Members of Team Americas celebrate their victory at the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018 (© Getty Images)
Various innovations and changes in format resulted in two entertaining days of action at the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018, but ultimately the teams from Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific could not compete with the might of the Americas as they won 18 of the 37 events on their way to lifting the trophy on Sunday (9).
Having held a slight lead at the end of the first day, the Americas extended their advantage on day two and eventually won with 262 points. Defending champions Europe finished second with 233 points with Asia-Pacific taking third place (188) ahead of Africa (142).
“I’m really proud of all the athletes,” said Americas team captain Mike Powell, the long jump world record-holder. “When I looked at the entries, we had a stacked team.
“Winning the first track race, the 100m hurdles, created a lot of momentum for the team,” he added. “And for me. At first I was kind of watching it, but then I was counting every point, getting really into it.”
Powell likely had to resort to using his fingers and toes to count up all of the points won by his team’s top trio: Christian Taylor, Caterine Ibarguen and Shaunae Miller-Uibo.
Taylor carried not only the responsibility of being the official team representative for the Americas but also the pressure of having the joker played in his event, the men’s triple jump. For good measure, he also formed one quarter of their mixed 4x400m quartet.
But, as he has done so often in previous major competitions, the US jumper rose to the occasion and secured crucial points for his team in both events, playing a significant role in his team’s success.
Taylor started the day with a dominant performance in his specialist event, the triple jump, sailing out to 17.59m (-1.9m/s) in the first round, then following it with 17.41m in the fourth and 17.31m in the final round to secure the victory.
Americas team captain Mike Powell played the joker in this event, meaning Taylor and teammate Cristian Napoles, who jumped 17.07m, bagged the maximum possible points.
Taylor ended his day by leading off his team in the mixed 4x400m. He handed over the baton in second place behind Europe, but the second changeover proved costly for Europe as Lisanne De Witte dropped the baton while passing it from one hand to another.
Stephenie-Ann McPherson capitalised on Europe’s blunder and moved into the lead for the Americas before handing over to Shanae Miller-Uibo. The Olympic 400m champion flew around the final lap to bring the baton home in 3:13.01.
Although the team’s overall victory was assured before the final event, the sight of a triumphant mixed 4x400m team from Americas was a fitting end to the weekend.
Like Taylor, Miller-Uibo had also been on double duty. Earlier in the afternoon she had won the 200m and showed the same finishing strength that has carried her to numerous victories on the international circuit this year in what has been an undefeated season for the 24-year-old.
Two-time world champion Dafne Schippers got off to the best start and led off the bend, but Miller-Uibo reeled her in and crossed the line in 22.16 to win by 0.12. As it was Americas’ second joker event of the day, Miller-Uibo’s win was worth double points.
Taylor’s fellow team representative Caterine Ibarguen also proved great value for the Americas team. Having won the triple jump 24 hours earlier, the Colombian was back on track on Sunday for the long jump.
A second-round leap of 6.76m saw her advance to the fourth round. She then improved to 6.85m to earn her spot in the final round alongside Brooke Stratton of Asia-Pacific. Ibarguen saved her best for last and sailed out to a national record of 6.93m to take the win.
Having won a historic horizontal jumps double at the IAAF Diamond League finals at the end of August, Ibarguen made similar history in Ostrava, becoming the first athlete to win both the long and triple jump at the World or Continental Cup.
Elimination excitement in 3000m
The elimination format used for the distance races produced nail-biting drama with each of the five final laps of the men’s 3000m.
In what effectively turned into a fartlek run for the eight athletes, judges needed to use replay technology to work out which athletes had to be eliminated. Asia-Pacific’s Birhanu Balew was the first to be shown the red card and he was followed by Africa’s Getaneh Molla and then Europe’s Marc Scott.
African and world U20 champion Edward Zakayo had spent so much energy in sprinting for the line on each of the elimination laps, he had nothing left to give with two laps remaining and was the fourth athlete to be sent off the track. It left Paul Chelimo to stride away to victory in 7:57.13 ahead of teammate Mo Ahmed.
