IAAF World Championships
1 Athletics’ biggest event outside of the Olympics revisits the site of the London 2012 Games, returning the stadium to its original purpose from August 4-13, before West Ham gets its season going. It’s fitting that these world championships head to London, as it will serve as a farewell party for a pair of stars of 2012 and all-time luminaries of the track – Usain Bolt and Mo Farah will bow out of top-level competition at these worlds.
2 Bolt, who turns 31 in late August, has talked retirement after the 2017 worlds since sweeping the sprint treble again in Rio (and then his 2008 relay gold was stripped because of a team-mate’s doping violation). His final race in his native Jamaica became a 30,000-strong lovefest, where Bolt won but didn’t break ten seconds. He’ll race the 100m and relay, but not the 200m, in London. And even with a fast bunch of youngsters eager for their last crack at Bolt, who would dare doubt the quintessential performer coming through in a big meet?
3 Farah should find a friendly crowd at the worlds, free from the murkiness surrounding his links to Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project. The newly dubbed Sir Mo (below) has won the 5km-10km double at the last two championships, and the 5000m in 2011 as well. Farah isn’t quite retiring, as he’ll move to road racing after the worlds – and he’s been called out by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele to prove himself in making the transition from the track to the really long-distance runs.
4 With the legends exiting, it’s a moment for new stars to make their claim. And the event to find them could well be the 200m. With Bolt’s absence, it could be a showcase for South Africa’s Olympic 400m champ, Wayde Van Niekerk, who just broke the South African record in the 200m, or Canadian sprint king-in-waiting Andre de Grasse. The race around the bend is hot on the women’s side, too: Elaine Thompson, Dafne Schippers and a host of Americans go at it again.
5 With talk swirling that the IAAF is about to wipe clear the record books and only recognise those set after 2005, any new record set at these worlds which knocks off any long-standing mark will bring the debate into focus. A couple of possibles: Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, who broke a meet record in Oslo set by Javier Sotomayor 28 years ago, and seems bound for the legendary Cuban’s high (pardon pun) of 2.45m; American Christian Taylor, who is closing in on Briton Jonathan Edwards’ 1995 triple jump mark.
6 Remember Sally Pearson? Well, the 2012 Olympic gold-medallist has cleared the metaphorical hurdles to return to the literal ones, overcoming a host of injuries that have dogged her over the last few years. At the national championships in April, she posted the year’s fastest (albeit wind-assisted) time in the 100m hurdles, and her fastest in four years. It was vindication for Pearson, who started coaching herself late last year, and she will again lead the Australian team to London.
7 Also on the Australian team bound for the worlds: discus world champ Dani Stevens (formerly Samuels), 2015 world silvermedallist Fabrice Lapierre, Rio 200m almost-finalist Ella Nelson, and walkers Jared Tallent and Dane Bird-Smith. Tallent is another one entitled to good karma in London – he has a gold medal from the 2012 Games, but he of course did not stand atop the podium after the 50km walk.
8 One nation you won’t see at the worlds – Russia, still banned for its state-sponsored doping program. The continued suspension raised the idea of Russian athletes competing as neutrals, provided they meet certain criteria. One recourse no longer available to them is to change nationalities – the IAAF ended that last February after seeing one too many African runners popping up under other flags.
9 One event you won’t see – the mixed relay. Good enough for the Olympics, though, which just added the boys-and-girls together 4x400m for Tokyo 2020, even while cutting 105 spots from the athletics program. The mixed relay was contested at the World Relays in April in the Bahamas. And before you lament this addition to the Olympics, bear in mind that Australia finished fifth. And we don’t complain about the chance for more medals, no?
10 Okay, we will complain about some medals – coaches medals, which are being handed out by the IAAF for the first time in London. Coaches of medal-winning athletes will receive an equivalent; so much for the mentors remaining humbly in the background. Two questions: if Pearson wins, does she get two medals? And what’s the protocol for when an athlete gets stripped of a medal for a doping offence that the coach “didn’t know” about?
Sally Pearson posted the year’s fasted 100m hurdles run at the Aussie championships in April. Usain Bolt will bid farewell to elite athletics at the London worlds.