Prior to the men’s 100 metres final on Sunday evening, as the nine competing athletes stood out on the track in the Bird’s Nest stadium and the world’s attention focused on Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, a pianist took to the edge of the infield and briefly ran his hands up and down a keyboard’s keys. Greeted with a frisson of audible excitement by the Beijing crowd, this was Lang Lang, a virtuoso pianist who has performed with the world’s leading orchestras, his rapid technique and charismatic stage manner winning him broad acclaim.
Lang Lang performed in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, playing a melody from Xian Xinghai’s Yellow River Cantata. Perhaps Bolt recognised the pianist from seven years ago, but possibly he did not: either way, he seemed bemused by Lang Lang’s minor tinkling.
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After beating Gatlin on Sunday and again in the final of the men’s 200 metres on Thursday evening – in the process successfully defending both World Championship titles, and taking his total tally of World Championship golds to ten – as Usain Bolt celebrated, he was cut down in his prime. A cameraman on a Segway following Bolt clipped a barrier on the side of the track, and drove directly into the Jamaican sprinter, knocking his legs out from under him.
As the cameraman sprawled in a humiliated heap, Bolt rolled up and onto his feet, and he was on his way – with one slightly rueful backwards glance, but otherwise taking the incident in good spirits, and thankfully uninjured.
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In the fifth heat of the women’s 200 metres on Wednesday, Veronica Campbell-Brown rounded the bend and moved seamlessly both into the lead and into her outside lane. Running directly ahead of Margaret Adeoye, she finished in first place, and escaped disqualification on the basis that her error in the home straight hadn’t impeded another athlete or influenced the race result.
Things probably would have been different had Adeoye failed to qualify: in her post-race interview, she expressed her mid-race confusion at seeing Campbell-Brown in her lane, but she finished third and joined her colleague in the semis. Campbell-Brown would ultimately take bronze in the event, behind Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson.
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In the last event of the day on Friday, Tiffany Porter – flawless in qualifying – looked so strong and destined for gold for much of the final of the women’s 100 metres hurdles. But over the second half of the race, she tightened up and her form faded. Even as she was passed by Danielle Williams and Cindy Roleder, she still should have taken bronze; but she overstretched straining for the line, and ended up in fifth, separated from third by just 0.02 seconds. And after crossing the line she took an acrobatic tumble, ending flat on the track with a skewed headband.
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Molly Huddle, at thirty-one years old and with a long career on the track and in cross-country behind her, enjoys a reputation as one of distance running’s most enduring and hard-working and pleasant competitors. Hardly thought of as a braggart, and with no world medals to her name, after racing for just under thirty-two minutes on Monday in the final of the women’s 10,000 metres – the longest event on the track – Huddle seemed set for third place and bronze. But then she slowed down and raised her arms in celebration before the finish, and was pipped on the line by her teammate Emily Infeld, darting through on the inside.
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In the third of three women’s 3000 metres steeplechase heats on Monday morning, Rolanda Bell of Panama – already at the rear of the pack – failed to adequately navigate the water jump. Struggling to raise her right leg, she kicked the barrier and found herself flung, head first, into the shallow water. Bell bravely continued her race, but she finished last, more than a minute behind the race winner and eventual gold medallist Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi, and twenty seconds behind her nearest competitor.
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Last year saw the inaugural edition of the IAAF World Relays, an athletics meet devoted entirely to relay running which takes place across two days in May in Nassau, capital of the Bahamas. As well as the traditional 4×100 metres and 4×400 metres relay events, the World Relays offers 4×200 metres, 4×800 metres, and 4×1500 metres.
On into the second edition earlier this year, the meet demonstrates a novel approach to the presentation of athletics. Athletes are welcomed onto the track amid fanfare, posing in their teams, and flanked by cheerleaders. This year there was also something at stake: qualification for the 4×100 metres and 4×400 metres at next year’s Rio Olympics.
On the second Saturday and Sunday of competition at the World Championships in Beijing, the presentation of the relay finals drew from Nassau’s example. Alas, the message only seemed to have been conveyed to some of the competing relay teams.