What a day, what a week, what a sport!
The curtain was brought down on the Portland World Indoors with another pulsating day in the Oregon Convetion Center. Here’s what we made of the final day of a defining week for indoor athletics.
Never in doubt
Let’s start today’s wrap as we finished yesterday’s: with a statement that will surprise no one. Genzebe Dibaba won 3000m gold.
The Ethiopian holds several world records in middle distance events, including in the 3k. No one even tried to break the reigning champ early on, the pace pedestrian until Dibaba herself took it up after the first KM. From there all she had to do was hold it together, which is exactly what she did.
“It was easy for me,” she said afterwards. It looked it, but that does not make it any less impressive.
The men’s 1500m final also started slow. Kudos to New Zealand’s Nick Willis for getting things moving with 500m to go. His surge established a small gap at the front, and for a moment it looked perfectly timed.
A stacked field wasn’t going to let him get gold easily, though, and neither was the Oregon crowd. Portland-based Matt Centrowitz was still in contention at the bell and with the noise elevated to levels rarely heard at a track and field meet, he powered past Willis (as he did at the Millrose Games last month) to take gold.
In outdoor seasons past he’s had to settle for silver (Moscow ’13) and bronze (Daegu ’11). Portland 2016 was all his, so much so that MC Jordan Kent allowed him to drop the mic once his post-race interview was complete.
A new American idol
The women’s high jump gave us the youngest champion of the week. Step forward 18-year-old high schooler Vashti Cunningham, who last week took the national title with a world indoor junior record 1.99m.
It didn’t need a record to win the world title today: first time clearances at every height including her best of 1.96m gifting the starlet gold. This week’s show and tell at Bishop Gorman High School is going to be SHINY.
Cunningham was the youngest medallist of the week. The oldest was Chris Brown, who brought the baton home for the Bahamas as they won silver in the men’s 4x400m relay. The 37-year-old’s perfectly paced performance reeked of a man with stacks of experience, allowing him to repel the surge of Trinidad and Tobago’s Deon Lendore on the final bend.
It was Brown’s sixth world indoor medal, coming a decade after his first. We salute a remarkable career of one of the sport’s greatest pros.
Marquis Dendy didn’t break the long jump world record, as this correspondent boldly predicted before the contest, but perhaps he did set a record for the best jump while wearing a hat.
The American took gold with 8.26m. Was the hat the secret to his powers? Err, no. “My hair was just a little messed up,” he said, before adding: “I’m just glad I could contribute to the USA’s medal count.”
Dendy’s was one of 13 golds for Team USA. The hosts won a total of 23 medals to top the table, a record number, obliterating any memories of their third place at last year’s outdoor world champs.
Better still for the Americans, the athletes were presented with their gongs in the public surrounds of Pioneer Courthouse Square. Such an innovation was a risk, fraught with unknowns and logistical headaches. How would the athletes get there right after the meet? How would the fans get there? What if it rains?
Fortunately, the turnout in Downtown Portland was excellent, benefiting from a live band each night, the unusually un-rainy conditions and, no doubt, the presence of a few beer tents. It made for the perfect backdrop for the American athletes to properly celebrate the best ever gold medal haul in world indoor history.
Earlier today we asked someone from the local organising committee to provide us with statistics about the environmental credentials of these championships. They never came, so allow us to go anecdotal.
Normally in the media tribune you can’t move for printouts of lane draws, startlists and results. This drives us mad: these are all things that you can find online in a few short clicks. This week, anyone wanting paper copies had to request them specially. Who knows how many trees this saved, but it spared us from having to tell teenage volunteers where to go every five minutes.
Added to that, there were notices around the OCC telling us where we could recycle our waste and reminding us that hand dryers use 70% less energy than paper towels. Free tram passes cut down on unnecessary taxis, and Uber cabs replaced the normal pool cars for the organising suits.
All this felt apt for a championships that started on St Patrick’s Day, played out on a track that was strikingly green, and in a venue over the road from a shop boasting Oregon’s Finest. A friend of ours told us that’s no false boast.
Portland Rescue Mission
It’s been a testing period for the sport of track and field, but these championships have passed with the focus rightly placed on the athletes and their performances. It helped that they took place in Oregon, the spiritual home of athletics.
A total of 39,283 people attended over the four days, which is terrific for a venue that only holds seven thousand. Will this save the sport? Well, no. That’s going to take generations and no short amount of creative thinking and effort.
Nonetheless, Portland 2016 served as a reminder as to what the sport can be: thrilling contests played out in front of passionate, knowledgeable crowds that just want to see running, jumping and throwing at its finest. Here’s to many more.