On Day 8 at the World Track and Field Championships in Moscow, the big hurdles showdown between rising U.S. superstar Brianna Rollins and defending world and Olympic champion Sally Pearson of Australia, finally came.
With a new American record and the top four times in the world already under her belt in 2013, this was Rollins' year, and she validated it with a 12.44 seconds win for the gold. Pearson, who entered the season late after coming off an injured hamstring, made it interesting, matching her season-best 12.50 to capture the silver.
Great Britain's Tiffany Porter produced a personal-best 12.55 for bronze, and Americans Dawn Harper-Nelson and Queen Harrison nabbed the fourth and fifth spots.
In the other marquee event of the day, world and Olympic champion, Usain Bolt added yet another gold medal to his ever-expanding trophy case, winning the men's 200-meter final for Jamaica in an almost pedestrian (for him) 19.66.
Still, it was a world leader and helped pull his compatriot, Warren Weir, to a personal-best 19.79 for the silver medal. American Curtis Mitchell broke up a Jamaican sweep by squeaking past Nickel Ashmeade at the line for bronze in 20.04. Ashmeade was ever so close to a podium finish in 20.05.
Although Bolt and Rollins grabbed the headlines, one of the most thrilling event finals of the day came in the women's 4X400 relay. The long-dominant American team tasted the bitterness of a rare defeat at the hands of the Russians.
The home team brought the baton through in a world-leading three minutes, 20.19 seconds, with the U.S. team following close on their heels in a season-best 3:20.41.
For the Americans, the disappointing setback was not due to a lack of speed. Rather, poor exchanges on the last two cycles spelled their defeat. On the final two laps, Ashley Spencer and Francena McCorory received the stick first, but through last-second lane adjustments and fumbling, they found themselves in deep deficits to their Russian counterparts coming out of the first turn.
It was just too much ground to make up on the crowd-fueled Russian team.
Great Britain finished third in 3:22.61.
Second-guessers will no doubt wonder how much Friday's loss of Allyson Felix (to injury) played into the outcome.
Ethiopia's Meseret Defar once again made a sub-15 5,000-meter run seem ordinary, leading a 1-3-5 Ethiopian finish in the 5k final. Her time of 14:50.19 was good for gold, as teammate Almaz Ayana took bronze in 14:51.33.
Silver went to Kenya's Mercy Cherono in 14:51.22. Americans Molly Huddle and Shannon Rowbury managed to finish sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the men's javelin final, a surprise gold medal performance by local hero Dmitri Tarabin did not materialize for his pleading Russian fans. But he did win bronze at 284 feet, 6 inches.
Vitezslav Vesely of the Czech Republic was the man on Saturday, with a winning toss of 286' even. Finland's Tero Pitkamaki threw 285'-8" for the silver.
The hoped-for duel between American Brigetta Barrett and Russia's Anna Chicherova in the women's high jump did not develop as well, but another Russian stepped up to cover for Chicherova, who finished fourth.
Svetlana Shkolina topped out at 6'-8" to take the gold from Barrett, who bowed out at 6'-6.75" for silver. Spain's Ruth Beitia was a surprise medalist, getting bronze at 6'-5.5".
In the day's first event, the men's marathon, Ugandan endurance man Stephen Kiprotich won in two hours, nine minutes, 51 seconds. Ethiopia virtually mopped up the rest of the scoring in this event finishing 2-3-4-8.
Lelisa Desisa and Tadese Tola took silver and bronze in 2:10.12 and 2:10.23, respectively.
Remember, I'm using an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring method to refine the standings a bit from a simple medals count. As the days have progressed, an interesting race has developed in the women's standings, especially between USA and Russia. Saturday's competition fed into that drama with the Russian women scoring 22 points, but the Americans grabbed a whopping 36 in our scoring system.
Let's take a look at the standings after Day 8.
MEN WOMEN TEAM
USA - 122 USA - 114 USA - 236
Rus. - 59 Rus. - 97 Rus. - 156
Ken. - 53 Ken. - 62 Ken. -115
Jam. - 52 Eth. - 48 Eth. - 95
Ger. - 51 GrB - 38 Jam. - 84
Eth. - 47 Chi - 34 Ger. - 75
GrB - 35 Jam. - 32 GrB - 73
Pol. - 30 Ukr. - 30 Ukr. - 49
Fra. - 25 Ger. - 24 Pol. - 44
Ukr. - 19 Fra. - 15 Chi. - 41
Looking at Sunday's final chances at scoring opportunities, it is still mathematically possible for Russia to overtake the American women in the standings. It will take an amazing effort on the part of the Russian women, but they have the home-crowd advantage.
The Americans have practically sewn up the overall team race. But look how the Ethiopians have surged in the standings by gaining 37 overall points just on Saturday.
Day 9 promises to be a flurry of activity as six event finals will be squeezed into a two-and-a-half=hour window to put a wrap on the 2013 championships. And that includes both the men's and women's 4X100 relay heats early in the afternoon, leading to the exciting finals to close the meet.
The women's javelin final features all the usual suspects we've come to know in recent years. Russian defending champion and current world leader Mariya Abakumova will be the crowd favorite.
Germany's hopes will rest on two ladies: Christina Obergfoll and Linda Stahl, and Sunette Viljoen of South Africa always seems to find her way to the podium.
Two Americans—Christian Taylor and Will Claye—could bring home some hardware in the men's triple jump. But watch out for Frenchman Teddy Tamgho and Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo.
A Kenyan sweep of the men's 1,500 final is not out of the question because the three Kenyans entered are the only runners to have dipped below three minutes, 30 seconds. Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Chepseba should push the pace and bleed off the closing speed of the kickers.
A slow, tactical race will play into the hands (or feet) of American Matthew Centrowitz.
For those following the close points race between the Russian and American women, the women's 800 final will be crucial.
The Americans bring three runners—Alysia Montano, Brenda Martinez and 19-year-old Ajee' Wilson. The Russians bring two—Olympic and world champion Mariya Savinova and former national champion Ekaterina Poistogova.
With the highly biased home crowd erupting, this race could get physical—women's roller-derby physical.
To conclude the 2013 World Championships, organizers chose the popular women's and men's 4X100 relay finals as the curtain-closer.
Since so many unexpected developments can occur during the qualification heats (held earlier on Day 9), it is impossible to predict who will be in the finals.
According to the odds, here are the predicted orders of finish:
Women's 4X100 relay - USA, Jamaica, Ukraine.
Men's 4X100 relay - Jamaica, USA, Great Britain.
Be sure to bookmark our track and field homepage and return here on Sunday for the recap, final scores and analysis.
Enjoy the final day of competition!
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