Sports: Peru, Japan, Dominican Republic make golden start in World Athletics

Peru has every reason to feel jubilant as 20 km walker Kimberley Garcia won country’s first ever medal in the World Athletics championship. Other than Kimberley’s feat, the opening day of the World Athletics Championships at Eugene saw the Dominic Republic winning 4X400 mixed team’s relay pushing the hosts and favourite the US to the third spot while Japanese male walkers continued their supremacy in 20 km event with a gold and silver.

For India, the Championships started on a sour note as shot putter Tejinderpal Singh Toor was a disappointment and long jumpers Jaswin Aldrin Johnson and Mohammed Anees Yahya failed to qualify with jumps of 7.79 and 7.73 m, respectively.

Walkers Priyanka in women’s section, finished 34thwhile Sandeep Kumar in men’s section was placed 40th.

Peru’s Kimberley Garcia dealt with everything the Chinese favourites could throw at her in the women’s 20km race walk before pulling clear over the final third of the race to claim the first gold medal of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.

No Peruvian has ever won a medal at these championships, but Garcia, who took silver at the 2019 Pan American Games on home soil in Lima, provided her country with huge reason for pride after moving decisively away from the Chinese race walker with whom she shared the lead for the bulk of the race, 2012 Olympic champion Qieyang Shijie.

As temperatures on the one-kilometre loop on Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in the east of Eugene’s city centre rose towards 28C, the 31-year-old Qieyang, who won world silver in the humid heat of Doha three years ago, dropped back in the closing kilometres as Poland’s Katarzyna Zdzieblo came through for second place.

Garcia smashed the national record of 1:28:38 she set earlier this year as she finished in 1:26:58.

Zdzieblo also set a national record, finishing in 1:27:31, with Qieyang holding on to earn a second bronze to the one she claimed in 2011 as she clocked 1:27:56.

Australia’s Commonwealth champion Jemima Montag missed the podium by one place in 1:28:17, finishing one place ahead of China’s defending champion Liu Hong, who had been seeking a fifth consecutive title but missed out as she finished in 1:29:00, having dropped off the lead after the opening four kilometres.

Toshikazu Yamanishi produced a storming final kilometre lap to overcome his Japanese teammate Koki Ikeda and become only the third man in World Championships history to successfully defend the 20km race walk title.

A student of physics at Kyoto University, Yamanishi judged his tactics to perfection to win the first men’s event to be decided at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 in hot and humid conditions.

Whittling down the pack by degrees with a series of surges, the 26-year-old Olympic bronze medallist emerged victorious from what turned into a head-to-head with Ikeda by uncorking a devastating 3:40 final kilometre on the last of 20 punishing circuits of Martin Luther King Jnr Boulevard.

Crossing the line seven seconds clear in 1:19:07, Yamanishi retained the title he claimed in Doha three years ago, becoming the third multiple winner of the 20km world title after Italy’s Maurizio Damilano (1987 and 1991) and Ecuador’s Jefferson Perez (2003, 2005 and 2007).

For Ikeda, the runner-up in 1:19:14, it was a second global silver medal in 12 months, the 24-year-old having finished second to Italy’s Massimo Stano in the Olympic 20km race walk in Sapporo a year ago.

The battle for bronze was equally dramatic.

Third behind Yamanishi and Ikeda at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat in March, Kenya’s Samuel Gathimba looked on course for an even more meaningful bronze as he led Perseus Karlstrom into the final circuit. The 34-year-old had to settle for fourth place, however, as the big Swede produced a 3:41 last lap.

Karlstrom matched the bronze he achieved in Doha, clocking 1:19:18, with the gallant Gathimba fourth in 1:19:25 – a huge advance of Kenya’s previous highest placing in the event, 26th.

Ecuador’s Pan American Games champion Brian Pintado was fifth in 1:19:34 and Brazil’s 2017 world bronze medallist Caio Bonfim sixth in 1:19.51.

The event of the day was 4×400 m mixed relay. Had the race been 10 metres shorter, it may have gone in the USA’s favour. 10 metres longer and perhaps the Netherlands would be the champions. But Dominican Republic timed their efforts to perfection in winning the mixed 4x400m at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, catching the USA just before the line and holding off a fast-finishing Dutch team.

Over the past 12 months, four teams in particular have dominated this discipline. The same teams that occupied the top four spots at the Olympic Games last year were once again in the medal hunt here at Hayward Field, only the finishing order was different.

This time, the Dominican Republic – a nation of just 10.8 million people – defeated some of the superpowers of the sport, clocking the second-fastest time in history, 3:09.82.

Elija Godwin got the host nation off to a strong start, covering the first lap in 44.71 – a full second quicker than the next-best lead-leg runner – and handed over to Allyson Felix with a significant lead, prompting the loudest cheer of the day from the home crowd. By the time the legendary US sprinter was half way around the track, she had a lead of about 15 metres on her rivals.

But Dominican Republic’s Marileidy Paulino, who took silver just ahead of Felix in the individual 400m in Tokyo last year, came charging around the final bend and made up the significant gap on the 2015 world 400m champion, catching her just before the line to put Dominican Republic’s Alexander Ogando in the lead.

Paulino’s split was later confirmed at 48.47. Felix, timed at 50.15 for her leg, handed over to teammate Vernon Norwood. Lieke Klaver, meanwhile, ran a 49.32 split to put the Netherlands back into contention. Further behind, Jamaica and Olympic champions Poland were trying to chase the top three but struggling to make any impact.

Norwood clocked a 44.40 split – the fastest of the race – to put the USA back in the lead going into the final leg. But Ogando (45.12) and Dutch 800m specialist Tony van Diepen (45.13) ran solid legs to keep their teams in contention.

US anchor leg runner Kennedy Simon went out hard on the final leg and opened up a significant gap on Fiordaliza Cofil of the Dominican Republic and Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medallist Femke Bol of the Netherlands. At one point it seemed as though Simon’s lead would be safe, but Cofil started to gain on the US anchor on the home straight, while a long-striding Bol had both runners in her sights.

The home crowd did their best to support Simon in the closing stages, but her early exuberance proved costly and Cofil caught her just a few metres before the line, securing gold for the Dominican Republic in 3:09.82 – the second-fastest time in history and just half a second shy of USA’s world record from the 2019 World Championships. A split second later, Bol then came charging through to also pass Simon, giving Netherlands the silver medal in 3:09.90 ahead of the USA (3:10.16).

Poland, triumphant in Tokyo 12 months ago, this time finished outside the medals in fourth with 3:12.31, just ahead of Jamaica (3:12.71). Nigeria (3:16.21), Italy (3:16.45) and Ireland (3:16.86) rounded out the finalists.

It was Dominican Republic’s third gold medal in World Championships history, behind the two titles won by 400m hurdler Felix Sanchez.

“We are a small country, but we have a big heart,” said Dominican Republic’s lead leg runner Lidio Andres Felix.

“We did a great job as a team and I hope we can achieve another good result in Paris (2024),” added Paulino. “The Dominican Republic has a lot of talent, not just in baseball. I have a lot of admiration for Allyson Felix; we ran together in the Tokyo Olympic final.”

And while it may not have been the result the host nation was looking for, Felix still made history by winning a record 19th World Championships medal. She also broke records for the number of World Championships at which she has won a medal (eight) and for the longest span of medal-winning years (17).

“It was very special to be able to run in front of a home crowd for my last race, and my daughter was also in the stands,” said Felix. “It was a night I will cherish. I’ve had such good memories. I know it is time and these guys will carry it on into the future. I am at peace stepping into this next stage and have tremendous gratitude for this sport.”