Brianne Theisen-Eaton after winning the pentathlon at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 (© Getty Images)
Day two at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 saw the athletes take to the track for the first time, with the fans who packed the stands being treated to a night to remember. Here are the six pivotal storylines from an unforgettable evening.
Theisen-Eaton leaves it late
Like a true performer – one with an impeccable sense of dramatic timing – Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton left it until the very last event, and the very last metres, to take gold in the women’s pentathlon. The 27-year-old was in third place entering the final event, the 800m, trailing Ukraine’s Anastasiya Mokhnyuk and Alina Fodorova by 150 and 36 points respectively.
After finishing second in her last three global championships, it almost seemed destined that Theisen-Eaton would do so again, given she needed to beat Mokhnyuk by over 10 seconds to claim gold. With a partisan American crowd getting behind the Eugene-based athlete, Theisen-Eaton sped through the first 400m behind Barbara Nwaba of the US, and responded to screams of encouragement from the heptathletes infield – including her husband Ashton Eaton – to power home in 2:09.99. Next came a nervous wait as the Ukrainians struggled towards the line, but it wasn’t soon enough for either of them to deny Theisen-Eaton gold. The first to congratulate her was husband Ashton, the other half of what is now truly the golden couple of athletics.
Bromell shocks Powell
No one saw it coming. When Asafa Powell settled into his blocks for the heat five of the men’s 60m on Friday afternoon, no one could have known just how swiftly the Jamaican was about to blast down the track. When he coasted across the line and the clock stopped at 6.43, gasps echoed around the Oregon Convention Center, and the time, later corrected to 6.44, moved him to number five on the all-time list. Later in the day, with several athletes much closer to him, Powell did the very same thing – literally – running 6.44 to win his semi-final.
What everyone wondered, though, was whether Powell – who has developed a reputation as an unreliable championship performer – could do it when it mattered most.
One athlete in the field who was ready to test his mettle was world 100m bronze medallist Trayvon Bromell, the 20-year-old who has been dubbed the future of sprinting. When the gun sounded for the final, he showed why that moniker is justified, powering down the track to take victory in 6.47 seconds. Powell, once again, faltered when it mattered most, but managed to hold on for second in 6.50. Barbados’s Ramon Gittens, like most others in the arena, had a night he will never forget, and scooped the bronze medal in a national record of 6.51.
Ali fights back
Few had predicted that Nia Ali – who took time out from the sport last year to give birth – could regain her world indoor title in Portland, facing as she did the might of Kendra Harrison and Brianna Rollins, who blitzed their semi-finals in 7.81 and 7.82 respectively.
Ali, though, kept her head best as her rivals faltered, taking victory in 7.81 in the final. For Harrison, there was nothing but regret after she clattered the first barrier, putting an end to her race. Rollins, meanwhile, stumbled slightly emerging from the blocks but recovered well to lead midway through the race, and eventually be just denied for gold in 7.82.
“In the hurdles, it’s always close,” said Ali. “I had the best race of the season today and it couldn’t have fallen on a better day. Being a mother and a professional athlete can sometimes be a struggle, but I can’t take full credit for this because I have an amazing support system.”
Reese produces magic
Once again, when the pressure was at its highest, Brittney Reese reached down into her bag of tricks and pulled off something approaching sorcery, leaping out to a whopping 7.22m jump on her final effort to deny Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic gold.
The moment she hit the sand, she knew it was special, and Reese took off down the track with her arms in the air. Though she had taken the lead in the fifth round with a 7.00m jump, Spanovic responded in kind with an outright Serbian record of 7.07m. Reese, though, saved the best for last, pulling off a jump which only two women in history have bettered indoors.
Walsh puts rivals in their place
Tomas Walsh didn’t just beat rivals in the final of the men’s shot put; he thrashed them. Not only was the New Zealander the only thrower in the competition to surpass 21 metres; he did it five times in a row.
Walsh was a bronze medallist at this event two years ago, but as soon as he launched the sphere out to 21.60m in the second round, it was clear the 24-year-old was destined for gold. With none of his rivals posing any genuine threat in the ensuing rounds, Walsh took to the throwing circle in the final round knowing that his first major title was secured, but rather than rest on his laurels, the Kiwi launched it to an outright Oceanian record of 21.78m.
“The experience out there was awesome,” said Walsh. “The fans were amazing and that drives really good throwing.”
There appeared to be weight to Walsh’s theory, as the minor medallists had also raised their game on the night. Romania’s Andrei Gag threw a season’s best of 20.89m to take silver, while Croatia’s Filip Mihaljevic threw a personal best of 20.87m to take bronze.
All too easy for Eaton
While there was no doubting that he was overshadowed throughout the night by the exploits of his wife, Ashton Eaton quietly and consistently went about building an overnight lead of 63 points in the heptathlon, and given the strength of his second day, he appears unstoppable on his quest for a third successive world indoor title.
Eaton began the day in solid, though unexceptional, fashion with a 6.81 performance in the 60m. While it may have been some way off the 6.66 he opened with in Sopot two years ago, he made up for it when he took to the long jump runway, flying out to a season’s best of 8.08m.
The shot put proved a disappointment, with Eaton well down on his best and throwing 14.16m, while his high jump best of 1.99m was also a reasonable, though unspectacular, result. It is a measure of his greatness that without having a superb day, he is still well clear of his chief rivals, with Grenada’s Kurt Felix the closest pursuer on 3501 points.
If Eaton does make any major errors on day two, then the athlete most likely to capitalise is fellow American Curtis Beach, who finished the day in fourth place on 3337 points. Beach approached his lifetime bests with his performances in both the 60m (7.04) and long jump (7.65m), and rounded the day off with a solid high jump effort of 2.02m.
“I feel good,” said Eaton at the end of the day’s proceedings. “I’ve been good in some things, average in some things, and below average in others. I’m excited for tomorrow.”
And so is everyone else.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF