BY ELLIOTT DENMAN
Friday, October 4, 2019, at Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - Day 8 of the 10-day 17th World Championships of Track and Field - put it in the
put it in the books as one of the greatest of all days in the annals of the sport.
You had to be there to appreciate it all - as I was fortunate enough to do.
From 8:15 p.m. to 10:20, fans - and for one of the few times at these Worlds, the stadium was virually full - got to experience one dazzlement after another,
one brilliant achievement, one great competition, after another, another, another.
If all these happenings didn't make you a big-time enthusiast of the sport - which continues to be the Flagship Sport of the Olympic Games, no matter what all those swimming and gymnastics and basketball partisans tell you - it's never going to happen. This was as good as it gets, or may ever.
First, the men's high men's high jump, featuring Qatar's home-grown hero, Mutaz Essa Barshim.
Let us remind you that for 26 years many humans - after the first and only to do it, Javier Sotomayor of Cuba - have been trying to leap skyward and arch their bodies over a high jump bar set over eight foot high. Just one man in that era - Barshim - has come as close as two little centimeters to that mark.
A very tall and very thin 28-year-old, Barshim had endured his share of injuries the past two years and was not at his best at this biggest meet ever held in his homeland. But with the Worlds in his backyard, he was not about to disappoint his fans.
And on this day they included no less than the Amir, H.H. Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani.
It didn't look good for Barshim when he missed his first two attempts at 2.33 meters, which three others cleared. But Barshim was not about to disappoint anyone here, not willing to settle for anything but hometown gold. Sure enough, he rallied his nerves, stretched his angular body to its limit and cleared 2.33 on third attempt, as the Amir and all others in this sparkling edifice breathed collective sighs of relief.
That done, he soared 2.35 and 2.37 as all three of his still-in-it rivals sent the crossbar crashing down into the pit.
There was instant delight in Doha for one of the greatest rallies in the annals of high jumping. Or any event in the sport. From far out on the brink, he climbed back to the top of his hometown podium.
As he later put it, "it was a dream."
The big-time show kept moving right along.
Next, to the discus circle, which Sandra Petrovic has has ruled as her personal property for years, claiming two Olympic, two World and five European titles in this
art of spinning the platter high and far. She is such a celebrity in Croatia that she has been elected to Parliament. Well, this day, she was both outthrown and outvoted by the delegation from Cuba, Yaime Perez and Denia Cabbalero. There were no calls for a recount. Results stood, Perez 69.17, Caballero 68.44, Perkovic 66.72.
The Croatian icon sportingly accepted her relegation to bronze.
On to the women's 400-meter hurdles, an event New Jerseyans have loved to embrace through the brilliant efforts of Union Catholic HS alumna Sydney McLaughlin, and some New Yorkers appreciate, too. via the talents of Dalilah Muhammad, a grad of Queens' Benjamin Cardozo HS.
Muahammad came to Doha as reigning Olympic champion and world record-holder (52.20.) McLaughlin came to Doha as heir apparent.
Muhammad simply ran the greatest race of her life to lower the world record to 52.16. McLaughlin simply ran the second-best time in world history, 52.23, for the silver.
McLaughlin will simply have to wait till the day she rules this event on her own - which many predict will not be far off.
Back to the track now, for the men's 3000-meter steeplechase final.
The event has been a Kenyan monopoly for eons - with nine straight Olympic firsts and 11 of the last 13; to go along with six consecutive World Championship wins, and firsts in 13 of the total 16 Worlds 'chase finals, 1987-2017 Kenyans even went 1-2-3-4 at the 2015 Worlds in Beijing.
Could anything like that happen again?
Ethiopia's Lamecha Girma obviously thought so. Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali likewise,
They beat out a quick pace. The top Kenyan, Consensius Kipruto, Worlds champion in 2017 and silver medalist in 2015 and 2013, again came in as the consensus choice, but knew this one could have a very different result. Would the Kenyan reign sustain?
It would not unless he "doug down" deeper than he'd ever before in his distinguished career, unless he somehow, in absolute desperation, found a final burst of energy when it seemed he just might be ready to concede.
Sure enough, Consensius did not concede. His desperation final-stride lunge over the finish line got him the gold - and the continuation of his nation's mind-boggling monopoly, Has there ever been a steeplechase race closer than this one - Kipruto 8:01.35, Girma 8:01.36? Could there ever be?
Finally, the men's 400 meters.
All week, Stevie Gardiner had been reminding the world how battered, how beleaguered, his home island of Abaco in the Bahamas had been by Hurricane Dorian.
Well, he got to remind the world once again Friday night because the world wanted to know his story, how he'd been able to continue training (at his Florida home base), as he'd feared the worst for his family back on Abaco, as he couldn't hear from them for days, how his greatest wish was to bring some joy back to his family and home nation.
His teammate, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, had tried her darndest to do the very same the night before, but had settle for second-place and silver in the women's 400 final.
Somehow, Steve Gardiner remained totally focused, totally confident "he could win this thing."
Did he ever. Leaving a pack of major-league challengers far back, he sped to the 400 gold in 43.48, fastest time of his life, moving himself up to sixth on the all-time charts. Runner-up Anthony Jose Zambrano of Colombia and bronze placer Fred Kerley of USA simply had no chance.
This was Stevie's day. And Mutaz Essa's day, and Yaime's day, and Dalihah's day, and Consensius's day.
Can there ever be another such day in the sport?
Most unlikely. Then again, the improbabilities of it all are another of track and field's special beauties.