Niamh Emerson in the heptathlon 800m at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018
A thrilling conclusion to the heptathlon played out in the 800m and the onset of a sudden torrential rain shower which brought back memories of the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki in 2005 added an extra layer of frisson to proceedings.
Overnight leader Niamh Emerson still led the standings after six events but her lead over reigning champion Sarah Lagger had been cut back to just two points after the javelin. With the rain coming down heavily, Emerson could have played it safe by tucking in behind the Austrian but the leader threw the gauntlet down to Lagger, tracking Poland's Adrianna Sulek who was making a brave late charge for a bronze medal.
Emerson, who has a faster lifetime best than Lagger but a slower season’s best, preserved a small but significant gap on Lagger all the way down the home straight, her legs crumbling beneath her as she crossed the finish-line and on to the sodden track in 2:09.74 ahead of Lagger who was also rewarded with a lifetime best of 2:11.53.
Emerson took her total up to a world U20 leading tally of 6253, surpassing the injured Alina Shukh’s total of 6177 points from the Gotzis Hypo-Meeting. The quality of the competition was such that Lagger surpassed her winning total from two years ago by almost 300 points with 6225 but that was still insufficient to retain her title.
Sulek was rewarded for her front running exploits and, despite fading to third in 2:12.38 after passing through halfway in 62.90, the Pole moved up from sixth after the javelin into bronze medal position, improving the national U20 record to 5939 in the process.
This gold medal came shortly after Emerson’s teammate Jake Norris opened the British title haul in the hammer.
While Emerson just missed Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s British U20 record by 14 points, Norris surpassed his national U20 record with 80.65m in the fifth round to defeat Ukrainians Myhaylo Kokhan (79.68m) and Myhaylo Havryluk (77.71m).
The gold medals from Emerson and Norris were largely expected but a British one-two in the men’s 200m final was not a readily cast prediction prior of the championships, although the outcome was not an altogether infeasible one based on their semifinal showings.
Second at the European U20 Championships in Grosseto last year, 18-year-old Jona Efoloko went one better on the global stage, winning gold in a lifetime best of 20.48 from teammate Charles Dobson in 20.57.
After four days of competition, the United States are still yet to win a gold medal at the championships. With Jamaica’s Christopher Taylor opting to contest the 400m instead, Eric Harrison was favoured for the 200m title but the fastest entrant with a 20.39 PB had to settle for bronze in 20.79.
They will have prospects of a gold medal in the women’s 200m final, though, as Lauren Rain Williams was the fastest across the semifinals in 23.15 ahead of Jamaica’s world U20 100m champion Briana Williams in 23.41.
Sacoor surprises, Van der Walt dominates
Taylor was expected to dominate the 400m final but the 2015 world U18 champion – who recently improved the Jamaican U20 record to 44.88 – was unexpectedly run down in the home straight by Belgium’s Jonathan Sacoor.
Sacoor, 18, looked impressive in the semifinal but it was not thought he would match the Jamaican who recently equalled Yohan Blake’s national U20 100m record of 10.11. Sacoor’s winning time of 45.03 represented an improvement of 1.18 seconds on his pre-championships lifetime best and moves him to second on the European U20 all-time list behind Thomas Schonlebe’s 45.01.
But the women’s 400m hurdles final largely went to form with South Africa’s Zeney van der Walt becoming only the second reigning world U18 champion in action this week to follow up that success with gold at U20 level in Tampere.
Drawn on her immediate inside, Van der Walt was pushed hard by Jamaica’s Shiann Salmon over eight of the 10 hurdles before her strength showed in the home straight. Van der Walt stopped the clock at 55.34 – the second fastest time of her career and her fastest at sea level – with Salmon safe in silver with 56.11.
There is every possibility of a South African double in the event. Fellow world U18 champion Sokwakhana Zazini – who won that title by nearly three seconds – was the only athlete to break the 50-second barrier in the men’s semifinals with 49.43
In the 3000m steeplechase, Kenya’s Celliphine Chespol became the first athlete to successfully defend her title in Tampere.
The second fastest athlete of all time signed off her age-group career by taking a huge chunk off her championship record with 9:12.78, defeating Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai (9:18.87) and Bahrain’s Winfred Yavi (9:23.47) who both finished inside the old mark of 9:25.15.
Davis beaten in the long jump, shocks in the relay
On an evening of some sizeable shocks, world U20 leader Tara Davis from the United States had to settle for a bronze medal in the long jump final.
Davis, who jumped 6.40m to reach the final, set her best mark of 6.36m in the sixth round but this still proved insufficient to challenge Lea-Jasmin Riecke who improved her lifetime best from 6.38m to 6.51m to win Germany’s first medal of the championships. Riecke was the only competitor in the final to set either a season’s best or lifetime best.
Some favoured nations came to grief in the heats of the 4x100m. In the men’s event, South Africa was disqualified and Great Britain and Australia both failed to finish as Germany led proceedings with a world U20 leading mark of 39.13.
Both the US and the Jamaican quartets were disqualified from the women’s 4x100m heats. Germany, who broke the world U20 record at the European U20 Championships in Grosseto last July, led the way with another world U20 leading time of 43.80.
Their squad in the final is expected to feature both Keshia Kwadwo and Sophia Junk, who were part of that record-breaking team last July.
Steven Mills for the IAAF