Sandi Morris celebrates gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018 (© Getty Images)
Three championship records, two other world leads and drama aplenty: just another night at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018.
Gold at last for Morris
A third-time clearance in the pole vault is exciting under any normal circumstances, but when the bar is set at 4.95m and a successful attempt will likely result in a world title, the added pressure makes it truly special.
Sandi Morris was the athlete in question.
Katerina Stefanidi, searching for the one title missing from her collection, had exited the competition with two failures at 4.90m following one at 4.85m, having required two attempts to make 4.75m and three to get over 4.80m.
Instead it was Anzhelika Sidorova who mounted the most serious challenge to Morris and, indeed, her record up to 4.90m had been flawless. But the US vaulter made 4.90m at the second attempt whereas the authorised neutral athlete took thee vaults.
Morris’s 4.95m makes her the third best performer in the pole vault indoors behind Jennifer Suhr and Yelena Isinbayeva. It was also her first global title following three successive silver medals.
Coleman copes with pressure
With talk of a possible world record reverberating around the stadium, the pressure was on Christian Coleman.
Just 6.37 seconds later and the 21-year-old’s championship temperament was proven and the Birmingham fans were in raptures.
The US indoor champion was drawn alongside the man most likely to challenge, China’s Su Bingtian, and the IAAF World Indoor Tour winner was out alongside Coleman for the first 30 metres.
But that was where the world record-holder began to pull away.
Su’s efforts were rewarded with an Asian indoor record of 6.42, with USA’s Ronnie Baker taking bronze in 6.44.
Change of luck for Harrison
World 100m hurdles record-holder Kendra Harrison ended a long and frustrating wait for a first international title, producing a classy performance to win the 60m hurdles in a championship record and personal best of 7.70, tying the North American record.
Two years ago in Portland the now 25-year-old had hit the first hurdle in the final, finishing eighth having started as favourite, but she erased those memories, getting off to a flying start and moving clear off hurdle three.
Harrison’s US teammate Christina Manning took silver in 7.79 and the Netherlands’ Nadine Visser denied the US trio a podium sweep, taking bronze in 7.84, narrowly missing breaking the national record she had set in the semi-final earlier in the session.
Claye claims close contest
Just three centimetres separated the champion Will Claye, the silver medallist Almir dos Santos and Nelson Evora in third place in yet another compelling horizontal jump competition.
Evora, the 2008 Olympic champion and, at 33 the elder statesman of world triple jumping, had led with a first-round 17.14m and extended his advantage with a national record of 17.40m in the third, but Claye, the world indoor champion in 2012, responded with 17.43m in the fourth, which proved to be enough for the win.
Brazil’s Dos Santos, this season’s surprise package, then improved his own PB in the fifth to 17.41m to snatch the silver, by far the biggest achievement of his career so far.
Hot Kszczot’s gold at last
Adam Kszczot, twice a medallist over 800m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships but never previously the champion, finally took gold with a trademark sit and blistering kick.
The three-time European indoor champion started in lane one and watched on as Morocco’s Mostafa Smaili led out the field through two slow, almost excruciatingly so, laps, before surging to the front on lap three.
With the clock showing 55.7 for the first 400 metres, the 28-year-old Pole had plenty left in the tank to maintain his pace metres clear of the rest of the field, which was headed by Saul Ordonez. The Spanish athlete tied up in the final strides as the USA’s Drew Windle swept past to take silver.
Mayer resists Warner charge
Heading into the heptathlon’s final event, the 1000m, France’s world decathlon champion Kevin Mayer led Damian Warner by 34 points, which equated to a head start of roughly three seconds.
Unperturbed, the Canadian embarked on an audacious bid for glory, moving to the front of the field and edging further and further ahead until he took the bell with 200 metres to go with a genuine chance of gold.
Behind him, Mayer was hanging on, but faltered badly in the final 40 metres before staggering to the line, no doubt feeling highly concerned that Warner had achieved the unthinkable. As it was, the gap was 2.52 seconds and Mayer took the title by just five points, scoring 6348 for a 2018 world lead.
Maslak makes it three
As Spain’s Oscar Husillos surged down the home straight on the second lap of the 400m final, teeth gritted, hanging on for dear life, before crossing the line in a barely-believable 44.92, it seemed that the crowd might have witnessed one of the feel-good stories of the championships.
