The women’s 100 meter sprinters got the Tokyo Olympic athletics program off to explosive start on Friday as the morning heats delivered a series of scorching times to suggest even bigger things to come once medals are at stake.
It was slightly surreal to hear the crack of a 100m starting pistol accompanied by virtual silence, yet the first day of the Games’ No.1 sport still managed to deliver something of a buzz.
The varied seat colors took the visual edge off the sad sight of a huge but largely deserted stadium. Helping to create an atmosphere were pockets of teammates and officials, the stadium announcer and the background hum of scores of TV commentators speaking excitedly in a full spectrum of languages.
There is always a frisson around the 100 meters, and defending champion Elaine Thompson-Herah showed that she is not going to stand aside to hand a hat-trick of titles to compatriot Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce when she posted a hugely impressive 10.82 seconds. Fraser-Pryce was in cruise mode for 10.84.
Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast set an African record of 10.78 as the combination of a fast track and new spike technology suggested we might be in for something special in the final on Saturday, when the men also begin their heats.
Similarly lip-smacking is the men’s 400m hurdles, where a world record is widely expected in a showdown between Norway’s double world champion and new record holder Karsten Warholm and his American rival Rai Benjamin, who both cruised through their opening round.
“I think [the world record] will be broken on Tuesday and it’s going to take that to win, that’s for sure,” said American Kenneth Selmon, who also qualified for Sunday’s semi-finals.
The women’s 800m, right in the spotlight of the “intersex athlete” debate, looks as if it could also be a great race, as the main contenders advanced from the opening round in the absence of all three banned Rio medalists.
Double-champion Caster Semenya and the two she shared the podium with in 2016 were all ruled ineligible due to heightened testosterone levels, leaving the “level playing field” other female athletes had been demanding.
As a result, the Americans have high hopes of the first win since 1968. Their trio of Athing Mu, Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers all looked good in progressing, as did Britain’s Jemma Reekie and Keely Hodgkinson. Jamaica’s Natoya Goule was the fastest qualifier for Saturday’s semi-finals.
If there is one constant at the Olympics it is that Kenya will win the men’s steeplechase, but their charge towards a 10th successive gold might have to overcome the considerable obstacle of Ethiopia’s 20-year-old Lamecha Girma, who posted the fastest time of the brisk qualifying session with 8:09.83.
It was “one and done” for Sweden’s world champion Daniel Stahl, who only needed a single attempt to achieve the qualifying standard for the men’s discus final. Meanwhile, Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim kicked off his bid to add a high-jump gold to his silver and bronze from the last two Games with a smooth qualification.
The highlight of Friday’s evening session will be the men’s 10,000m final, when Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei is heavily favored to add Olympic gold to his world title and world record, along with the heats of the inaugural 4x400m mixed relay.
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