BUDAPEST, HUNGARY, August 19–27 — There’s no sight like a full house, an impressive, sizeable stadium filled visibly and audibly to near its capacity of 35,000 over 9 days. Add to this cauldron a magnificently talented and prepared cast of world class stars in peak form drawing from and returning the energy of the jubilant assemblage.
This was World Championships XIX. “Over the last eight days we’ve seen full stadia,” said newly reelected WA President Seb Coe as Budapest’s National Athletics Centre overlooking the mighty Danube River prepared to stage the meet’s climactic final evening. “We’ve seen full stadia and that was vitally important for me. And then it’s a full stadium that has delivered electrical and addictive atmospheres.”
True starting with Day 1’s opening blast. Ryan Crouser has jump-started proceedings before — see his historic World Record in round 3 of the ’21 Olympic Trials’ first final. He did it again here. Arrived in precarious physical condition from blood clots in one of his legs. Merely taking a transoceanic plane flight under such circumstances is a matter for serious discussion with doctors. The Arkansas-based Oregonian did more than that. He led a heavy-hitting shot field from the first round and punched his last throw out to 77-1¾ (23.51), inferior only — and by just 2 inches — to the WR he set in May.
“The best performance of my life,” assessed Crouser who before that had raised his meet record from ’19 in round 2.
That and a Team USA mixed relay World Record amid a dramatic finish to the race to close out Evening 1 set the tone. Athletes ran, jumped and threw on an exalted plane throughout.
Budapest’s leading star? You’d be hard-pressed to argue against Noah Lyles. He aimed with no reserve in saying so for a sprint double and didn’t just bag his target, he won both dashes well clear of the cream of the rest of the crop — then anchored a Team USA 4×1 win to make it a triple. Three key golds in his nation’s 29-medal haul.
In the women’s dashes, Sha’Carri Richardson at last properly began what could be an extended run in global champs arenas. The U.S. champion broke Jamaica’s extended headlock on the 100 with a full-steam-at-the-finish PR. Yet 200 sprinter extraordinaire Shericka Jackson fired back with a 200 victory and the No. 2 all-time performance. Rivalries empower track & field and Jamaica-USA is one that remains very much alive with the Paris Olympic year just over the horizon.
Yet, as Coe observed, in Budapest the sport closed out once and for all its 6-year marathon slog away from the lightning-cast shadow of Bolt.
“If we were sitting here three or four years ago and occasionally I get the question now,” said the WA President — who was reelected for a third and final time just before the championships began — “it’s inevitably, ‘Well, what are you all going to do [now that] Usain Bolt’s left the scene?’
“Well, yeah, nobody’s ever going to replace Usain — he’s Usain. But, you know, there’s an extraordinary nature on the range of talent that’s now coming through both in track and in field throws and jumps.
“I mean some of the field events here have been the big magnesium moments in our Championships.”
On the field, Budapest was a title meet of late-round fireworks. “Thirteen of our athletes in the field events all achieved their best performance in the sixth round, the final round,” Coe observed. “And five of them were gold medalists.”
That Fab Field 5: Crouser, Miltiádis Tentóglou in the men’s long jump, Daniel Ståhl in a no-way-can-he-do-this response to Kristjan Čeh’s momentous last-round discus heave, Yulimar Rojas jumping with her last chance from equal-9th to women’s triple jump gold and Haruka Kitaguchi casting herself from 4th to javelin glory at the end.
High jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh, the spirit of embattled Ukraine her muse, walked away from a taut contest as the last one standing. The late-stage women’s vault duel between defending champ Katie Moon and Australia’s Nina Kennedy was waged with such tension, the physically and emotionally spent pair opted to share their gold.
These stirring denouement moments were brilliantly spotlighted by the organizers and stadium announcers creating unforgettable drama for the fans.
Read on in the event reports that follow. None of the above was all she wrote, folks. How about Faith Kipyegon for blinding finishes that yielded double gold? And with tenacious Sifan Hassan throwing her grimacing all into both races along with the 10K. The flying Dutchwoman with flurries of wild-swing arm action came away with “just” a silver and a bronze — yet left with head held high eager for future battles.
For every Joshua Cheptegei, Soufiane El Bakkali or Mondo Duplantis adding another sparkling title to a résumé, it seemed there was a shock victor or a determined upsetter to balance the ledger.
Antonio Watson (men’s 400), Marco Arop (men’s 800), Josh Kerr (men’s 1500) and Laulauga Tausaga-Collins (women’s discus) so distinguished themselves under pressure.
Doha ’19’s heptathlon titlist Katarina Johnson-Thompson willed her way back to the top against bright rising star Anna Hall, grinding to the end with a PR 800, the discipline in which young Hall runs supreme, even when injured (as here).
With a record 2100 athletes competing from 195 nations plus the Athlete Refugee Team, and more than 140,000 tickets sold in 120 countries — led by fans from the UK, Germany, the USA, France and Spain — Coe, one must say, was on the mark when he observed, “I can’t really remember a better atmosphere at a World Championships. You do really have to go back a few years. Geography matters. There are 11 very big athletics nations within touching distance of Hungary.”
The pleasant pulse of the stadium throughout spoke to this. Broadcast figures of roughly a billion viewing hours in “eight key markets outside of Africa, China and South America” (perhaps reflective of where viewership returns roll in fastest?) suggest word got out around the world.
For “jaw-dropping, nailbiting competitions” — again Coe’s assessment and also accurate — top-rank organization and presentation, eye-candy of a new stadium, inventive innovation (more on that elsewhere in this issue) and field & track-bonkers spectators, Budapest rated among the greatest World Champs.
Walking the streets of this picturesque, riverside crossroads of cultures world city, one could not help but know the meet was in progress. Billboards, fans, marathons and walks run off in the center of town. “Striking branding,” Coe called it. “You know, from the moment we have walked into, flown into, this city, you are conscious this is a World Championships city, and it’s a city where we have been clearly wanted. It’s a city that has celebrated these Championships.”
With a population of about 1.8 million, you might say Buda and Pest (one on each side of the Danube) are in the sweet spot, not so massive the meet just blends in, not so small (or remote or limited in stadium capacity) that energy doesn’t dial up to 11.
Weather-wise, well, this has been the hottest northern hemisphere summer in history. WC week ran true to that script. Daily highs rose from 86 (30C) at the start to 95 (35C) at the end — with sweat-fest humidity.
“I was delighted yesterday morning at the marathon to thank all our medical teams,” Coe said, “but we’re traveling with a field hospital now. We look like a scene out of MASH down there, and they’re doing a fabulous job. They’re the best team around and Hungary have provided some of the very best medics.
“But look, this is the world we’re now living in.”
World Championships both rife with hot performance on the field & track, and climactically trying conditions for athletes and fans alike — that looks like the future. As we celebrate the triumph that was Worlds XIX, we’ll watch how WA and the sport moves the baton forward from here.
|Click Here For A Listing Of Medalists With Links To Reports On Each Event|
By-Nation Medal Chart
|British Virgin Islands||1||1||—||0||—||0||1|
|* = includes mixed relay medal|