No medals for Team SA at a brilliantly presented World Athletic Championships
It was a disappointing return for South Africa at the global showpiece although the meeting itself was a triumph.
Team South Africa disappointingly emerged with no medals at the 18th staging of the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, but overall the event was a stunning triumph for the sport.
It was the second straight World Championships, following Doha in 2019, that Team SA failed to bring back a medal after winning six in London 2017.
With the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham starting later this week, it was not a confidence-boosting experience for South Africa’s leading athletes.
Team USA dominated on their home track as national and world records fell over 11 thrilling days of competition.
The US collected a record 33 medals — 13 gold, nine silver and 11 bronze — with Ethiopia, Jamaica and Kenya tied on 10 medals each behind the host nation.
Overall, 49 nations won a medal, including the likes of Philippines, Israel, Peru (two golds) and war-torn Ukraine (one silver, one bronze), underlining what a poor Championships it was for South Africa.
Akani Simbine made the 100m final but was unable to come away with a medal, finishing fifth as the US trio of Fred Kerley, Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Brommell swept the podium of the blue ribband event.
A few days later Noah Lyles led the US to a sweep of the 200m as well, making them the first nation in history to take all six medals in the two short sprints.
Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce continued to make jaws drop with a stunning women’s 100m victory, clocking 10,67 seconds. The 35-year-old edged compatriots Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah for a clean sweep by Jamaica.
Fraser-Pryce collected her fifth 100m world title to go with two Olympic 100m golds. She showed no signs of slowing down as her victory was the fastest winning time of all those seven global victories.
South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk qualified for the 400m final after five-injury torn years but also ended fifth as American Michael Norman took gold in a modest 44.30 seconds.
By the standards of recent 400m championships Norman’s time was pedestrian but Van Niekerk had hinted before the World Champs that he was not in prime condition yet.
Women’s 400m hurdler Sydney McLaughlin smashed her own world record for the event, clocking 50.68 seconds to become the first woman to dip below 51 seconds for the one-lap race.
And the records continued to tumble when Swedish pole-vaulter Armand Duplantis broke his own pole vault world record with a jump of 6.21 metres on the final day of competition. It was his first gold medal at the World Championships.
The Olympic champion cleared 6.00m to make sure of the title before he set his sights on his own record of 6.20m set at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade earlier this year and improved upon it by 1cm with his second attempt.
The world title completes the 22-year-old’s collection, making him the first pole vaulter to have won gold at the Olympics, World Championships, World Indoor Championships, World Junior Championships, World Youth Championships and European Championships.
Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan broke the women’s 100m hurdles world record in the semi-finals. The record time of 12.12 seconds broke Kendra Harrison’s mark of 12.20. In the final, Amusan appeared to have broken the world record again, crossing the line in 12.06 seconds. But it was later ruled ineligible as the wind speed exceeded the legal limit.
American Athing Mu held off British rival Keeley Hodgkinson to add the world 800m title to her Olympic crown while Germany’s Malaika Mihambo, also a gold medallist in Tokyo, retained her long jump title.
Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway made up for this runner-up finish in the 1,500 metres, behind surprise winner Jake Wightman, with a convincing victory in the 5,000 metres, where reigning Olympic champion and world record holder Joshua Cheptegei faltered and finished in ninth place.
In the relays, South Africa’s men’s team made the 4x100m final but ended sixth in a good time of 38.10 seconds — a season’s best. Canada were the surprise gold medallists, beating the US to the line in a time of 37.48 seconds.
The US collected their third successive women’s 4×400 metres relay world title in emphatic fashion on Sunday, finishing well clear in 3:17.79 ahead of Jamaica and Britain to close out the Eugene World Championships with a 13th home gold.
McLaughlin brought it home for gold with a remarkable 47.91 final leg, finishing nearly 20 metres clear.
Most representative World Champs ever
World Athletics said that more countries than ever were represented in the finals of events at Eugene, the smallest city to host the biennial global meet.
Prior to Sunday’s final session, the sport’s governing body said a record 79 countries had finalists during the 10-day event, up from 76 in Doha three years ago. Liberia, Niger, Pakistan and Samoa had athletes in a final for the first time.
With roughly 175,000 residents, according to the most recent US Census, Eugene, Oregon is far smaller than past hosts, most recently Doha, with a population of more than 2 million, and London, with approximately 9 million.
More than 1,700 athletes represented 179 countries and the Athlete Refugee Team in total at the meet, and Renee Washington, chief operating officer of USA Track & Field, said she was delighted with the global reach of the event.
“I was — and I continue to be even today — pleasantly surprised by the way the world embraced this very small community,” Washington told reporters on Sunday.
“This is a unique community in a unique part of the United States.”
Moved back by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the meet was held on US soil for the first time, a move designed in part to help grow an American audience in a crowded sports market where the landscape is dominated by the main four men’s professional leagues of the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB.
Early crowds at the 15,000-capacity Hayward Field were thinner than the hosts may have hoped for, but the World Championships managed to sell out the last session on Sunday. DM/Reuters