Athletics

USA end poor Championships with victory in 400 metres

The closing ceremony in full swing during day nine of the IAAF World Championships at the Beijing National Stadium 
Picture: PA
Malcolm McCausland

THE United States had the final say in what was one of the best ever World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China. The American quartet took the gold medals in the men’s 4x400m after being pressed to the tape Trinidad & Tobago, Britain and an unlucky Jamaica, who slipped out of the medals in the final few strides.

That was poor consolation for the United States at possibly their poorest ever World Championships, finishing only third in the table behind Kenya and Jamaica. It also saw once strong athletics nations make a comeback with Poland, Germany and Canada all winning eight medals each. In contrast, Russia, beleaguered with drug scandals, fell from top spot two years ago to lowly ninth on this occasion, with just four medals.

Ethiopian athletes won two of Sunday’s six other finals. In the early hours of the morning, the sparse crowd watched four women arrive almost together for the final 100m of the women’s marathon. Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba proved the strongest winning by a second from Kenya’s Helah Kiprop in 2:27:35 with Bahrain’s ex Kenyan Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa taking the bronze medal.

Ethiopia’s second gold came from an unexpected source in the women’s 5,000m when Almaz Ayana broke away from favourite Genzebe Dibaba in mid race before cruising to victory in 14:26.83. Dibaba, who had already won the 1,500m, slipped back to third at the finish line as Senbere Teferi came through for second to complete an Ethiopian cleansweep of the medals.

Derek Drouin capped a fantastic week for Canada with a gold medal in the high jump; Germany’s Kathrina Molitor took the women’s javelin title with a final throw of 67.69m; Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop won the men’s 1,500m in 3:34.40 and Jamaica’s women pipped the much-vaunted US team to the gold medal in the women’s 4x400m.

Britain completed a satisfactory week in which its athletes picked up four gold medals with a further two third places in the respective 4x400m relays. Martyn Rooney was particularly impressive in finishing strongly for bronze in the men’s race.

It was left to 37-year-old Robert Heffernan to bring some respectability to an otherwise disappointing performance by the Ireland team. The Cork man was defending his 50km walk title and was in the thick of the action for much of a race that was won by Matej Toth.

The Slovakian led almost from gun-to-tape in the longest event of the championships to come home in 3:40:32. Australia’s Jared Tallent was second in 3:42:17, while Japan’s Takayuki Tanii was third in 3:42:55

Heffernan came into the race with little form to his name this year. He was fourth to Toth in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge 50km event in Dudince in March when Toth walked the year’s fastest time on home soil. But the Irishman turned in a spirited title defence. Along with Tallent, he did most of the work in the chasing pack and he remained in contention for the silver and then bronze medal almost to the end.

The early hours of Saturday morning also brought another chink of light for Irish supporters with the men’s 4x400m relay team of Brian Gregan, Brian Murphy, Thomas Barr and Mark English finishing eighth in their heat to set a national record of 3:01.26. That ranked them 13th of the competing countries and augurs well for Olympic qualification next year.

“We were up against one of the toughest 4x400 competitions the world has ever seen, there were four guys running 44 seconds in the 400m final so I think we’re all happy we got a national record and it’s something we can work off for next year,” said English.

Athletics

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