03 April, 2018

The 2018 Indoors: a few great moments

This year's World Indoors were a source of great joy for me. Two of my preferred athletes got their first world title. This should suffice in order to make these championships memorable. 

Since I have already written about the disqualification excesses I am not going to talk about any negative aspects. Also do not expect a discipline by discipline presentation. If you wish to have all the details on the championships just head over to the IAAF page where you'll find everything.

M. Ahouré winning the 60 m

Muriel Ahouré dominated the women's 60 m beating twice E. Thompson and D. Schippers. In the final together with Marie-Josée TaLou they managed a one-two Ivorian triumph. I was really elated at watching their race. The podium was completed by M. Kambundji who won in Birmingham her first global medal.

The Ivorian double: Ahouré and TaLou

The men's 60 m was won as expected by C. Coleman but I am still unconvinced (and I do not like his style). I guess I have to wait till next year's outdoors before forming a definitive opinion on him. On the other hand I was impressed by the performance of B. Su who won here his first individual world medal.

Harrison's first global medal (and Visser's as well)

The women's 60 m hurdles saw K. Harrison win at long last her first (!) international medal (let alone a world title). It was a high-level event which saw S. Pearson and A. Talay eliminated in the semi-finals and C. Roleder relegated to a 5th place. The one hurdler who broke the US dominance was N. Visser, one of the dutch heptathletes I am keeping an eye on. In Birmingham Visser won bronze and was the first european of the race.  Does this mean that she will focus on the hurdles for this summer's European's? I guess that we'll have to wait till Berlin.

 Hassan, Dibaba and Muir

I don't wish to talk about Niyonsaba winning the women's 800 m neither about the men's farcical 1500 m run at almost 4 minutes.  At least we have had two great women races over 1500 m and 3000 m, both won by G. Dibaba with S. Hassan and L. Muir  permuting on the remaining podium places. 

The Belgian-Borlée team

But the most exciting race was the last one, men's 4x400 m relay. Poland managed to beat the US establishing a new world indoor record. The belgian (Borlée) team was present as always securing a place at the podium.

Spanovic flying to her first world title

I have been waiting for this for years but I have always been convinced that the moment would come. It came. Ivana Spanovic is World Champion. And she won the competition by beating her nemesis, B. Reese. At one point Reese managed to take the lead of the competition but this lasted only for one jump and Spanovic was back to the top. After last year's disappointment at the London World Championships Spanovic has proven in Birmingham that she is the top long jumper today.

An emotional moment for Spanovic

Men's long jump has also been an exciting event with just 4 cm separating the three medalists (20 year old) J.M. Echevarría at 8.46 m, (2017 world champion) L. Manyonga et 8.44 m and (2016 indoor world champion) M. Dendy et 8.42 m. Something similar occurred at the men(s triple jump where Claye, Dos Santos and Evora jumped 17.43 m, 17.41 m and 17.40 m respectively to share the three medals.

Women's triple jump saw again the victory of Y Rojas. I am  somewhat disappointed at the 6th place of V. Papachristou in the final and even more so of the 11th place of G. Petrova  whom I consider a very talented jumper. I cross my fingers for things to improve for her.

S. Morris' first world title

For once I will not be celebrating a victory of Stefanidi in women's pole vault. This time she was beaten not only by Morris but also by Sidorova. Well, much as I admire Stefanidi I must admit that Morris is physically one of the strongest pole vaulters I have ever seen and it is only thanks to her technical supremacy that Stefanidi has managed to keep the upper hand till now. I just hope that she will manage to do so in the future as well. E. McCartney was 4th with 4.75 m but ex-world champion Y. Silva could only manage a 4.60 m height for 7th place. And I was really disappointed with A. Bengtsson's 4.50 m for 11th place. 

Men's pole vault saw the victory of R. Lavillenie. Does this signal a return to the top for the world record holder or is this the swan song? Time will tell. Anyhow the competition was a most interesting one. I was particularly happy with E. Karalis' personal best at 5.80 m with which he finished at the 5th place, ahead of his direct, age-wise, opponent, A. Duplantis (who jumped only 5.70 m but had attempts up to 5.90 m). The competition was disappointing for Olympic or World champions T. Braz, P. Wocjiechowski,  S. Barber and (to some extent also for) K. Filippidis. 

