Day Nine - Saturday, October 5th

King Kovacs

By James O'Brien, reporting from Doha

One random thought about Doha. Sitting on the bus coming to the stadium this evening, it occurred to me that amidst the countless, and often futuristic, construction projects underway in this city, none appear to include statues. Everywhere are soaring and striking office towers, and expansive traditional dwellings, and shopping malls the size of small cities; but, nowhere to be seen is a statue. A national hero? A horse? A mythical creature? Nothing. Then I tried to think of another city in which I have noted that absence; nowhere springs to mind. I’ve always said that it’s fascinating what you see when you travel; I suppose it can also be fascinating what you don’t see. Or mildly interesting.

In NYAC action this evening, Michael Shuey was up first, contesting the qualifying rounds of the men’s javelin. Throwing in the second flight (an appropriate term for group of javelin throwers, when you think about it), Shuey’s job was to exceed 84.00m/275’7” or to place among the top 12 from both groups of throwers. Sad to say, he didn’t make the cut, reaching 80.53m/264’2”, far below his best of 83.21m/273’0”, placing him 18th.

Curiously, Shuey and his fellow javelinists were throwing in a stadium about two-thirds full, which is pretty good, based on prior attendances. That’s not the curious part; that lies in the fact that, while the javelin was going on, along with the qualifying rounds of the women’s long jump, there was a span of well over two hours with nothing going on on the track. Further, with the javelin and the long jump completed, there was a solid hour with absolutely nothing going on at all. Zero. I mean ZEEE-RO!  Well, there was some fatuous Sweet Caroline-ing, a few rounds of The Wave and the always puerile dance-cam; but, is that what the world championships of a supposedly professional sport is supposed to be about? I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say that this was not the first night with an extensive gap in the program, making the sport an even harder sell at a time when its credibility is under serious threat (ref: Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project). The dance-cam is going on right now. Good Lord.

Enough of that. From an NYAC perspective, once the program re-commenced, it was a case of from famine to feast, with shot putter Joe Kovacs and triple jumper Tori Franklin competing in their respective finals at almost the same time. Kovacs’ resumé is intimidating to say the least: a gold medal from the world championships of 2015, and silvers from the same meet in 2017 and the Olympic Games of 2016. Although he only advanced to tonight’s final as the 12th qualifier, that’s because he scored an automatic qualifying mark with his first throw, so needed to do no more. Franklin is more of an emerging force. She competed in the World Championships of 2017, but did not advance to the final; however, she did place eighth in last year’s World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, UK and holds the US record, which she set at 14.84m/48’8.25” last year.

The shot putters kicked off first with the USA’s Olympic champion, Ryan Crouser, setting the standard from the outset. On his first throw - the very first of the competition - he launched the shot to 22.36m/73’4.5”, a world championships record. It was what you might call a mic drop moment. Until, that is, defending champion, Tom Walsh of New Zealand, last to throw, stepped up and dropped a mic of his own - that being a mark of 22.90m/75’1.75”, the fourth farthest throw in history and, need it be said, a new championships record, displacing the minutes-old mark of Crouser. Amidst these fireworks, Kovacs reached 20.90m, installing him in sixth position with one round completed.

Darlan Romani from Brazil hauled himself into second place behind Walsh in round two, shunting Crouser to third, while Kovacs improved to 21.63m/70’11.75”, a throw that moved him into fourth position. In round three, US putter Darrell Hill reached 21.65m, a mark that moved him into fourth, knocking the NYAC’s Kovacs back to fifth.

With three rounds gone, the lowest four competitors were jettisoned, leaving eight to contend for the medals, Kovacs among them. Time to get ugly. In round four, Kovacs improved to 21.95m/72’0.25”, sufficient to move his standing to fourth, where he remained through the fifth round. One effort remaining. Do or die.

Plainly said, he did. Last throw. All pressure and all to play for. Kovacs wound it up and almost hit the floodlights. When the shot finally came back to earth, it landed at 22.91m/75’2”, a single centimeter better than Walsh’s leading throw, a new championship record and the equal third best throw in history. It was a stunning development; but the competition wasn’t over. Crouser was up next, and he launched a monster, but a monster one centimeter short, 22.90m, equaling Walsh’s formerly leading throw. Less than the length of a fingernail covered the top three placers. Next came Walsh himself, the defending champ. He fouled - his fifth consecutive. All of which meant that the NYAC man took the crown, Crouser took silver and Walsh, equal with Crouser on distance, took bronze by virtue of having more fouls. (Walsh, indeed, had only one good throw, his first).

It was a stunning accomplishment for Kovacs, now the proud owner of two world championships gold medals, one silver, plus an Olympic silver. Legend? He may also take pride in having prevailed in what was, in terms of depth, arguably the greatest shot put competition of all time.

Tori Franklin did a sterling job in the women’s triple jump final, logging a series of 14.07m/46’2”, X, 14.08m/46’2.5”, which did not allow her to advance for three more jumps. Franklin placed ninth overall, well shy of her all-time and season’s best, but her sights assuredly now set on Tokyo in less than 12 months time.

Once he comes down to earth, Kovacs, too, will certainly have that objective in mind. After all, once you’re a (two-time) world champion, where else is there to go than the pinnacle of Mount Olympus?

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