Following a day off for all athletes except the women's 20K race walkers, everybody brought the heat on Day 6 of the Track & Field World Championships. Everybody including Mother Nature.
The temperatures were sweltering in Daegu, South Korea, from the morning session and into the evening. It was especially tough for the giants of the men's shot put and the men's 5,000-meter runners, but they were just qualifying. If you want to feel bad for somebody, feel bad for the competitors in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase final, and the men and women in the finals of the 400-meter hurdles—arguably the toughest event in track for its combination of speed, endurance, technique and strategy.
Here are the notables from Day 6:
Jesse Williams (USA)—Back in 1991, Charles Austin and Hollis Conway won gold and bronze, respectively, in the men's high jump at the World Championships. That was the last time Team USA medaled in the event, until Jesse Williams showed up this year. Williams cleared 2.35 meters with no misses, a flawless performance that will make him the top dog going into the 2012 Olympics.
David Greene (Great Britain)—If you thought 1991-2011 was a drought, how about going back to 1968? That was the last time a British man won gold in the 400-meter hurdles at a major event, when David Hemery took the Olympic title in 48.12 seconds, then a world record.
Forty-three years later, the WR is 46.78 (by Kevin Young of the USA), and David Greene finally put Great Britain back on top of the medal podium. Greene ran 48.26 seconds in the 400-meter hurdle final, getting stronger in the latter stages of the race and passing Javier Culson (Puerto Rico), L.J. Van Zyl (South Africa) and Angelo Taylor (USA) as they faded down the stretch.
Jenny Simpson (USA)—Completing the trio of streak-enders, Simpson's victory in the women's 1,500-meter run was the first WC gold medal for the United States in that event since 1983, when Mary Decker won at the inaugural World Championships.
Going into the 1,500 final, all eyes were on two-time defending world champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal (Bahrain) and USA champ Morgan Uceny. But Jamal stumbled and finished in last place, and Uceny was taken out during a two-runner crash on the final lap. That left Simpson to make a surge in the final 100 meters that earned her the gold in 4:05.40.
Oscar Pistorius (South Africa)—The "Blade Runner" story would have been satisfying enough (for the public, if not the athlete) with Pistorius just making it to the 400-meter semifinals in his individual event. But now he'll be running for a medal.
Pistorius' strong first leg in the 4x400 relay semifinal helped South Africa reach the final and set a national record in 2:59.21 along with teammates Ofentse Mogawane, Willem de Beer and Shane Victor.
Lashinda Demus (USA)—Like I said, the 400 hurdles is a beast. Even on the biggest stages like the Olympics and WC, it's commonplace to see the best athletes in the world staggering to the finish line after running the race of their lives.
Demus has been in that position before, which is why she failed to qualify for the '08 Olympics and '07 World Championships, and has two silvers instead of gold to show for her other WC appearances.
This year Demus took it easy on competing during the Diamond League circuit, and it paid off. She looked strong all through the competition in Daegu and took home the gold medal. Her time of 52.47 seconds in the final is the fastest time in the world this year and the third-fastest all-time.
Kenya—Who said they were only distance runners?
In the men's 4x400 relay, the Kenyan quartet of Vincent Kosgei, Anderson Mutegi, Vincent Kiilu and Mark Mutai finished third in their semifinal heat in 3:00.97, knocking the Bahamas and '09 WC bronze medalist Australia out of the final.
Now here's a thought: Would it make sense for Kenya to stick David Rudisha on the relay for the medal race? The 800-meter world champ has a 400-meter personal best of 45.50 seconds.
Dwight Phillips (USA)—No one knew what to expect from Phillips, the three-time and defending long jump world champion who was mostly absent from the summer circuit and finished 10th at the USA Championships. At 33 years old, rumor had it that he might be done.
But in the qualifying round, Phillips broke out a season-best 8.32 meters, the longest of the day for any jumper. Mitchell Watt (Australia) came into the WC expected to face less of a competition than a coronation, but Phillips put him and the rest of the field on blast.
