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Aries Merritt, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

When it comes to global competitions in track & field, there is enjoyment both in anticipating a great athletic gathering and in witnessing the competition in person. But there is also lasting pleasure in remembering and looking back on the dozens of memorable, witnessed moments that inevitably emerge as the athletes from all nations do battle on the track and in the field. Notwithstanding the disturbingly high number of disappointments that plagued Team USA, the 15th IAAF Championship In Athletics provided more than its share of great performances - some from Americans and even more from others - that will long be remembered. While your list may well be different, here is my ranking - in ascending order - of my Top 10 Beijing Moments:

10. A Most Unlikely Medalist: Emily Infeld Swipes Bronze In w10,000: Global championship 10,000 meter races are often quite tactical, but this one was very pedestrian. Kilometer splits hovering between 3:08 - 3:17 allowed most competitors to stay in the hunt. And with only a precious few laps remaining, all three Americans - Molly Huddle, Shalane Flanagan, and Emily Infeld - were in the mix. Over the final kilometer, Vivian Cheruiyot and Gelete Burka battled up front for the victory which would ultimately by claimed by Cheruiyot [31:41.31]. Huddle - the 5000 meter American record holder - ran a valiant final circuit and came off the final turn with the bronze within her grasp. But as the former Notre Dame athlete slowed near the finish line, preparing to raise her arms in a celebratory gesture of accomplishment, global team newbie Infeld saw her opportunity. With a cat-like burst in the final meters, the former Georgetown athlete made a quick surge on the inside to nip her surprised teammate by .09 seconds. While a disconsolate Huddle [41:43.58] was gracious in the mixed zone, the jubilant Infeld [31:43.49] proclaimed, "I just ran through the line. I feel a little guilty because I feel like Molly let up a little. I don't think she realized how close I was. I was just trying to run through the line. I'm really thrilled."

9. Wayde van Niekerk Wins A 400m For The Ages: The men's 400m final was initially viewed to be a showdown between Olympic champion Kirani James and defending world titlist LaShawn Merritt. As it turned out, it will likely rank as one the most electrifying 400 meter races of all time. Van Niekirk's winning clocking of 43.48 gives him the #6 performance and ranks the South African as the #4 performer of all time. Despite his unsuccessful title defense, silver medalist Merritt - running blind in Lane 9 - found solace in improving his PR to 43.65. "It was a great final and I ran a personal best. It was a long season for me, but to go out and run a personal best and still get a silver lets me know there's some amazing talent in this 400 right now," stated Merritt afterward. "I'll take the personal best. I'll take the silver and shine it up and add it to my collection." James hit the line in a season's best 43.78 to get up for the bronze. Luguelin Santos [44.11] set a Dominican Republic national record in finishing 4th. The race produced the fastest all-time clockings for places 2 through 4.

8. Mo Farah's 3rd Consecutive Global Distance Double: Adding further luster to his reputation as the consummate championship distance racer, Great Britain's Mohammed Farah combined pacing patience with his legendary kick to claim two more global crowns with later-surge victories in both the 5,000 and 10,000. In the opening day 10,000 meter final, Farah - who glided smoothly and allowed others to set the early pace - used a long drive over 1200 meters [3:00.6] to repel the Kenyan trio of Kamworor, Tanui, and Karoki to capture the title. And in the 5000, the Brit employed another withering drive over the final three laps - which included a final kilometer in 2:19 and a last 800 meters in 1:48 - which could not be matched by any of his calculating African competitors. Global distance racers will now go back to the drawing board as they have yet to find the championship racing formula to vanquish the indomitable Englishman. The double is Farah's third consecutive set of twin distance titles in global gatherings which now includes the last two world championships and the 2012 Olympic Games.

