What a great evening it was here in Berlin. Perfect weather, great
performances and a lively crowd.
Both the finals we witnessed tonight - the women's 10,000 meters and the
men's shot put - were full of drama. The men's shot put, in particular,
had the crowd on the edge of their seats for a good hour.
Christian Cantwell of the U.S., a man with a somewhat well-deserved
reputation for under-performing in the biggest meets, got things started
with a big throw in the first round. His 21.54 m throw gave him a slight
lead over the massive Pole, Tomasz Majewski, who threw 21.36. Things
really got exciting when Ralf Bartels, a German and a crowd favorite,
heaved the shot a personal best 21.37 in the third round to move into
second by a single centimeter. From that point on the crowd was intent on
every throw by each one of the leaders and it got loud.
Next it was Majewski's turn to uncork a stunner - 21.68 in the 4th round
to move into the lead. Then he improved on that in the 5th round to 21.91.
It looked like Majewski would pull yet another upset and leave American
hopes dashed. But Cantwell, throwing after Majewski, let loose a monstrous
throw of 22.03, 72-3.5 in feet and inches, to surpass Majewski and reclaim
the lead going into the final round. All of the top 5-6 men threw well on
their last throw but only Reese Hoffa improved. He had a nice 21.28 throw
that scared Bartels. When it came up just 4 inches short, and preserved
the bronze for Bartels, the stadium went berserk. Or at least the German
version of berserk - they are a little restrained after all.
Cantwell claimed the gold and a great measure of redemption. Five years
ago he had the leading throw in the world going into the Olympic Trials
but failed to even make the team. Of course, he was devastated and it
seemed to take him years to get past that. I think he's past it now!
The women's 10K was an exciting race with a pack of five women - all from
Ethiopia or Kenya - capable of winning as they began the last lap. As
they entered the home stretch, two Ethiopians were battling for first. The
two Kenyans had dropped behind and seemed out of it. But with about 60
meters to go, one of the Kenyans, Linet Masai, began an amazing kick that
reeled in both Ethiopians. Meselech Melkamu had just passed Wude Ayalew
and thought she had the victory, throwing her arms up in celebration. Just
at that moment, however, Masai went by on her right, inches before the
line. Melkamu never saw her and, in fact, continued to celebrate as if she
had won. Finally, she put up two fingers and signaled to her coach, asking
if she was indeed second. She was, adding one more chapter in the
incredible Kenyan vs. Ethiopian rivalry.
While Africans swept the top five places, all was not lost for the
Americans in the race. Amy Begley, another Alberto Salazar-coached athlete
who trains in Beaverton, placed an impressive 6th. Shalane Flanagan ran in
the top group most of the race, but faded to 14th near the end.
Amy's showing continued her ascension to the top ranks of American women
distance runners. She looked so strong at the finish that I asked her
after the race why she didn't go with the top five runners when they made
"I made a tactical error with 8 laps to go. They made a move and I was too
afraid to go with them. Next time I'm not going to be afraid to go with
them. Next time I'm going to take that risk and go with them. It's just a
mental fear (of running out of gas too soon) but next time I'm going to
block that out and go for it."
Nothing like being brutally honest in evaluating your performance. That's
why I love distance runners.
Next time I'm sure Amy will go with them. And won't that be fun to watch.