Just when you thought Usain Bolt would be gracious enough to let somebody else have the spotlight for a major track meet, the fastest man (and most swag-loaded athlete) on the planet regained pole position on Day 1 of the IAAF Track & Field World Championships.
Gunning for gold in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay over the next nine days in Daegu, South Korea, Bolt began his next run at history by running the qualifying heats in the 100 on Saturday. Erasing any signs of vulnerability he may have shown during two "down" years on the track, Bolt is once again the lead story.
Here are the other winners and losers from Day 1 of the WC meet:
(Because of the time-zone difference between South Korea and the U.S., there can be confusion regarding the days of competition. For example, on Friday night in the U.S. we watched coverage from Saturday morning in Daegu, but not Saturday afternoon. And so the second day of TV coverage in the U.S. included events from the official Day 1 and Day 2 of the World Championships. In recapping the WC competition for these purposes, "Day 1" will refer to Day 1 of the meet itself, not just Day 1 of the TV coverage.)
Kenya—The undisputed powerhouse nation of distance running sent a loud message right off the bat in these World Championships.
The Kenyan women swept all six medals in the marathon (Edna Kiplagat, Priscah Jeptoo, Sheron Cherop) and the 10,000-meter final (Vivian Cheruiyot, Sally Kipyego, Linet Masai), and all three of their 3,000-meter steeplechase runners looked good in qualifying for that event's semifinals.
On the men's side, 800-meter superstar David Rudisha led a contingent of three Kenyans to comfortably qualify for the semifinals.
Edna Kiplagat (Kenya)—The most impressive performance of the Kenyan runners came from Kiplagat, who won the women's marathon in 2:28:43.
At the second-to-last water station, Kiplagat was in the lead when she and Sheron Cherop's legs got tangled and Kiplagat fell hard to the pavement on her knees. Although she was unhurt, the fall allowed some contenders to make up ground on Kiplagat before she pulled away for good with just under two miles to go.
Ashton Eaton (USA)—Just by looking at his face, you would have thought Eaton was in 10th place after Day 1 of the decathlon. Following each event, he displayed a range of emotion that went from mild disappointment to outright disgust.
Turns out Eaton finished the day in first place. He had the fastest 100 and 400-meter time of all the decathletes and the third-best long jump. That was enough to overcome a mediocre high jump and subpar shot put to give him the lead at the midpoint.
Maurren Maggi (Brazil)—The women's long jump gold medalist from the '08 Olympics has taken a backseat in recent years as Brittney Reese (USA) became the event's biggest star. On Saturday afternoon at the WC, however, Maggi posted the top qualifying distance (6.86 meters), while Reese needed all three attempts just to make the final.
Usain Bolt (Jamaica)—It was only a qualifying heat, but Bolt silenced those who had been doubting his ability to meet the sky-high expectations that follow him into every race.
Bolt looked like a man amongst boys again on his way to posting the fastest qualifying time in the men's 100-meter dash (10.10 seconds), leaving a field that included two-time WC medalist Dwain Chambers (Great Britain) completely in the dust.
Christine Ohuruogu (Great Britain)—The women's 400-meter gold medalist from the '08 Olympics and '07 World Championships jumped the gun Saturday in her opening-round heat and was disqualified.
Personally, I don't like the IAAF's new rule in which an athlete is DQ'd after one false start. For a sport that needs its athletes breaking world records every now and then to bring mainstream attention and revenue, having its best sprinters afraid to get out of the blocks quickly is counterproductive.
And do false starts really prolong a track meet that much? It'd be like if every defensive offsides penalty in the NFL resulted in the offense being award a touchdown, and every offensive false start resulted in a turnover.
Blessing Okagbare (Nigeria)—She's still very much in the mix in the 100-meter dash, but the first day of competition didn't go well for Okagbare. The '08 Olympic bronze medalist in the long jump failed to qualify for the finals in that event.
Okagbare hasn't been jumping well all year and was ranked 41st in the world going into Daegu, but had she come even close to her season-best distance of 6.78 meters, she would have easily made the WC finals.
Ethiopia—While the Kenyan women dominated the marathon and 10,000-meter final, their intercontinental rivals fell frustratingly short of the spotlight.
Meselech Melkamu finished fifth in the 10,000 meters, making her the fastest non-Kenyan but not fast enough for the medal podium. One of her teammates finished 11th, while the other did not finish. In the marathon, Bezunesh Bekele finished in fourth place, with her teammates sprinkled throughout the rest of the 40-something runner field.
Leonel Suarez (Cuba)—The U.S. television coverage of the decathlon has been all about Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee, but if you listened closely, you might have heard a little about Suarez.
The '09 World Championship silver medalist and '08 Olympic bronze medalist came into Daegu as the biggest threat to turn Eaton and Hardee's 1-on-1 battle into a triple threat match, but Suarez finished Day 1 of the decathlon in seventh place. However, some of Suarez's strongest events lay ahead on Day 2.
Justin Gatlin (USA)—He said all the right things in his post-race interview and seemed happy enough with his 10.31-second qualifying time in the 100-meter dash, but Gatlin doesn't look like a medal contender right now.
Gatlin was smoked in his qualifying heat by 21-year-old French phenom Christophe Lemaitre. He did safely make it into the semifinals, but one has to wonder if the frostbite he sustained in both feet during training is impacting him more than he's letting on.
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