Sweden – who still has three full seasons left as an U20 athlete – claimed bronze with a 5.45m clearance.
Beatrice Nedberge Llano became just the fourth Norwegian to claim a world U20 title with a polished performance in the hammer. The 18-year-old launched herself into the lead with a second-round throw of 63.55m before consolidating her advantage with her following throw of 63.81m.
But with the gold medal safely in the pocket, Llano saved her best throw for last: 64.33m to seal the title ahead of Australia’s Alexandra Hulley (63.47m) and Finland’s Suvi Koskinen (62.49m).
World U20 leader Ayamey Medina from Cuba was never a factor in the final. Her only valid throw of 58.27m placed her down in 10th.
Hyde and Odiong win titles on the road to Rio
Jaheel Hyde claimed the 400m hurdles title two years ago as an U18 and the Jamaican demonstrated he is one of the event’s great prospects by becoming the first two-time winner of the discipline at the World U20 Championships.
Hyde, who finished second at his national championships last month in 48.81, was a cut above his opponents, sealing victory in the third-fastest time of his emerging career in 49.03 ahead of Taylor McLaughlin – the older brother of Sydney – in 49.45 with Kyron McMaster taking bronze in 49.56.
Barbadian Sada Williams led the 2016 world U20 200m list with 22.61 but her country’s wait for a world title on the track goes on as she pulled up injured after running a tentative bend.
Edidiong Ofonime Odiong from Bahrain was the fastest in the heats and semifinals and would have been difficult to beat even if Williams was healthy. Odiong powered to a national U20 record of 22.84, winning by the sizeable margin of 0.37 ahead of Colombia’s Evelyn Rivera.
Odiong and Rivera will both be going to Rio next month but Rivera will be competing in the 100m instead.
Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega could be a prospect for future Olympic Games as he produced a 55.40 last lap to win the 5000m title in 13:21.21 ahead of Djibouti’s Djamal Direh (13:21.50) and Kenya’s Wesley Ledema (13:23.34).
The credentials of the Japanese sprint relay team looked modest in comparison to the USA, who boasted individual champions Michael Norman and Noah Lyles on the lead-off and anchor legs respectively, but the underdogs looked on the cusp of producing an upset for 370 metres of the final.
The favourites’ superior basic speed was the factor on the last leg with Lyles, who has run 20.09 for 200m, coming from behind to defeat the leaders who were anchored by 10.29 100m performer Kenta Oshima.
The United States duly sealed their 10th sprint relay title in championship history in 38.93 ahead of Japan (39.01) with Germany (39.13) just holding off the Jamaicans for the bronze medal by four thousandths.
Candace Hill received the baton in the women’s 4x100m final on level terms with Germany and France but the individual champion anchored the USA to a clear-cut victory in 43.69 ahead of France (44.05) and Germany (44.18).
Herman and Smaili emerge as title contenders
The women’s 100m hurdles was tipped to be a contest between the US duo of Tia Jones and Alexis Duncan and Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan, who finished second at the NCAA Championships earlier this summer.
But European junior champion Elvira Herman from Belarus is the fourth genuine contender for the global title. She qualified as the fastest for tomorrow’s final with a national U20 record of 12.97 – her first sub-13 clocking to move to second on the European U20 all-time list – with Amusan (12.99) and Jones (13.09) also winning their semifinals.
Likewise, the narrative in the 800m semifinals didn’t entirely pan out with world indoor finalist Mustafa Smaili from Morocco looking in shape to upset the Kenyan hegemony, easing to victory in the first semifinal in 1:46.51.
Kenyan U20 champion Kipyegon Bett starts as the favourite after impressively winning the third semifinal in 1:46.37 but world U18 champion Willy Tarbei, who had strapping on both of his hamstrings, laboured to a narrow win in the second semifinal in 1:48.27.
Steven Mills for the IAAF