Kuchina-Lasitskene dominating the high jump

D. Lysenko took his revenge from last year's World's by beating M.E. Barshim with a last try clearance at 2.36 m, while Lasitskene affirmed once more her supremacy jumping 2.01 , 8 cm more than the remaining medalists. A minor disappointment for Y. Levchenko's and M. Demireva's 5th and 6th places at 1.89 m.

A first medal in shot put for Jamaica with Thomas-Dodd

Men's shot put confirmed T. Walsh as the best thrower of today. Women's event saw the crowning of A. Marton. But what is more interesting is that both the gold (Marton) and silver (D. Thomas-Dodd) medalists of the women's event are spinners. This is the first time something like this happens. Does this mean that women will be following the same path as men, switching gradually form the glide technique to the spin one? Time will tell.

Rodriguez, Johnson-Thompson and Dadic

K. Johnson-Thompson won the pentathlon with just 4750 points, very far from her personal best of 5000. In fact, had I. Dadic had better jumps she might have won the world title. Be that as it may this was Dadic's first global medal. She will be one that I will be watching more closely in the competitions to come.

Mayer and Warner at the end of an exhausting heptathlon

I was somewhat disappointed by K. Mayer. His vertical jumps were really below par and D. Warner had a real chance for the gold medal. It is only thanks to his tenacious competitiveness that Mayer could secure the world title. I just hope that his performance at more than 100 points adrift of his personal best is due to a temporary fatigue and lack of freshness. I cross my fingers for this summer's Europeans. I have been always following the two talented grenadian decathletes K. Felix and L. Victor but this time they managed to disappoint me completely dropping out of the competition after three events. 

Was it a good championship? Frankly, I cannot tell. But the victories of Ahouré and Spanovic were two unforgettable moments making the 2018 Indoors really special.

01 April, 2018

Disqualification Championships

This is not my report on the World Indoor 2018 Championships. I will publish it shortly but since there were some very nice results I did not wish to spoil there presentation by my rebuking the overzealous british judges. I think that the best critique of their actions was S. Diagana's (World and European 400 m hurdles champion) comment on french television. When the british women's 4x400 m team was disqualified, Diagana pointed out that this was the first disqualification of a british athlete. Well, that disqualification was short lived. As you can see in the official photofinish the jamaican and british teams were disqualified, but after protest the latter was reinstated, obtaining the bronze medal. I let you draw your own conclusions. 

The hecatomb took place in the 400 m where roughly one athlete out of four was disqualified. This has definitely to do with the particularity of the Birmingham Arena: the curves are composed of two arcs instead of the customary single one. This, combined with the fact that lanes on the curves are narrower, is a trap for the athletes who are not familiar with this particular track. The same track was host to the 2003 World Indoors and at that time also there has been a slew of disqualifications over 400 m. Things were even worse for the 200 m (which did figure in the indoor program at the time).

Brandon Taplin was the top 400 m performer of the year. He was disqualified in a series where not a single (!!!) participant was sparred. I went through the video of the series and I could not see any justification for his disqualification. The same is true for Oscar Husillos in the final. 

Having seen him win his semi-final in a superb way I was expecting him to be the protagonist of the final. And he did even better than my expectations improving the european record only to be disqualified, together with the silver-medalist Luguelín Santos (an olympic and world medalist) a few minutes later. These disqualifications allowed Maslak to retain his world title but they left a bitter taste to all of us athletics fans.

The men's 400 m was not the only one to be wrecked by the over-jealous judges. Women did had their share of disqualifications as well. Sprunger, McPherson and Belimpasaki had all three qualified for the final only to learn a little later that they were going to return home empty-handed. (This allowed Doyle and Clark from GB and Jenkins form Jamaica to gain access to the final, but this is an other story). I watched several times the race of Belimpasaki and I could not see where she did a lane mistake. 

