Medal prospects ‘rehearse’ ahead London 2012
Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00  By Ayo Ositelu  Sport  –  Abroad

OF course, the London 2012 Olympic Games is not only about Track and Field, a multi-medal discipline, in the same category as Swimming, Boxing, Wrestling, Weight lifting, and all the racquet sports etc.

But undeniably, Track and Field (Athletics) is the number one sporting discipline in the Olympic movement, and therefore the premier and most glamorous sport at every Olympic Games.

It is awesome just to remember some super human effort by some legendary athletes, dead or alive, who bestowed the world of athletes and left indelible marks, such that they have remained in our consciousness, long after they had hung their spike shoes.

How can anyone ever forget the great American Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in as many events – 100 metres, 200 metres, Long Jump, and the 4 x 100 metres relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

Only very few would forget that Owens’ feat was not replicated by anyone until 48 years later, when another American, Carl Lewis, won gold in the same four events at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Who can forget the historic events of the 1968 Mexico Olympics, when American Bob Beamon made his “wonder jump” of 29 feet 21/2 inches, then a new world record, which replaced the former record of 27 feet 71/4 inches by American Ralph Boston? Equally remarkable in that year’s Olympics is the fact that Beamon’s out-of-this-world jump was nearly completely overshadowed by the controversial but epoch-making Medal Ceremony of the 200 metres event, during which gold medalist Tommy Smith a.k.a. “Tommy Jet,” and bronze medallist John Carlos did the “black-power salute,” aimed at directing the world’s attention to the unequal rights and suffering of the black race in America.

Can you ever forget the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, which had the singular honour of introducing to the world a man who called himself “The Greatest,” long before the rest of the world agreed that he actually was, and still is “The Greatest.” You don’t get a medal for correctly guessing that the man in question is Olympic light-heavyweight gold medallist and later the world boxing heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr).

Elementary, my dear Watson. But  you may win something if you remembered that the same 1960 Rome Games was the same Olympics which had also produced legendary 100 metres gold medalist Bob Hayes, and the colourful Decathlon champion, Rafer Johnson (Americans both).

And who can forget the longest reign as unbeaten in his event, owned by American Edwin Moses “Holy Moses,” who went undefeated in the 400 metres Hurdles for close to a decade and a half? And of course, Michael Johnson, who became the first athlete to own world records and Olympic Gold medals in both the 200 and the 400 metres events.

Legends are made of those men and women, and more will be made in London this summer.

In Istanbul last weekend, many of those would-be Olympic champions and awaiting legends treated the world to an idea of what to expect at the London 2012 Games.

The just concluded IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships had barely commenced when Ukraine’s defending Olympic champion in the seven-event Heptathlon, Natalia Dobrynska confirmed her status by setting a new world record to defeat Great Britain’s pre-Championships odds-on favourite Jessica Ennis, to win the Women’s 5-event Pentathlon with 5013 points, while Ennis had 4965 points for the silver medal, despite having set her country’s national record, and of course a personal best. Lithuania’s Austra Skujyte, despite also setting her country’s new national record of 4802 points, had to be satisfied with the bronze.

It was Dobrynska’s first gold medal at the World Indoor event, and her world record earned her a bonus of $50,000, the same bonus American Ashton Eaton had pocketed for setting a new world record in the Men’s Heptathlon.

Athletics watchers had predicted victory for the vastly Ennis, but it all came down in the end to the Brit needing to beat the Ukrainian by 6 seconds in the final event to win the gold. Unfortunately, she could only beat her by 3 seconds.

Ennis, who has her eyes on the Heptathlon gold at her “home” Olympics to emulate fellow compatriot Denise Lewis’s Sydney 2000 feat, must take the credit for running the reigning Olympic champion extremely close throughout the competition. It was so close that the officials goofed originally when they announced Ennis as the winner, only to correct the winning figures, which rightly showed that the Ukrainian had won, albeit extremely narrowly.

On the officials’ goof, the ever-smiling Brit said, “First, it was all excitement when the scoreboard showed me as winner. Then in a matter of seconds, the excitement turned to a horrible and absolute devastation.” Not to worry, Jessica. She (Jessica) has indeed set the scene for an exciting and must-watch Olympic Heptathlon “dogfight” in London 2012.

The Men’s Shot Put event saw German David Storl’s perfect record come to an end, when the former world Junior champion (Indoors and Outdoors), failed narrowly in his bid to win all the world titles in succession. The German’s impressive 21.88, his personal best, was only good for the silver medal. But it took American Ryan Whitling the season’s world leading throw of 22.00 metres in his fifth throw to win his first gold medal at the world stage.

In the Women’s High Jump, USA’s record holder, Chaunte Lowe’s well-known resilience and grit even if disguised by her smiling face, paid off at last, when she won the event with a leap of 1.98 metres, which she cleared in her first attempt.

After earlier winning bronze, and silver in earlier editions, she became the first American to ever win the title. Two years ago in Doha, Lowe’s 1.98 metres leap could only fetch her the silver, beaten by Croatian Blanka Vlasic’s 2.00 metres jump. Even in Vlasic’s absence in Istanbul, Russia’s Anna Chicherova was the clear pre-competition’s firm favourite to win, on current form.

After failing to clear 1.98 despite easily clearing all her earlier heights, the Russian led two other athletes as joint silver medallists.

The finishing stages of the Men’s 1,500 metres final could easily have been mistaken for the finish of a 100 or 200 metres sprint event, as home favourite Ilham Tanui Ozbilen of Turkey, was neck-to-neck and stride-for-stride with Morocco’s Abdalaati, all the way until the young Moroccan won one of the event’s closest finishes ever.

The 18 year-old Moroccan won the highly technical race in 3 minutes 45.21 seconds, while Ozbilen clocked 3 minutes 45.35 seconds. Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremedhin was not too far back, clocking a useful 3 minutes 45.90 seconds to win bronze.

In the women’s Pole Vault, serial record breaker, 29 year-old Jelena Isinbajeva of Russia, who have broken the world record an amazing 28 times (13 of them indoors) in her career, recent of which was a 5.01 metres effort last month (indoors), failed to add a 29th record this time around.,

But she nonetheless toyed with the opposition as usual taking only one jump to win the event at 4.80 metres which she cleared in her first attempt.

Of course, her closest competitors could not vault 4.75 metres. From 4.80 metres, Isinbayeva treid another world record at 5.02 metres, but failed narrowly.

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