Day One - Friday, September 27th
Groner Excels, Price Takes the TitleBy James O'Brien, reporting from Doha
In case you didn’t know it, Doha is in Qatar which is in the Persian/Arabian Gulf, which is a long stretch of the legs from NYC. In September, it’s also blisteringly hot at every hour of the day and night. Nonetheless, this is where the global governing body of track and field (the International Association of Athletics Federations, by name) elected to hold its biennial World Championships from Friday, September 27th to Sunday, October 6th. (FIFA, governing body of world soccer, has also awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. You may draw your own conclusions).
Eighteen NYAC athletes competing for three countries (USA, Canada and Ghana) made the trip, meaning that, if all advanced to finals, there would be Club action every day of the meet. As it transpired, if the meet had ended after just two days, the NYAC could have counted it as having been a resounding success.
On Day One, no fewer than four NYAC athletes were on deck, all proven competitors with fearsome reputations. For Will Claye (triple jump), Deanna Price and Gwen Berry (both hammer throw), it was the opening rounds of their events. All they had to do was exert themselves sufficiently to advance to the finals (the next day for Price and Berry; Sunday for Claye); which is precisely what they did. Perfunctory. All according to plan.
For the fourth NYAC athlete, Roberta Groner, matters were a little more serious. Her event was the women’s marathon, a race arduous enough without having to contest it in conditions that would almost melt the blacktop. To temper things, organizers took the curious step of starting the race at midnight. In reality, it made minimal difference. At start time the mercury hovered over 90 degrees; a dry heat, to employ a cliché, but 90 degrees is 90 degrees.
Groner, as so many will attest, is not easily intimidated, by distance, opponents or conditions. As full-time nurse and mother of three, a little adversity is not something to trouble her too much. In April of this year, she placed fifth at the prestigious Rotterdam Marathon, recording a time of 2:29:06, thus becoming only the third US woman over-40 to break the 2:30 barrier. Although 28 of the 68 Doha starters dropped out of the race, Groner effected a strategy that saw her maintain pace as others wilted, ultimately crossing the finish line in a magnificent sixth position in a time of 2:38:44. Asked why she competed here knowing the conditions would be so challenging, Groner responded, “Because I was asked to represent my country.” Posting on Twitter prior to the race, the NYAC woman stated, “I don’t think words can explain the emotions of pride, excitement, honor, gratitude and love I feel at this moment.”
Those sentiments are certainly reciprocated and will be tangibly so on November 3rd when Groner arrives in the Tap Room after having contested the New York City Marathon that day. The five week span between the Doha race and New York holds no trepidation: “I’ll take an easy week and then begin training again,” she stated. Simple as that.
Groner’s awesome opener, however, was mere prelude to what was to come. On Day Two (Saturday, September 28th), the Club’s Deanna Price gave an exhibition of dominance in the women’s hammer throw such as is rarely seen in competition at this level. Price’s first throw - a mighty 76.87m/252’2” placed her at the head of the field, a position she never relinquished throughout the succeeding five rounds. Indeed, her third attempt went even further - 77.54m/254’5” - meaning that even her second best attempt would have secured her the world title.
With the competition and her last throw completed, Deanna knelt in the throwing circle, got up wiping tears from her eyes, hugged everybody in sight, wrapped the flag around her and departed on the most joyous lap of honor you’ve ever seen. Were there a cynic in the crowd they may have noted that Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk, the four time world champion and two time Olympic champion, was not in attendance due to injury. Essential to any competition, though, is that you have to show up; those are the only people you can beat. Which Price did, demonstrably, despite also having been injured earlier this year.
Lost amongst today’s NYAC action was the qualification of Sam Mattis in the men’s discus. He moved on in sixth position; his more important day comes on Monday, September 30th, the date of his final.
For my part, I arrived in Doha at midnight last night - concurrent with Roberta Groner’s departure from the marathon starting line - and have spent the time since getting a few hours sleep, finding the bus to the stadium, finding the stadium, finding my seat, finding food, finding the interview area, generally finding stuff. It’s the same routine at every major championship; but, like everybody else, by the time we all leave in nine days’ time we’ll have found all we need to….except how to get back to the airport.
There were many world class performances in the Khalifa Stadium in Doha this evening; almost eclipsing them all, however, was the stunning light display that heralded the start of the men’s 100m final (won, for the record, by the USA’s Christina Coleman). Were you on that start line, could there be anything more spine chilling than seeing your name emblazoned along 50 meters of the track just as you were being introduced to the crowd. “Magnificent” hardly does it justice. Same goes for Roberta Groner and Deanna Price.