Blanka Vlasic (Croatia)—A few days before the WC, the two-time women's high jump gold medalist announced she wouldn't be able to defend her crown due to a slight hamstring tear. A few hours after that, she changed her mind and committed to competing.
Vlasic showed zero signs of being injured in the high jump opening round, clearing all her heights on the first attempt and easily getting over the 1.95-meter automatic qualifying height. Once again, Vlasic goes into the finals as the gold-medal favorite.
Shalonda Solomon (USA)—There was rightful concern that Solomon, the 200-meter winner at the USA Championships, wouldn't be able to match that success at the World Championships. On one hand, she hadn't had a great season on the Diamond League circuit; second, this is her first Olympic/WC-level major track meet and she'd be running against seasoned veterans like Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kerron Stewart.
But Solomon has looked better than anybody today. She posted the second-fastest time in the opening heat (22.69 seconds), and then the fastest time in the semifinals (22.46) while beating Stewart head-to-head.
David Storl (Germany)—Though he came into the WC ranked eighth in the world in the men's shot put, Storl was neither a proven commodity on the big international stage nor was he considered a medal contender in Daegu. But the 21-year-old was the talk of the competition after qualifying, where he unleashed a 21.50-meter throw that was the longest of the day and smashed his previous personal best.
Yargeris Savigne (Cuba)—Just when they thought the WC program cover curse had been snapped by Russian race-walker Olga Kaniskina, who appeared on the Day 5 cover and still won gold in her event, Savigne fell victim to the curse on Day 6. (Leading to a new theory that the curse only applies to athletes inside the stadium, since Kaniskina's win occurred outdoors on the road course.)
Savigne won the women's triple jump gold medal at the '07 and '09 World Championships, as well as silver in '05. Those credentials were glowing enough to put her on the Day 6 program cover. But in the triple jump finals, Savigne posted one jump of 14.43 meters before having to pull out of the competition with a thigh injury, finishing sixth.
Renny Quow (Trinidad & Tobago)—What has already been a rough year for the '09 WC bronze medalist in the men's 400 meters didn't get any better in Daegu. Quow was knocked out of the 400-meter medal chase in the semifinals on Day 3, then on Day 6 his relay team exited the 4x400 in the semifinals. Quow ran the anchor on a squad that finished sixth in their heat.
Maryam Yusuf Jamal (Bahrain)—On the second to last lap of the women's 1,500-meter final, Jamal collided with another runner, stumbled and never recovered. The two-time world champion finished in last place.
The worst part, though, was the way Jamal ended the race. Clearly out of the running for a medal, she stopped running altogether and walked the last few meters. That allowed Morgan Uceny (USA) and Hellen Obiri (Kenya), who had both fallen to the track during a crash on the last lap, to pass her at the finish line.
Chris Brown (Bahamas)—Already dealing with the disappointment of coming 0.01 seconds away from making the men's 400-meter final, Brown had to watch his shot at a 4x400 relay medal vanish through no fault of his own.
Most countries who believe they're good enough to medal don't have their best athletes run in the relay prelims to preserve the energy of their stars. Brown, ranked No. 3 in the world and No. 2 in the Diamond League standings going into Daegu, was held out of the 4x400 semifinal for that reason—but then teammates Ramon Miller, Avard Moncur, Andrae Williams and LaToy Williams finished fourth and failed to make it to the finals.
Irving Saladino (Panama)—If the rules of the long jump were relaxed and measurements could be taken from the point of takeoff instead of using the board as a restriction, Saladino might have broken the world record by now.
Saladino has the talent to jump with anybody, hence the '08 Olympic and '07 WC gold medals. But he has a knack for fouling a lot, and any jumper will tell you that worrying about fouls inevitably hurts your distance on the jumps that are legit because you'll give up space on the board trying to be safe. That's exactly what happened to Saladino at these WC; he fouled on his first two jumps in qualifying, then on his last chance only traveled 7.84 meters, finishing 11th in his group and way out of the finals.