By Neil Leverett
- British team claim six medals in London, with one each in the relays.
- Early medal hopes fell short after Mo Farah wins Gold on opening day
- Athletes finish fourth in multiple events
LONDON, UK – Despite UK Athletics reaching their initial medal target for the World Championships, London 2017 will still be seen as some what of a failure in terms of individual awards. Were however, those hopes built on hype and perception?
Late medal rush fails to flatter Brits
The 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships in London, will perhaps always be remembered for Usain Bolt’s swan-song in the sport, or rather more for Justin Gatlin’s role as master villain in the 100m, to the backdrop of the quintessential pantomime city.
As the Jamaican’s epilogue in athletics was royally spoilt on not one but two occasions, up until the final days in the London Stadium, the more pressing issue for the British team was the lack of success in the shape of medals won in the capital.
Take out the team events however and the squad’s much-publicised shortcomings, had pundits and the media alike delivering their own damning conclusions. But were these soundbites and many a written column justifed, or merely a product of their own fabricated hype?
The quadruple sweep of medals in final two days of action in the relays – including Gold in the men’s 4×100 relay on Saturday evening – saw the British team reach its’ medal target set out by UK Athletics, but even before this past weekend’s honours, the performances in the previous eight days were simply not as bad as certain corners had made it out to be.
Up until roughly 9pm on Saturday night, Britain’s medal tally at their homes worlds’ was taken up solely by one Mo Farah. Akin to Bolt, Farah was unable to go out on a high in the 5,000m, as after what had seemed the entire nation of Africa had attempted to beat the Somalian-born long-distance great over the past six years, the Ethiopians finally usurped the Briton for silver.
British medal hopes optimistic
After Farah won the first medal up for grabs at the London Stadium, a gentle trickle of podium places were expected to follow. Unfortunately however, no less than five fourth-placed finishes was all that did, during a week of initial frustration for fans and the to the increasing discomfort of watch heads of UK Athletics.
But surely initial medal hopefuls were built up to more than their reality? Medal hopes were, yes, in good form but not at the top of their game.
Women’s Hammer pin-up Sophie Hitchon was a strong hope for a repeat of the Olympic bronze she took last summer in Rio – if not better. The truth in the cold light of day was, the Burnley thrower was ranked eleventh in the world with a outside shot of a medal finish. To finish seventh then was a achievement in itself, despite Hitchon’s claims as the Briton told The Guardian;
“I’m going to beat myself up for a while after this,” she said, “that’s part of my personality and probably most athletes are the same, but maybe it just comes out in me a little bit more. I think it’s the pressure I put on myself to produce my best and I didn’t do that.
Pressure was also on the shoulders of Laura Muir in the 1500m. The Scot’s rise up the ranking as British record-holder – toppling former double Olympic champion Kelly Holmes – has seen her capable of beating the best in the world. For Muir alas, the fractured foot she sustained just two months before the championships, coupled with the exertions of the Diamond League season were in the end just a step too far.
That said however, the 24 year-old was within inches of the third step on the podium yet also in sight of Gold. For Muir – such is the nature of sport – it was all or nothing.
Agony could yet inspire
In the 200m, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake’s sterling run in his final was one of great composure for a man ranked 10th in the world this year. Coming just 0.13 seconds from third place however, felt ever more agonizing. The 23 year-old’s showing was perhaps in hindsight a spurring factor in his Golden role in the men’s relay glory on the penultimate evening in London.
The quartet of Mitchell-Blake, CJ Ujah, Adam Gemili and Danny Talbot’s win, has given the foursome a much needed shot of confidence, with belief that individual success could now follow, as Talbot told The Mirror.
“One hundred per cent we believe we can now achieve things individually,” said Talbot. “I really think we can take it to another level. Now we’ve got this gold medal together we can push each other again. None of us are in our prime. We can keep pushing forward.”
It wasn’t just the relay teams that enjoyed surprise success, surprise being the operative word. Both Callum Hawkins and Kyle Langford added to the fourth place medal haul (if only) in the men’s Marathon and 800m respectively.
With the former there was dejection. Yet having only recently recently clocked a sub-2 hr 15 min time in the London Marathon back in April to qualify for the event, the Scot was doing himself a injustice. Just a 25 second gap as the runners crossed Tower Bridge for the final time, between Hawkins and bronze medal winner Alphonce Felix Simbu.
If Hawkins was disappointed in his efforts, Langford was suitably stunned by his own, such are the margins. The 21 year-old Shaftesbury and Barnet Harrier was thrust into the spotlight, qualifying for the final and then coming of age in front of a beying Olympic Stadium crowd, just failing narrowly to overhaul the rest of the field after a surging finish on the home straight.
Langford was ranked not tenth, or eleventh in the world, but fortieth. To effectively knock a zero off the end in final classification is hugely promising for his future and for Britain, who have lacked a star at the distance since Steve Ovett in the 1980s.
Some may say that the rash of four medals on the final weekend of the world championships merely papered over the cracks, but on closer inspection and in a sport in transition, with retirements and a four-year Olympic cycle to consider, a young British squad are just starting to bare fruit. Assumed failure in London, should not even be a notion entertained.
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