Day Six - Wednesday, October 2nd
Bougard on FireBy James O'Brien, reporting from Doha
If you’re an NYAC member, you’ve probably heard of Michelle Carter, or you should have. She’s the Olympic women’s shot put champion and one of the world’s foremost exponents of her event. (You may also have heard of her father, Michael, Olympic shot put silver medalist and three-time Super Bowl champion). Michelle is in Doha seeking to add the world outdoor title to her Olympic gold medal and to the indoor crown that she claimed in 2016. Twice before, the NYAC woman has come close to claiming the outdoor laurels, securing bronze medals in the world championships of both 2015 and 2017.
This evening saw the qualifying rounds of the women’s shot put in Doha. Carter was throwing second in the first flight of competitors. Without even removing her warm-up tights, she stepped into the circle, launched an automatic qualifying 18.85m/61’10.25, put the rest of her gear back on and called it a day. Hers remained the fourth farthest throw of the qualifying rounds, which is, as they say, how it’s done.
Which is not to say that Carter will have an easy time in tomorrow’s final. Au contraire, mes amis. The field is loaded, including defending champion Gong Lijiao from China, world indoor silver medalist Danniel Thomas-Dodd from Jamaica and 2015 world champion Christina Schwanitz from Germany, plus Carter’s US team-mate Maggie Ewen. Gong would have to be deemed the favorite, but it could go any way. Of note is the fact that Carter likes to keep things interesting; she won her world indoor title, the US Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games all with her last throw of the competition. From that we learn that she can never be counted out, ever.
Another NYAC thrower was in action this evening, by name she was Valarie Allman, competing in the qualifying rounds of the women’s discus. Her first throw was a hesitant 57.99m/190’3”, a mark she followed with a foul in the second round. (To automatically qualify, she would have had to throw at least 63m/206’8”). Her third attempt reached a more acceptable 62.25m/204’2”, meaning that she then had to wait for the completion of the second flight in order to learn if she could compete in Friday’s final. The discus gods were kind; with both flights completed, Allman was installed in 12th position, her place in the final secure.
Also on the championships’ schedule today were the opening rounds of the women’s 1500m, featuring the NYAC’s Aisha Praught-Leer. Notably, Holland’s Ethiopian born Sifan Hassan, winner of last Saturday’s 10,000m, was also competing. Nobody has ever done a 1500m-10,000m double at a major championship, unless you count the 1500m/cross-country double of Paavo Nurmi in 1925. (Of course, Nurmi’s was actually a triple; he won the 5000m, as well as the 1500m and cross country gold medals. Actually, it was a quadruple; Finland claimed the team gold medals, too. OK, a quintuple; they also won the team 3000m. And, I haven’t even mentioned the 1920 Games. Or 1928. Or Nurmi’s silver medals. Paavo was one righteous Olympian. Worth Googling. Oh - and his grandson was in the City House last year around the time of the Millrose Games). But, I digress. The aforementioned Hassan is going for an unprecendented accomplishment. She is also coached by the now-banned Alberto Salazar. So, make that, “was coached.” I say all this simply as an FYI; because it’s interesting. OK, just to me.
Competing in the colors of Jamaica, the NYAC’s Praught-Leer ran in the second heat, placing seventh in a time of 4:09.81. The placing is crucial; the first six finishers advanced to tomorrow’s semi-finals. Those placing outside the first six had to wait to see if they were among the six fastest from all three heats. Sad to say, the NYAC woman did not make the cut. A valiant run, nonetheless; the Club can expect more from her.
This is the 16th consecutive IAAF World Outdoor Championships at which I have been accredited. The meet first took place in 1983 in Helsinki. I missed that one, but have hit every one since. It started off on an every four years cycle, as with the Olympics; after the 1991 edition in Tokyo, the format changed to its current every two years. In all of those years, I cannot recall the decathlon and heptathlon occurring on the same days. I asked the dude sitting next to me; he couldn’t recall it happening, either. Which is not to say that it’s a bad thing; in fact, it certainly keeps things moving when you’ve got to keep your eyes (just today; the rest coming tomorrow) on four women’s events and five men’s events all running almost concurrently, plus all of the other events happening in the stadium. And it will certainly make for a thrilling conclusion when they run the final events - the women’s 800m and the men’s 1500m - back to back tomorrow evening.
The NYAC had competitors in both the heptathlon and the decathlon, Erica Bougard in the former and Devon Williams in the latter. With three events completed in the decathlon - the 100m, long jump and shot put - Williams had tallied 2511 points, seeing him in 14th position. There was still a long way to go in the competition, but that was also a heck of a lot of ground to make up on the leader, defending champion and world record holder Kevin Mayer of France, over 300 points ahead. The women’s event was a different kettle of fish. (I’ve asked this before: fish? In a kettle? Thoughts? Explanations? Anyone? Anyone at all?) Forgetting the fish, with two events completed - the 100m hurdles and the high jump - event favorite Katarina Johnson-Thompson of Great Britain held the lead with 2282 points; Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam was in second just 40 points behind. And, right there in third position was the NYAC’s Bougard, having tallied 2177. Same as the men’s event, there was still a long way to go; but, 105 points covering the top three positions was a virtual dead heat at this stage. Of course, there were plenty of other players still in the game; but, even so it was cause to hope for great things.
With the shot put completed, Thiam had moved into a slight lead, pushing Johnson-Thompson back to second. Holland’s Nadine Broerson had moved into third, moving Bougard down one place. But with 256 points covering those four places, it was still very much anybody’s game.
Not to be forgotten amongst all of the action was Rudy Winkler, taking part in the final of the men’s hammer throw. It would certainly be a tall order to expect the NYAC man to emulate the accomplishment of his female counterpart, Deanna Price, who took the women’s title. But, like all competitors in Doha, Winkler did not make the long journey from the USA with the intent of losing. Regrettably, his best attempt, 75.20m/246’9” in the second round, left him well outside the leading eight and the chance for a further three throws. Ultimately, he placed 11th. Had he replicated his best attempt of the qualifying rounds - 77.06m/252’10”, a personal best, he would have amongst the elite eight taking all six throws. So it goes.
Back in the heptathlon, Bougard was competing with fire. In the last of today’s four events, the 200m, she placed third in a time of 23.89, logging a fine 991 points. That did not alter her overall position - she remained in fourth - but it did keep her within 285 points of the leader, Johnson-Thompson, and just two points behind her US compatriot, Kendell Williams, who had moved into third. Tomorrow’s events will be the long jump, javelin and 800m. Watch this space. Well, not exactly this space, but you know what I mean.
In the decathlon, Devon Williams was working hard, but well adrift of the leader. If he needed a charge of adrenaline for the last event of the day (five more come tomorrow), all he had to do was watch the final of the women’s 200m, which took place 40 minutes prior to the decathlon 400m. That race was claimed by Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, cheered along by what appeared to be a stadium (half) filled with British expats. The noise they made rivaled that of the Jamaican, Ethiopian and Kenyan contingents, who have been the most rousing cheer-leaders to this point in time. But the Britons made themselves heard in a serious way, showing that even a government in disarray and a departure from the European Union can’t keep them muffled. They were carrying on, for sure, but very far from keeping calm.