The 2011 IAAF World Championships are currently being held in the city of Daegu, South Korea.
Last weekend, Amelia and I (plus 2 friends) were fortunate enough to obtain tickets for several of the showpiece events.
How was it?
I don’t want to brag (but I’m going to anyway)… it was magnificent.
We left Hwacheon early on Saturday morning (with our two South African friends – Rian and Lanelle) with a shared sense of excitement and anticipation at what lay ahead.
It was a damn sight cheaper and easier to obtain tickets than it was for London 2012. We were paying less than £60 for a weekends entertainment.
It was to be expected with my choice of attire, but over the course of the weekend I have no idea how many people I must have posed with for photographs. The Koreans were loving the Union Jack outfit. Or loving laughing at how ridiculous I looked. One of the two.
Amelia refused to dress up, she says it’s not cool. She doesn’t get patriotism very well.
There were signs that I’m slowly getting somewhere with her over the weekend though. She really was screaming for Mo Farah in the 10,000m on Sunday night.
Most people (who weren’t Korean) seemed to be dressed up wearing the colours and flag of their respective countries. There were spectators from literally every corner of the earth creating a lovely atmosphere and vibe, although at least 90% of the spectators were still Korean with a large number wearing the standard Ajumma and Ajoshi wear.
Our seats for the opening ceremony and opening nights events offered superb views. We were sat directly in front of the finish line, next to the press area with a large number of athletes also sat within our vicinity. Pretty cool.
The opening ceremony itself was impressive (See the video above, filmed by Rian from our seats).
We were disappointed to have our view of the fireworks blocked by the roof directly above us. We may as well have been watching it at home on the TV as we ended up watching the fireworks on the big screen TV anyway. Nevertheless, it was still spectacular. Just a shame they only had the fireworks at one end of the stadium. Hard luck for us I guess.
The first set of events included the women’s 400m heats.
Christine Ohuruogu, (Olympic Gold medalist in Beijing) was representing Team GB’s hopes. She was the first Brit we were going to see in action.
She was metres away from us, and I wanted to offer my support. I shouted out “Come on Christine” as they took their starting position, forgetting that at Athletics events silence is expected prior to the starting pistol being fired.
As fate would have it, a matter of seconds after I had shouted my words of encouragement, Christine ‘false-started’ and was subsequently disqualified.
No warning, nothing. She was out.
All her hard work and sacrifice over the previous two years had been for nothing, she hadn’t even gotten to compete. It was her own fault, she is a world-class athlete who should know better.
However, this didn’t detract from feeling a slight element of guilt that she may have heard me, and it somehow inadvertently affected her concentration. Our South African friends didn’t make me feel much better about it!
Christine was understandably emotional at having been eliminated..
This was the trigger for the first of my many ramblings and rants concerning this new false-start rule that would blight the weekend and cast a dark shadow over the entire Championships. In fact it will probably be what these Championships are best remembered for.
It just didn’t seem fair, it was unnecessarily harsh. They may be world-class athletes who should know better, but they’re still only human. At least give them a chance.
The frequency and veracity of my rants would only get worse until it came to a head on Sunday night. More about that later….
After the 400m, we saw numerous other events. A Kenyan gold, silver and bronze in the women’s 10,000m and then it was the 100m heats.
We got to see the man that we had all came to see, arguably the greatest individual showman to grace sport since Mohammed Ali – Usain Bolt.
He didn’t disappoint, Bolt received a raucous welcome from the 65,000 strong crowd when his name was announced.
The race itself was over in a little over 10 seconds, far short of the World Record 9.58seconds he’d ran in Berlin two years earlier. That didn’t matter, he’d progressed to the semi-final having blown the field away in the first 70m, before he was so comfortably ahead he slowed down for the last 30 metres or so. It looked all too easy.
We had a magnificent view, he was stood just metres in front of us. He was so close. The crowd applauded, he played to the cameras, he waved to us. It was exhilarating. Very few people get to see Usain Bolt run the 100m in a world event like this. Everybody present felt incredibly blessed. And this was only the heats.
We befriended two comical, charismatic Italian guys, Stefano and Enzo from Turin. They were equally in awe as we were. We were buzzing, we’d just seen Usain Bolt run the 100m, the opening ceremony to the second biggest athletics event after the Olympics and numerous other world-class athletes and Olympians competing to be World Champions.
I found myself, like Stefano and Enzo trying to put perspective on it. As a child I’d watched Donavon Bailey set the 100m world record in the Atalanta 1996 Olympics, Kathy Freeman win the 400m gold in Sydney 2000, and more recently Usain Bolt set a new world record in the Berlin World Championships in 2009. Never did I imagine then, that I’d actually be watching him defend the same world title barely two years later in South Korea. Life is good.
The stadium emptied as soon as Bolt had finished for the evening, as if we didn’t know who the star attraction was – we certainly did now.
We stuck around for the 400m of the Mens Decathlon, before hauling ourselves off to bed.
Sunday morning, we returned to the stadium. The highlight for me was seeing the South African Oscar Pistorious compete in the 400m. We were witness to athletics history.
Here was a man who had no legs. He’d been born with a condition that rendered his legs useless, and would have to be amputated when he was a small child. Yet here was a man, competing in the 400m, against all the odds and tremendous adversity, with the fastest able-bodied men in the world.
This was the first time a ‘disabled’ athlete had competed on a global stage with able-bodied athletes. The hairs on the back of my neck were more than raised. It was inspiring.
His reception from the crowd was comparable to Bolts. Everybody was willing him on, hoping and wishing him well.
He did himself proud. He finished third and progressed to the semi-finals. Cue huge cheers and applause from the crowd.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a film made about him one day, for he has one hell of a story to tell.
