With Birmingham’s educational establishments closed thanks to the inclement weather, local children who had been gifted tickets were unfortunately denied the opportunity to witness world class athletics up close.
But those hardy souls that did make it to Arena Birmingham for Friday’s morning session were rewarded with yet more exciting indoor competition and no shortage of drama.
Mayer and Warner go head to head
France’s world decathlon champion Kevin Mayer was the pre-event favourite prior to the start of the heptathlon, but the 26-year-old didn’t have the first session all his own way thanks to the efforts of Canada’s 2015 world silver medalist Damian Warner.
The combined eventers are used to early starts, which is just as well as they got the first full day of competition underway at an eye-rubbing 10am with a 60m sprint, swiftly followed by the long jump and then the shot put.
Mayer was consistently excellent, producing indoor personal bests in both the 60m (6.85m) and the long jump (7.55m) and getting within 30cm of his best in the shot (15.67m).
The European indoor champion wasn’t out of sight though, thanks to a speedy personal best-equalling 6.74 in the 60m from Warner backed up by a more than solid long jump and shot.
Mayer leads with 2714 from Warner’s 2669 ahead of this evening’s high jump.
Consistent morning for Johnson-Thompson
Home crowd hopes for a first gold medal of the championships were always likely to rest with Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the pentathlon and the dream remains alive following a session in which the 60m hurdles, the high jump and the shot put were contested.
USA champion Erica Bougard set the pace in the hurdles, racing to 8.07 to take the second heat, but it was in the high jump that the Briton produced her biggest points haul of the morning. 1119 for 1.91m was the strongest individual score and an indoor personal best in the shot of 12.69m propelled the 25-year-old to second place overall with 2873 points, trailing the leader, Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez, by nine points.
The 2012 world U20 heptathlon champion was a model of consistency throughout, but will have to be at her best to hold of Johnson-Thompson’s challenge.
Sprints shocks and serenity
Sprints fans had much to be pleased about following a session that featured the first round of the women’s 60m and the heats of both the men’s and women’s 400m.
In the women’s events the favourites largely progressed in serene fashion, with most of the drama reserved for the men’s 400m, where every single athlete in the third heat was disqualified, including the man that most judges saw as likeliest to take gold, Grenada’s Bralon Taplin.
In the shortest indoor discipline, one of the more unheralded athletes heads the list of qualifiers for this evening’s semi finals, France’s Carolle Zahi choosing the best occasion possible to run a personal best 7.11.
Behind her, the Ivory Coast pair Murielle Ahoure and Marie-Josee Ta Lou, Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers, Germany’s Tatjana Pinto, Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson, Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji and Britain’s Asha Philip all qualified impressively and will have high hopes of making the final.
The women’s 400m also went to form, as Courtney Okolo, Shakima Wimbley and Lea Sprunger won their heats with enough style to suggest they remain on course for the podium.
The men’s event is much more difficult to predict however, thanks to Bralon Taplin and his competitors in heat three all electing to break before the allowable point. Two-time champion Pawel Maslak did progress, although he could only finish second in heat six, suggesting the title is anyone’s for the taking. Luka Janezic of Slovenia leads the way following an impressive 46.45 to win the second heat.
Ethiopian endurance excellence
After Genzebe Dibaba’s gold medal winning run in the women’s 3000m on day one, Yomif Kejelcha and Hagos Gebrhiwet continued the Ethiopian dominance in taking the first two qualification slots in the first of two men’s heats, while Selemon Barega won the second having been tracked all the way by Kenya’s Davis Kiplangat.
USA’s Olympic 5000m silver medalist Paul Chelimo was the only major casualty following a disqualification for stepping over the inside of the track, which he won’t line up for Sunday’s final.
Next time, at the IAAF World Indoor Championships…
From 18:00 on Friday…
Four gold medals will be distributed in Friday’s evening session, as well as more qualification action on the track and in the field and the continuation of the heptathlon.
1. Global gold at last for KJT?
Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez and Austria’s Ivona Dadic stand in the way of a first global gold for the 25-year-old Briton. If the 2013 European indoor champion can produce marks close to her best in the long jump and the 800m, her long wait will be over.
2. Manyonga magic or joy for Jarrion?
With 15 high quality competitors lining up for the men’s long jump, the title could go anywhere, but the two men who battled for gold at last summer’s outdoor world championships will surely be in the mix.
The champion in London, Luvo Manyonga, produced the leading jump of 2018 so far with 8.40m in Metz, while Jarrion Lawson, the silver medalist back in August, got within two centimetres of that at the US championships last month.
Gold for Gong?
2014 world indoor bronze medalist Gong Lijao starts as one of the favourites to take the first throwing title at the 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships. She faces Hungary’s Anita Marton and Jamaica’s Danniel Thomas-Dodd amongst others in what promises to be an exciting contest.
Triumph for Ta Lou?
Marie-Josee Ta Lou took two silver medals in the 100m and 200m in London last summer and will hope to go one better in the 60m in Birmingham, although she’ll need to make the final first in a competitive event that features a glut of major medalists.
Dean Hardman for the IAAF