Showdown #2 looms
But Van Niekerk rules the day
BEIJING –– Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin looked in fine form as they ran the fastest times of the 200 meters semi-finals on Wednesday to set up a mouthwatering second sprint showdown at the world championships.
Bolt, who beat Gatlin when they clashed for the first time this year in the 100 meters final, looked relaxed and took time to chat with a fellow competitor as he approached the line to win his heat with his first sub-20 second time of the year.
The 29-year-old, unbeaten in his favorite event at a major global championships since he won 200 meters gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he still had something left in the tank for tomorrow’s final after clocking 19.95 seconds.
“Bit tired, as expected,” the world record holder said. “Just trying to get as much rest as possible and trying to get through these rounds. Right now I’m feeling okay. I didn’t run a hard corner. I ran maybe 90 percent.”
Gatlin already ran the third fastest time of the year in 19.87 seconds to win the second heat, however, getting off to a blistering start and able to ease up slightly in the last few meters before crossing the line.
The 33-year-old American, who has lost five years of his career to doping bans, is unbeaten in the half-lap event since 2013.
Anguilla-born Briton Zharnel Hughes pipped Nickel Ashmeade on the line to win a close first heat in 20.14 to reach his first global sprint final along with the Jamaican (20.19).
Panama’s Alonso Edward finished second behind Gatlin in 20.02 to qualify, while Femi Ogunode (20.05), another sprinter who has served a doping ban, went through as one of the fastest finishers outside the top two in each heat with a Qatari national record.
South African Anasco Jobodwana finished second chatting to Bolt in a personal best time of 20.01, while Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev ran 20.10 to complete the lineup of runners who will try and stop the Jamaican from winning a fourth straight title.
“For me, my 200 is my best event,” Bolt said. “I live for this, so I’m looking forward to it. I know I’m going to do well.”
Meanwhile Wayde van Niekerk lit up the Bird’s Nest today with a stunning 400 meters run to win a first sprint gold for South Africa and cap a night of exceptional performances.
Two of those came in the men’s javelin and women’s 3,000 meters steeplechase where Kenyans Julius Yego and Hyvin Jepkemoi added another two gold medals to the East African powerhouse’s already considerable haul.
The scourge of doping returned to haunt the sport, however, when two of their compatriots were provisionally banned for failing drug tests on the eve of the championships.
But Van Niekerk was the star of the day.
Racing against a field containing a record five sprinters who had run under 44 seconds, the 23-year-old dominated the contest from start to finish and crossed the line in 43.48 seconds.
The effort of running a time that only American world record holder Michael Johnson and his compatriots Butch Reynolds and Jeremy Wariner have bettered took its toll, however.
Van Niekerk collapsed on the track at the end of the race and was taken to hospital with his “vital signs unstable”, the IAAF’s medical delegate said, leaving runner-up LaShawn Merritt to hail the quality of the race.
“It’s crazy. We’re warriors. We’re animals,” said the American 2013 world champion, whose personal best 43.65 was good enough only for silver ahead of Olympic champion Kirani James (43.78).
Van Niekerk was discharged just before midnight local time.
While Van Niekerk’s time was the best since 2007, you would have to go back as far as 2001 to witness a javelin flying as far as the 92.72 meters Yego managed to give Kenya its first world title in a field event.
To the diminutive Yego, who learned the javelin from watching videos on the internet after being rejected as a runner, fell the duty of reacting to the positive dope tests of his team-mates Koki Manunga and Joyce Zakary.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “I always believe we can win clean so it’s a shame to them.”
Jepkemoi produced a performance more typical of her nation to win the steeplechase, outsprinting favorite Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia and German Gesa Krause down the home straight to win Kenya’s sixth gold in nine minutes, 19.11 seconds.
Zuzana Hejnova already knew her race was won when she went over the final obstacle in the 400 meters hurdles and the Czech, who ran the year’s best time of 53.50 seconds, became the first woman to successfully defend the world title in the event.
A thrilling women’s pole vault contest featuring Cuba’s Yarisley Silva, Brazil’s Fabiana Murer and Greece’s Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou kept the crowd engrossed all evening in the gaps between the other events.
Silva took the title when she cleared 4.90 meters at the third attempt, leaving Murer, one of her country’s best hopes of gold in athletics at next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, with silver and Kyriakopoulou claiming the bronze.