We hung around the stadium in the afternoon, absorbing the atmosphere, posing for pictures and generally enjoying ourselves.
We braced ourselves for the excitement of what lay ahead in the evenings events. In particular, I’d pinned high hopes on Britain’s Mo Farah achieving a gold medal in the mens 10,000m and dreamt of singing-a-long to a rendition of ‘God Save The Queen’ as he was awarded the gold medal.
The race itself was thrilling, Mo put in a splendid performance and was in a strong position throughout. Every time he ran past us we screamed “Go Mo” and waved our Union Jacks and banner. Mo went for it in the last 400m, and was on for gold until the he was pipped to the finish line by an Ethiopian in the last few metres. The stadium was in raptures cheering as Mo and the Ethiopian battled it out for the gold medal. I even got the Koreans sat next to me cheering for our Mo.
Sadly, there was to be no rendition of ‘God Save The Queen’, but Mo had done us all proud and won our first medal of the games.
Prior to that, we’d seen Dwain Chambers also disqualified for a false start in the 100m semi-final. He looked devastated and I ranted some more about the stupid false-start rule. There’s no justice in it. Now two of our best athletes had been disqualified for false-starts. The saddest thing about Chambers disqualification was that he’d barely moved, he hadn’t even left the blocks. At least with Christine shed’ blatantly false-started.
After Mo, it was the final event of the mens decathlon, the 1500m. These guys are probably the fittest men on the planet, they have to be strong, fit, fast and flexible. They are the ultimate athletes. It’s quite incredible watching them compete in such a wide variety of events. Understandably, most of them collapsed with exhaustion at the finish line (I think most people would after competing in 10 events over 2 days). It was an American 1, 2 with a Cuban taking the bronze.
We’d seen Usain Bolt win comfortably in his 100m semi-final earlier in the evening. Before we knew it, it was time for the showpiece event of Athletics.
The men’s 100m final.
The line-up was depleted as Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Steve Mullings and Mike Rogers had all been forced to withdraw because of injury or suspension. The chances of a world record were slim, and Bolt winning the 100m was considered a formality.
As the athletes prepared for the race, the atmosphere was electric. A sense of excitement and expectation gripped us all. This was the moment we had been waiting for. The men’s 100m final, Usain Bolt to retain his 100m crown, and maybe set a good time whilst he’s at it.
Bolt was his usual relaxed self, playing to the crowd and cameras. This was what we’d paid to see.
Nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen. Ironically, I had still been moaning about the stupid false-start rule prior to the race. We’d been joking about what would happen if Bolt false-started seconds before. Could you imagine it? To us, it was unthinkable.
The athletes took their starting positions on the blocks.
Suddenly, they were off. Then they stopped just as quickly. Bolt had ripped his shirt off instantly in frustration and disbelief, recognising his error before anyone else had time to grasp what had happened. Photographers were dashing from the finish line to capture the moment. There was a gasp from the crowd, utter disbelief. Nobody could quite believe it. We all knew who it was, but hoped it wasn’t.
The unthinkable had happened… Usain Bolt had false-started.
Surely they can’t disqualify Usain Bolt, surely?
No sooner had we begun to grasp what had happened it was announced over the public speakers, “Usain Bolt has been disqualified”. The crowd fell into an eerie silence as chaotic scenes and confusion unfolded in front of our eyes. Nobody could quite believe it.
I found myself jeering at the top of my voice at a volume I hadn’t managed since Dennis Wise returned to Leicester with Millwall in December 2002.
I wasn’t jeering at Bolt letting us all down – for he undoubtedly had. In my eyes, he is still a hero and should have had a second chance.
My frustration was directed at the stupid petty rule that had deprived the world of seeing a true champion and superstar compete in such a prestigious event. Despite his success and superstar status Bolt is only human, he isn’t some mutant speed god after all.
There was a strong sense of emptiness and disappointment that loomed over the stadium. We had all been denied the chance of seeing the star attraction in the star event.
The 100m final went ahead without Bolt; most people barely noticed.
Yohan Blake won, credit to him. Sadly, few will consider him a World Champion in the true sense of the word, unless he defeats Bolt in next years Olympics. It’s a shame, because he had a realistic chance of defeating Bolt. Now there will always be question marks as to the validity of his title.
In the stadium, Blake’s victory was an irrelevance. All talk was focused on Bolt as we tried to comprehend what had happened and vented our frustrations at the stupid, illogical rule that had ruined what would have been a magnificent spectacle.
The disappointment, frustration and disgust felt by all present was apparent. People left in their droves as soon as the final was over. Largely in silence, stunned by the turn of events they had witnessed.
Below is a video clip taken by Rian of Bolt’s false-start. You get a good sense of ours, and the crowds disbelief.
We will always be able to say “I was there” but not because Usain Bolt set a new world record and retained his world title as we had all hoped.
Instead we will always say “I was there” because the reigning Olympic, World Champion and World Record holder, the fastest human that has ever lived, was disqualified from the World 100m final.
Because of a petulant, unjust rule, that was created purely for the benefit of TV Executives who complain that false-starts disrupt their scheduling of shows.
It would be a crime against sport to ever allow this to happen again, and I truly hope that people see sense and this doesn’t happen in London next year. For that would be a tragedy.
Despite the disappointment, it was a truly magnificent spectacle and experience. I’d always liked watching athletics on the TV during the Olympics and World Championships before, but I’d never actively followed it. I think two days in Daegu may have changed that now.
For those of you going to London next year, I can’t even begin to imagine how incredible that will be.
The World Championships were captivating, but the Olympics will be on a totally different scale – grander, bigger and infinitely more spectacular.