Down below, inside the bowels of the Olympic Park Stadium, a posse of Chinese reporters waited for Li Lingwei to turn up. It was taking time as the surprise silver medallist in the javelin was being interviewed by various TV stations just off the track.
The media patiently waited and they were rewarded when Li turned up, a wide smile playing on her lips. Outside, on the track, at the javelin run-up, a blustery wind combined with a 15-degree temperature had reddened her cheeks. She looked bright and spoke animatedly; the sliver had added to the lustre. Questions were being fired rapidly before she left for the official press conference.
While speaking on what led to this transformation and a podium finish here in London, Li spoke about the Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar and how a gold on the night of 6 July had given her the confidence that if things were put together, she could fire in a big throw. One of the translators listening to Li said that the Chinese javelin thrower also referred to the Bhubaneswar weather as very hot and humid and that she felt that if gold could come there, then the weather in London would be better for a good throw.
For the Chinese, it’s a stunning story of an athlete who wasn’t supposed to be on the podium but got various elements together to click on one big throw. The first two throws of 61.81m and 63.01m were decent but the trajectory wasn’t perfect and neither was the run-up. In fact, in the second throw, Lingwei almost got it right before hesitating at the last second, thus reducing the power which as a result killed the trajectory.
The third was perfect. It could have gone further than the 66.25m it achieved giving Li her biggest throw. It shot her into second position and in a World Championship where pressure is the biggest factor in a final, the Chinese hung on despite compatriot Huihui Lyu firing in a 65.26m on her fifth attempt.
Li’s success story would have been watched by Annu Rani. In Bhubaneswar, in conditions more suited to Rani, Li threw 63.06m to pick up the gold. Rani, pushed by her fans, could only fetch 57.32m. As Li said, the Asian gold set up the showing here at the Olympic Park in London.
Both Li and Rani have battled previously also. In the 2014 Asian Games, Rani started with a 59.53m throw while the Chinese had a 58.74m. Then a 61.43m throw in the fifth chance sealed it for Li as Rani couldn’t push beyond 59.53m, taking the bronze behind Li.
By 2015, the Chinese was regularly throwing beyond 63m and in the 2015 Beijing World Championships, she got fifth place with 64.10m. In the 2016 Olympics, it was only a throw of 60-plus metres and a disappointing 15th spot.
But before arriving in Bhubaneswar, Li had thrown in eight competitions in China starting with 54.13m. In the three months before Bhubanewar, Li had scores of 64.10m, 62.44m and 61.56m. In the four competitions before Bhubanewar, Rani has scores of 59.26m, 59.75m, 55.41m and 61.86m. Clearly, the Chinese has already entered consistent territory. Rani’s 61.86m should have ensured higher scores as she had already qualified for the World Championships. But in Bhubaneswar, it’s the Chinese who took the gold.
Interestingly, after the Asian Championships, Li came straight to London. Meanwhile, Rani participated at the Inter-State in Guntur and came up with a poor 54.29m. After winning the bronze in the Asian Championships, Rani said, “I am confident about London and would throw in excess of 63 plus.” Li, through a translator in Bhubaneswar said, “Winning Asian Gold has given me confidence and I will try and be in the javelin final.”
In London, Rani had a best throw of 59.93m and didin't qualify for the final. Li threw 62.29m to qualify for the final and then picked up a silver with 66.25m.
"I am happy because I made it into the final and the Chinese team won two medals,” said Li. “It has not been easy for me in the past half year because I had several injuries during training. I am quite surprised I improved my performance and won the silver medal.”
Follow both the athletes closely and the only pattern that one sees is of consistent 60-plus scores from the Chinese, which ultimately culminated in a big throw giving her a World Championship silver. Maybe, coaches could try and work around Rani’s inconsistency to be able to decipher a winning formula before the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
At the Olympic Park, the winning formula for the Kenyans in the 3,000m steeplechase continued. Kenya's Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto ensured it was another victory in 8:14.12 with silver going to Morocco's Soufiane Elbakkali in 8:14.49 and USA's Olympic silver medallist Evan Jager taking the bronze in 8:15.53.
Kenya has won the men's steeplechase at 11 of the 15 past editions of the IAAF World Championships. The initial lead was with Kipruto and his teammate Jairus Birech. At the 1,000m mark, Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Deriba, Tefase Seboka and Getnet Wale took over.
Slowly, when the mist cleared a bit, it looked like the USA was taking on Africa. The Ethiopians crumbled away. On the stretch were Jager, Kipruto and Elbakkali. Powering to the finish, the Kenyan gestured to the crowd as he enjoyed his first World Championship Gold.
“I used my plans well and last night for morale I told myself: 'I am an Olympic champion and that others must not break me',” Kipruto explained. “There are others who are strong, but I knew if the race was around 8:10 that I was going to win."
Never expecting a gold in the 800m, Frenchman Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, asked, “Am I dreaming?” in an interview with Iwan Thomas on the track. Sixth at one point, the Frenchman moved with exactly 200m to go. He moved regally as Nijel Amos from Botswana and Kipyegon Bett from Kenya desperately chased him.
Bosse didn’t relent down the home straight as he held on to record his first victory of the season in 1:44.67. “I am a gambler, I love going to the casino. And today I just gambled, I put everything on the red, even my last Euro,” said Bosse, explaining that crazy move in the last 200 metres. "I achieved this victory with a lot of determination: it was with my mind, not with my legs and not with strength.”
In the last event of the day, and one of the most sought after in this World Championships, the absence of Botswana’s Isaac Makwala made it a one-sided contest for Olympic and World Champion Wayde van Niekerk. Apparently, Makwala had come to the stadium but the medical commission turned him back saying he had a strain of gastroenteritis and that it would not be fair to other athletes as it could spread.
Van Niekerk’s 43.98 was the first part of his double at these championships. The South African is going after the 200m gold too and become the first after Michael Johnson to do the double.
“It is amazing to win the world title again,” said Van Niekerk. “It is a blessing. I hope the fans enjoyed that. I’m used to the lactic (acid in legs) but I need a few minutes to recover from that effort and I’ll be fine. I’ve got a good team who will help me recover well for the 200m and I’m looking forward to that.”
Published Date: Aug 09, 2017 10:10 am | Updated Date: Aug 09, 2017 10:19 am