The 24-year-old had already set personal best after personal best in 2018 and now, in his biggest race, had come a championship and European indoor record.
Until the disqualification.
A lane infringement committed by both him and the runner-up, Luguelin Santos, meant that Pawel Maslak’s season’s best 45.47 was the gold medal-winning performance, his third world indoor title, while USA’s Michael Cherry and Trinidad and Tobago’s Deon Lendore also made the podium.
USA two-lap one-two
The USA’s Courtney Okolo and Shakima Wimbley had been virtually inseparable this season, finishing within one hundredth of a second of each other at the USA Indoor Championships and matching each other’s efforts so far at the World Indoor Championships in progressing to the final in untroubled fashion.
It always felt likely that one of the two would take the 400m title and so it proved, with Okolo speeding to a personal best 50.55 to take the crown ahead of her teammate and Great Britain’s Elidh Doyle.
The 23-year-old had hit the front at the bell and took maximum advantage of a tussle between Wimbley and Doyle behind her, her victory nicely complementing the gold she won in the 4x400m in Portland two years ago and in the same discipline at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Dibaba at the double
Any doubts about the three 3000m medallists’ ability to cope with three races in three days were well and truly eased, as the trio once again made the podium in a 1500m which was yet another exciting race.
Not surprisingly, it was Genzebe Dibaba who took the title, the Ethiopian striking hard for home with 1000 metres to go and finishing in 4:05.27. Britain’s Laura Muir and Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan were the only two athletes able to cope with the surge, although Kenya’s Winny Chibet put up a spirited fight until she fell away with 300 metres remaining.
It was Muir who ultimately lasted longest, finishing within a second of Dibaba to improve on her bronze from Friday, while Hassan, the defending champion, settled for bronze.
Sprint hurdles big hitters tune up for tomorrow
There were no major casualties in the men’s 60m hurdles and, with four to qualify from each of the five heats, the pre-event favourites could afford to relax, relatively speaking.
World 110m hurdles record-holder Aries Merritt, US indoor champion Jarret Eaton and Jamaica’s Ronald Levy all progressed in serene fashion, while the fastest qualifier was Great Britain’s Andrew Pozzi, which met the approval of the Birmingham crowd.
Next time, at the IAAF World Indoor Championships…
The finale. From 15:00 on Saturday…
Can anyone challenge Kendricks and Lavillenie?
One is a legend of the sport, the pole vault world record-holder and reigning champion. The other is the world outdoor title holder and the challenger to his crown. Renaud Lavillenie and Sam Kendricks share the highest vault in the world this year and will both expect to challenge for gold in Birmingham on Sunday.
Prize for Pozzi?
Great Britain’s Andrew Pozzi was the fastest qualifier from the 60m hurdles heats, but with semi-finals to negotiate before he can start thinking of the final, it would be dangerous for home supporters to dream of another title. That’s especially the case with Aries Merritt, Jarett Eaton and Ronald Levy among others looking good.
Reese bandwagon to roll on?
Brittney Reese has a habit of picking up global titles and attempts to take her fourth world indoor gold to go with the four she has outdoors. Serbia’s European champion Ivana Spanovic may have other ideas.
Ethiopia awaits in the 3000m
Genzebe Dibaba’s two titles in Birmingham will no doubt have served only to raise expectations in Ethiopia, so hopes will be high that Hagos Gebrhiwet, Selemon Barega and Yomif Kejelcha will make it a clean sweep in the 3000m.
Déjà vu for Niyonsaba and Wilson
In Portland two years ago Francine Niyonsaba won gold in the 800m, with USA’s Ajee’ Wilson finishing in the runner-up spot and the pair emerged from competitive heats in Birmingham looking like the favourites to make the podium again.
Iguider to win back title?
Abdalaati Iguider took world indoor 1500m gold in Istanbul back in 2012 and six years later Birmingham is perhaps his best chance to find himself standing on top of a podium at a global championships, in what seems to be a very open event.
USA relay dominance to continue?
On the evidence of the heats, it will take something special to stop the USA from retaining their relay titles, as both their relay teams qualified for the finals in style. The other medals seem very much up for grabs however, and the Birmingham crowd would no doubt love to see the championships end on a high note for the host nation.
Dean Hardman for the IAAF