It was the second 1-2 finish of the day from the Americas. Earlier in the afternoon, Jamaica’s Janieve Russell won the 400m hurdles from USA’s Shamier Little, 53.62 to 53.86, to pick up maximum points for their team.
Noah Lyles and Sam Kendricks also secured individual wins for the Americas. Lyles caught a fast-starting Su Bingtian of Asia-Pacific to win the 100m by 0.02 in 10.01. Kendricks, meanwhile, took the pole vault with a 5.85m clearance ahead of Renaud Lavillenie.
European hopes dashed
Europe started the second day in the hope that they could make up ground on overnight leaders Americas, but their comeback plan was dealt a big blow in Sunday’s first event, the men’s hammer.
European champion Wojciech Nowicki started as the outstanding favourite but recorded fouls on his first two attempts. A safe 71.74m third-round effort wasn’t enough to make it to the fourth round, while teammate Bence Halasz also struggled, eventually finishing third. Olympic champion Dilshod Nazarov, meanwhile, made no such mistakes and sealed the victory for Asia-Pacific with 77.34m.
Hammer and relay blunders aside, though, Europe made good use of their two jokers. Their first was played in the women’s high jump, which Maria Lasitskene won unopposed with 2.00m.
Their other joker was played in the men’s 110m hurdles, in which Sergey Shubenkov overcame a poor start to take victory in 13.03 from Ronald Levy’s 13.12.
Europe’s only other triumph on day two came in the men’s javelin, but Olympic champion Thomas Rohler was put under pressure.
The German advanced with ease to the fourth round, having thrown 86.39m in round three. Asia-Pacific’s Cheng Chao-Tsun produced the best mark of the fourth round, though, with 83.28m and was improving with each throw. But Rohler produced when it mattered and sent his spear out to 87.07m in the final round to seal the victory.
Haroun and Lyu live up to expectations
While Asia-Pacific never quite entered the fray as serious title contenders, team captain Jana Pittman made good use of their two jokers on day two.
Following wins from Salwa Eid Naser and Abderrahman Samba on Saturday, Asia-Pacific once again triumphed over one lap of the track as Abdalelah Haroun took the men’s 400m in 44.72 and helped gain double points for his team.
The women’s javelin was Asia-Pacific’s second joker event of the day. Lyu Huihui looked to have given away her chance of victory when she managed just 57.88m in the fifth and final round, but European champion Christin Hussong was unable to throw farther, ending with just 55.05m.
Lyu’s compatriot Gong Lijiao secured another throws triumph for Asia-Pacific in what was a similarly competitive shot put competition.
Raven Saunders of the Americas produced the best mark of the day with her third-round throw of 19.74m, one centimetre farther than Europe’s Christina Schwanitz. But with marks in the fourth round determining who advances to round five, Gong’s fourth-round throw of 19.63m proved crucial. She was joined in the final round by Saunders, who managed just 18.39m with her last attempt. Gong’s 19.25m was superior, giving her the victory.
Semenya and Chepkoech a class apart
They may have finished last in the overall team standings, but Africa provided two of the most dominant performances of the day.
World and Olympic champion Caster Semenya wasted no time in racing to the front of the 800m, covering the first lap in 55.93. The South African, who had finished second in the 400m on Saturday in a national record of 49.62, showed hardly any signed of fatigue as she maintained her form well on the second lap.
She crossed the line in 1:54.77 to narrowly miss out on Ana Quirot’s competition record of 1:54.44. World bronze medallist Ajee Wilson finished second in 1:57.16 but was still more than two seconds in arrears.
World record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech didn’t have to worry about the elimination laps in the women’s 3000m steeplechase as she was so far ahead of the rest of the field. Her Africa teammate Weynshet Ansa wasn’t quite so fortunate and was eventually disqualified as she continued running after being informed of her elimination.
Chepkoech, however, cruised to victory in 9:07.92, crossing the finish line more than seven seconds clear of her opponents and smashing the competition record by 18 seconds.
Fellow Kenyan Elijah Manangoi came out on top in a tactical men’s 1500m race, holding off the two-pronged European challenge from Marcin Lewandowski and Jakob Ingebrigtsen. The world champion won with relative ease in 3:40.00 from the European duo.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF