Day Seven - Thursday, October 3rd

NYAC Action All Night Long

By James O'Brien, reporting from Doha

This will be another busy NYAC day in Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium. Here’s what we’ve got:

Erica Bougard in day two of the heptathlon (long jump, javelin, 800m)
Devon Williams in day two of the decathlon (110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, 1500m)
Michelle Carter in the final of the women’s shot put
Joe Kovacs in the qualifying rounds of the men’s shot put
Tori Franklin in the qualifying rounds of the women’s triple jump

Williams was the first to make an appearance today, clocking 13.91 in the hurdles, sufficient to earn 986 points and move himself up in the standings to ninth overall, still a hefty 400+ points behind the leader, Damian Warner from Canada. A long evening’s work ahead.

The women’s triple jump qualifying kicked off as the decathlon hurdles was concluding. The NYAC’s Tori Franklin could advance to the final by jumping 14.30m/46’11” or by placing in the top 12 from the combined results of the two groups of competitors. Franklin opened with 14.23m/46’8.25” which put her in second position in Group B, but then hit a foul on the second of her three attempts. Her third attempt reached just 13.86m/45’5.75”, meaning that she had to wait until the competition was completed before seeing where she would land. As it transpired, she was safe, placing ninth overall and advancing to Saturday’s final.

Back in the decathlon, a powerful discus by Devon Williams - 47.32m/155’3” - secured him 815 points, hauling him up the standings and into seventh place overall with a total of 5943. Defending champion, Kevin Mayer of France, headed the field with a tally of 6310, but a mere 213 points covered places three to nine, meaning that this story was still being written.

In the heptathlon Erica Bougard was continuing her assault on the leading places. The first event of the day was the long jump. With Great Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson forging ahead and towards the fabled 7000 point mark, Bougard reached 6.21m on her first attempt, which remained her best. For that effort, she scored 915 points, making her seventh in this event, bringing her combined total to 4768, good for fifth position overall.

For the sake of perspective, in both the heptathlon and decathlon, a 1000 point score in any discipline is off the charts excellent. Only two women have ever exceeded 7000 points in this seven-discipline event: Sweden’s Carolina Kluft (7032 in winning the world title in 2007) and world record holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee (7291 in winning the Olympic gold medal in 1988). If Johnson-Thompson exceeds the 7K mark in Doha today, it will install her among the legends of her event. (For the record, no man has ever exceeded 10,000 points in the 10-event decathlon).

Speaking of the decathlon, next up was the pole vault and, sad to say, the demise of Devon Williams’ world championships aspirations. Coming in at 4.50m/14’9”, the NYAC man failed to clear a height, thus scoring zero points and eliminating any dreams he may have had. Stunningly, Mayer, the leader - and world record holder and defending champion - also no-heighted, brought low by injury. He aborted his third attempt after two failures and collapsed in tears in the pit. As tweeted by the IAAF, “This sport is brutal.”

As previously mentioned, the qualifying rounds of the men’s shot put were in the cards for this evening. The NYAC’s Joe Kovacs was on the roster, a man as intimidating as any in this event, having won this title in 2015 and placed second in 2017. This season, he has thrown beyond the gold standard 22 meters (72’2.25”), while he holds an all-time best of 22.57m/74’0.75”. The trouble is that no fewer than eight other behemoths in this field have also thrown the shot farther than 22 meters, including Olympic champion, Ryan Crouser of the USA, and defending champion, Tom Walsh of New Zealand. Crouser has also thrown a world-leading 22.74m/74’7.25” this year; so, no easy medals here, even if there were such a thing.

Kovacs did, however, make qualifying look easy. One and done was all it took. His first attempt reached 20.92m/68’7.75”, two centimeters beyond the automatic qualifying distance. Two centimeters or 20, it made no difference; so, job done until Saturday’s final. Interestingly, although Kovacs scored an automatic qualifier, so did every single one of the men advancing to the final. Kovacs’ throw being the shortest of them all.

Meanwhile, Erica Bougard was deep in the fray in the heptathlon. In the javelin, she reached 43.48m/142’8” on her second attempt, earning 734 points. At this level of competition, you need to be scoring 800+ routinely; Bourgard, therefore, saw herself slip a few notches to seventh place overall, and with just one event remaining, the 800m. On the starting line, the NYAC woman will be a scant 77 points out of the bronze medal position. It’s impossible to detail all the permutations that could result in Bougard closing that gap or seeing it widen. For perspective, I will put it this way: a 2:14.52 800m earns 900 points; a 2:12.90 800, earns 977 points. In that scenario, 77 points equals 1.62 seconds. Something to ponder.

As was the final of the women’s shot put. Watching Michelle Carter compete is always a thing of beauty. She makes a habit of keeping her fans - not to mention her competitors - on the edges of their seats. World Indoor Championships - gold medal with her last throw. US Olympic Trials - gold medal with her last throw. 2016 Olympic Games - gold medal with her last throw. Carter is either the ultimate clutch performer or she likes messing with people’s heads. I suspect, a little of both.

One quick digression: underway as I write this are the qualifying rounds of the men’s 1500m, in which there is an Indian runner by the name of Jinson Johnson. How can you not love somebody named Jinson Johnson? Reminds me of Botswanan marathoner Bigboy Matlapang, who was around in the 1980s. Pretty good, too, as I recall. Sadly, Jinson got eliminated.

Back to the women’s shot put. Throwing second, Carter’s best result after three attempts was a modest, for her, 18.41m/60’4.75”. That left her in ninth position, a placing with which she’s not entirely familiar, comfortable or happy. Understandable. It meant that her world championships was over; only the leading eight earn the right to an additional three throws. Disappointing, for sure; but, as we know, Carter cannot be counted out. Now, she - and we - look towards Tokyo next year.

So, after a long day in the stadium, all that remained of NYAC action was Erica Bougard in the final event of the heptathlon, the 800m. As a rule, multi-events practitioners do not enjoy the cardio events. They are built for speed and power; the 800m for women and 1500m for men causes them to go deep into places that are seriously uncomfortable. (Also causing discomfort of a different stripe is the quote of former world 1500m record holder, Steve Ovett, who observed to Olympic decathlon champion, Daley Thompson, that the decathlon was “nine Mickey Mouse events and a 1500m.” Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just relaying the story. It is pretty funny, though, yes?). Anyway, my point being that Bougard was going to have to go way deep were she going to make inroads in this final event of her championships.

Of note, the heptathlon 800m was not scheduled to begin until 0:05am. That’s five minutes after midnight. And it wasn’t even the last event of the night, that privilege going to the decathlon 1500m at 12:25am. Given the lengthy periods with no action at all on the track, the scheduling is inexplicable. Also notable, with tomorrow, Friday, being a day of observation in Qatar, this evening is the start of the weekend. Presumably, that’s the reason that the stadium was as full as it has been all week. It’s now 11:35pm, however, and most of them have gone home.

Running in the second, faster 800m heat, Bougard had the second fastest personal best in the field, 2:08.24, behind only Austria’s Verena Preiner (2:07.75). Johnson-Thompson’s best was only 0.04 slower, meaning that there was plenty to run for and plenty of opportunity to run fast.

From the gun, Bougard shadowed Johnson-Thompson and Preiner, with the leader, Johnson-Thompson, passing 400m in 63.14 seconds. Bougard battled hard around the second lap, but while the Great Briton powered onward to a gold medal winning 2:07.26 PB, Bougard clocked a still-stellar 2:09.74, good for 968 points and a fourth place overall finish, 90 points shy of the bronze medal. It was a superb two-day performance by the NYAC woman, one that will certainly set her on the path to still greater things.
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