The 2015 World Championships in Athletics commenced today in Beijing. The largest sporting event to take place in the Bird’s Nest stadium since the 2008 Summer Olympics, the World Championships will run until next Sunday, 30 August.
Getting underway from 7:30 am on Saturday morning, out on the streets of the Chinese capital, the men’s marathon brought the first medalist of the Championships. The marathon was won by Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea. At just nineteen years old, Ghirmay became the youngest ever marathon winner at a World Championships, and the first Eritrean athlete to take world gold in any event.
Day one of competition saw two more finals, both of which took place during the afternoon session. Christina Schwanitz of Germany achieved gold in the women’s shot put, edging China’s own Lijiao Gong into the silver medal position. And at the close of the day, shortly after 9:15 pm local time, Mo Farah managed yet another major gold in the men’s 10,000 metres.
Holding off the Kenyans Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor and Paul Kipngetich Tanui, Farah made history, becoming the first man to take six world distance titles in a row: after a gold over 5,000 metres at the 2011 World Championships, followed by golds in both the 10,000 and 5,000 metres at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships. Farah will look to go again in the 5,000 metres final next Saturday.
Elsewhere on day one, Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson completed the first four events at the head of the standings for the women’s heptathlon. The Netherlands’ Nadine Visser is currently third, with Canada’s Brianne Theison Eaton in fourth after a disappointing high jump. Tomorrow will see the conclusion of the event, as the women take on the long jump, javelin, and decisive 800 metres.
Genzebe Dibaba, Sifan Hassan, and Besu Sado led the way in the women’s 1500 metres heats. And likewise in the men’s 800 metres, Nijel Amos, David Rudisha, and Mohammed Aman eased through their heats, though it was Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich who recorded the day’s fastest time.
All of the big draws in the men’s 100 metres made it through the heats to tomorrow’s semi-finals: Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin, Asafa Powell, and Tyson Gay, along with Jimmy Vicaut, Mike Rodgers, and Trayvon Bromell. But it was Gatlin who yet again impressed most, running the best time of the day in 9.83. Bolt laboured by comparison to a time of 9.96, expressing concern over his start.
The expected meeting of Gatlin and Bolt at the close of day two tomorrow should provide the moment of the Beijing World Championships. Gatlin is unquestionably the man to beat, having run all four of the year’s fastest times. But for some onlookers, the result of the 100 metres final will be crucial for the future of athletics, with Bolt world famous and widely loved, while Gatlin still races under a cloud after returning in 2010 from a four-year doping ban.
* * *
The issue of doping weighs heavily on the agenda. In allegations contested by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), but still severely damaging to the sport, at the beginning of August the British newspaper The Sunday Times and the German broadcaster ARD/WDR referred to the results of 12,000 blood tests taken from 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012.
According to their respective reports, of the 12,000 blood tests accessed, more than 800 showed evidence ‘highly suggestive of doping or at the very least abnormal’. Russia was labelled ‘the blood testing epicentre of the world’, and Kenya portrayed as the home of 18 medals won by suspect athletes.
But the allegations asserted cheating to an ‘extraordinary extent’ worldwide, with 146 medals achieved at major finals – including 55 golds – brought into question, and the claim that a third of medals won at major endurance finals between 2001 and 2012 were suspicious.
Some of athletics’ biggest names, including Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, recorded no abnormal results according to these reports. And even as some athletes rushed to make their blood data public, in an attempt to prove their trustworthiness, other analysts argued vehemently against interpreting blood tests to indicate drug cheats. Blood data can often serve as a guide towards more targeted testing, but by itself it cannot prove that an athlete has taken illegal drugs.
The IAAF – coming to the climax of a presidential campaign – vehemently defended its record on drugs testing, citing the introduction of the biological passport in 2009, and the excess of $2 million it spends each year on its anti-doping programme. Nevertheless, the following week the body announced the suspension of 28 athletes for doping offences carried out at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, these decisions reached on the basis of retested samples.
Last Wednesday, Sebastian Coe – the British former Olympic middle-distance champion, and the head of the Organising Committee for the 2012 London Summer Olympics – became the new president of the IAAF. Coe beat out the great Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, by 115 votes to 92. He replaces Senegal’s Lamine Diack, who held the post for sixteen years.