There was another disqualification which I find excessive, that of the jamaican women's team over the 4x400 m. Based on the positions of the athletes the judges placed second relay runners with the US team first and the ukrainian team second. However at 100 m before the relay change, Jenkins, the jamaican runner passed the ukrainian one and seeing this the second jamaican runner, Russell, decided to move by herself to second place, in front of the ukrainian athlete. This is definitely a mistake and I could understand the disqualification, were it not for the facts that a) the british team was also disqualified but reinstated on appeal and b) the disqualification of Jamaica secured a medal for Great Britain.  

If there were one fully justified disqualification (but one who was most painful for us, greek athletics fans) that was the false start of Milan Trajkovic of Cyprus, at the final of the 60 m hurdles. Trajkovic, a Rio Olympics finalist over 110 m hd, was a favourite for a medal and even the gold one was not beyond his grasp. Unfortunately he anticipated the start and was out of the race. In his personal page he is writing: "Leaving Birmingham in tears but my head is still up". I am convinced that this mishap will make Trajkovic even stronger. He will definitely be an athlete I'll keep an eye open for at this year's Europeans. 

20 March, 2018

Where, once more, I write about hyperandrogenism

As is customary, the IAAF council met during the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham and discussed, among others, the question of hyperandrogenism. I have written on several occasions on the matter and on the unfortunate decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport to forbid the mandatory hormone treatment for women with high levels of testosterone. The IAAF appealed this decision and recently presented scientific studies which would justify the measures previously proposed.

In the executive summary of the meeting we can read that

Based on the evidence that’s been collected, Council approved a request to revise the competition regulations for track events whose distances range from 400 metres up to and including one mile. Following some further drafting the regulations will be communicated to CAS before being released. It is anticipated that the regulations to go into effect on 1 November 2018.

At the head of IAAF Sir Sebastian Coe states that "This is one of the toughest subjects my Council and I are discussing. This is not about cheating. No hyperandrogenic athlete has cheated". Wait a minute. How can he say this. Obviously no hyperandrogenic athlete has cheated before the compulsory hormone treatment was instituted. But once it was annulled following the CAS decision, the hyperandrogenic athletes competed without treatment knowing that they had an unfair advantage. Given the situation, this was certainly legal but most assuredly not ethical. Calling this "not cheating" is pure hypocrisy or now-a-days politically correct speaking (but I feel that the two are the same). How can Lord Sebastian reconcile the "no-cheating" absolution with his realistic assessment "we have always believed that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages".

I have also a problem with the decision of the IAAF council to concentrate on events between 400 m and the mile. Obviously those are the distances where hyperandrogenic females excel (just think Semenya-Niyonsaba-Wambui). And going back just a few years I cannot help thinking that Maria Mutola, 800 m Olympic and World champion, was also hyperandrogenic. 

Her affair with her training partner Kelly Holmes is no secret (and here we have one more common point with Semenya who got married to a woman). But of course one could argue that women who are not hyperandrogenic in the least may be attracted to women and so I will not pursue this argument.

The choice of these middle distances is obviously based on the results of Bermon and Garnier who found that women with high levels of testosterone performed better in 400 m, 400 m hurdles, 800 m, pole vault and hammer throw. They explain the results for the two last disciplines by remarking that females with high levels of androgens may also benefit from improved visuospatial abilities. The one thing that astonishes me is that there does not seem to exist an advantage for sprinters. But the whole business with the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the quashing of the hormone treatment decision was due to the appeal of Dutee Chand an indian hyperandrogenic sprinter. (Admittedly Chand is not a superlative sprinter with just two bronze medals at the Asian Championships). 

But then what about Helen Stephens, the 1936 Berlin Olympics gold medalist, who dominated the 100 m like nobody else, beating even a proven hermaphrodite, Stella Walsh (aka Stanislawa Walasiewicz)? As I wrote in a previous post of mine I am convinced that Stephens was hyperandrogenic. The Wikipedia tactfully points out that Stephens' longtime friend was Mrs. Mabel Robbe (another common point with Semenya).

I cannot resist the temptation to include a photo of Santhi Soundarajan, an indian middle distance runner who was suspended for high levels of testosterone. Well, the photo speaks for itself.

The IAAF hopes to reverse the CAS decision and establish new rules concerning hyperandrogenism before the beginning of the next season. I guess that we'll have to wait and see.