Elaine Thompson after winning the 200m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
One sentence that could be overheard multiple times during today’s athletics sessions at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was: ‘well I wasn’t expecting that’.
Here are six surprises from day six in Rio.
Fajdek falls short of hammer final
If there was one safe-bet victory before this Olympics other than Anita Wlodarczyk’s hammer gold, it would have been her compatriot Pawel Fajdek. And so the hammer qualifying round should have been merely a formality for the giant Pole. Or so you’d think.
The two-time world champion has 33 throws beyond 80 metres in his career to his name, but today the auto-qualifying standard of 76.50m was out of reach. Friday’s final will take place without Fajdek and certainly promises to be interesting.
Damian Warner did what?
Over the past few seasons there have been two types of decathletes: Ashton Eaton and not-Ashton Eaton.
The world record-holder is the overwhelming favourite for decathlon gold, but this morning we saw something we hadn’t seen in seven years.
His 10.46 opener in the 100m was 0.23 slower than that during his world-record-setting effort in Beijing last summer, but still gained him a respectable 985 points. What was a surprise, however, was Damian Warner’s performance: 10.30, an Olympic decathlon record and a 38-point lead over Eaton.
It was the first time since the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin that Eaton wasn’t leading a combined events competition after the first event. A 7.94m leap in the long jump quickly changed that and with a first-day score of 4621, he is on course to break the Olympic record.
On the subject of surprises, keep an eye out for Kevin Mayer. The Frenchman is following in the footsteps of heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam and performing the decathlon of his life with outdoor PBs in the 100m, shot put and the 400m.
Joy and heartbreak in equal measure for Kenya
It would have been a fairytale ending to Ezekiel Kemboi’s athletics career and made him the most decorated Olympic steeplechaser in history. With nine global medals – six of them gold –Kemboi has proven himself the ultimate championship performer, but the steeplechase gods weren’t on the Kenyan’s side today.
First, he had to settle for third as Conseslus Kipruto and then USA’s Evan Jager outkicked him on the final lap, with Kipruto taking victory in an Olympic record of 8:03.28.
Kemboi was happy with bronze in the mixed zone when he announced his retirement, but things took a turn for the worse when a protest was filed. He was disqualified for a lane infringement and France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi upgraded to bronze.
With Kipruto the only Kenyan medallist, it was the first time since 1984 that only one Kenyan steeplechaser was represented on the Olympic podium (excluding the boycotted 1980 Games).
Bartoletta’s big jump
Brittney Reese was the favourite going into the women’s long jump final. She was the defending champion, a six-time world champion and there had been talks of a world record in the lead-up to the Olympics.
Three fouls and a modest 6.79m painted a different picture to that of a champion before a 7.09m fifth-round jump eventually secured her the lead. Journalists began typing their reports around the lines of a successful title defence.
They didn’t see Tianna Bartoletta coming. The two-time world champion leapt a 7.17m PB on her penultimate attempt and although Reese managed to improve to 7.15m in her final jump, it wasn’t enough to secure the gold.
Bartoletta now has four global titles to her name and still has the 4x100m relays to come.
Hurdles carnage and a historic first
A lot can happen in the 100m hurdles. We knew that before the women’s semi-finals. But we couldn’t quite have predicted as much drama as we were presented with.
First, world bronze medallist Alina Talay crashed out in heat one, then NCAA champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn went flying before Nikkita Holder and Anne Zagre stumbled in the final heat.
But it wasn’t just heartbreak.
In the final, Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin made history. The trio secured gold (Rollins, 12.48), silver (Ali, 12.59) and bronze (Castlin, 12.61) for USA and the first medal sweep in women’s hurdling Olympic history.
And world record-holder Keni Harrison wasn’t even at the Games.
Thompson does the double
The stands in Rio’s Olympic Stadium were plastered in orange and Dutch flags. As Dafne Schippers’ name was announced to the crowd, the cheers were so loud, you could have been forgiven for thinking you were in Amsterdam.
Winning the 200m was never going to be an easy task for the world champion as newly crowned Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson looked in fine form. The Jamaican got out the blocks like a bullet and was in the lead entering the home straight.
Schippers was closing in with meters left, but even a dip-and-dive across the line could not secure Olympic gold for the third-fastest woman in history. It took a while for Thompson to realise she had won in 21.78, beating Schippers by 0.10. Of all the finalists, the 24-year-old looked the most stunned at achieving the sprint double.
On the topic of stunned faces in the 200m: the men’s final tomorrow will take place without USA’s Justin Gatlin. The world silver medallist failed to qualify from the semi-finals after his 20.13 clocking left him in ninth overall.
Usain Bolt was the fastest qualifier with a season’s best of 19.78, while 100m bronze medallist Andre De Grasse set a Canadian record of 19.80.
Michelle Sammet for the IAAF