7. Allyson Felix's Dominating 400 Meter Win: After her mid-summer abandonment of the quest for a possible 200m/400m world championship sprint double, Allyson Felix - USA's dash queen - focused on the 400m. Running up front, in control, and with enhanced pacing in each of her consecutive races, the reigning Olympic 200m champion looked relaxed in the first two rounds. Running with even more determined focus in the final, Felix was relatively unchallenged as she led wire-to-wire to clock a PR world-leading 49.26 - #17 on the all-time world list - and grab her first world championship gold at 400m. "It gives me confidence in my fitness. It's something Bobby (Kersee) had been telling me all year long, just to trust in it and prove that I can do the process. I can train and execute my race plan," explained Felix. "It's my first 400 title. It's a huge blessing. I felt like I was finally able to put together what I needed to do to execute." Felix's victory further burnishes her legacy as the one of the greatest and most versatile long sprinters of all time.

6. Tianna Bartoletta Snatches LJ Gold On Final Jump: Ten years after capturing her first world championship long jump crown, Tianna Bartoletta showed she still has the skill, the athletic longevity, and the clutch 6th round grittiness as she claimed her second global wLJ title. Despite coming into the championships with the world leading jump of 7.12m [23'4½"] and as the final unfolded, the lead-off runner on the USA's 2012 gold medal and world record setting 4 x 100 relay team had mustered a best leap of 6.95m [22"9¾"] - a mark that left her trailing Great Britain's Sharon Proctor [7.07m/23'2½"] and Serbia's Ivana Spanovic [7.01m/23'0"] after 5 rounds. On her final attempt - and with her back against the wall - the former University of Tennessee athlete unleashed her tremendous runway speed to stretch out to 7.14m [23'5¼"] - a distance good enough to recapture the #1 position on the world leader board and to win the World Championship gold medal. "Yesterday I was quite timid on the runway. Everyone was saying how fast the track is and I didn't want to foul because it would be absolutely horrible to foul out in the qualifying round," offered the new champion. "Today I thought, 'Just leave that fear behind.' I told my husband this morning, 'Okay, I'm not scared, I know what it feels like, I'm just going to go for it.'"

5. Usain's 5th Bolt Slam: Over the past 7 years, Jamaica's Usain Bolt has developed a certain habit of collecting global championship gold medals in the 100m, the 200m, and the 4 x100m relay - a sprint hat trick sometimes referred to as "the Bolt Slam." While Bolt had previously performed the Slam in two Olympics and two World Championships heading into these Beijing championships, doubts emerged as to whether or not Bolt - who basically took a sabbatical in 2014 and had struggled with a few nagging injuries in this campaign - could once again replicate the dash feat in the Bird's Nest. American sprint star Justin Gatlin - ranked #1 in the world in both the 100m and 200m in 2014 - was at the top of his game. And there were even rumors that Bolt might not even perform in Beijing. Not to worry. Bolt came - and he came ready to run. Aided by an ill-timed lean by Gatlin in the 100m final, Bolt captured the century gold in 9.79. And in the 200m final when Bolt came off the curve with a slight lead over Gatlin, everyone knew it was curtains for the American. Bolt won in a breeze in world leading 19.55. It looked like the sprint legend might be tested in the 4 x 100 relay final when two solid stick passes by the Americans gave the Team USA a meaningful lead heading toward the final exchange. But a homestretch battle between Bolt and USA anchor Mike Rodgers was ruined when the diminutive American took off w-a-a-a-y too early - a mistake that led to Team USA's DQ. Even though some unintended assistance through a few USA gaffes aided Bolt in accomplishing his 5th Bolt Slam, is there anybody remaining in the Milky Way Galaxy who doesn't agree that Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter of all time?

4. Christian Taylor's 6th Round American Record Triple Jump: Christian Taylor, the reigning Olympic triple jump gold medalist, showed why he is a champion. The final turned out to be a battle between Taylor and Cuba's Pedro Pichardo. The Cuban grabbed the early lead spanning 17.60m/57'9" - a mark Taylor matched in his 3rd round attempt. The American then grabbed the lead in the 4th round with a hop, skip, and jump of 17.68m/58'¼". But Taylor truly sealed the win with a 6th round bomb of 18.21m/59'9" - an American record, surpassing Kenny Harrison's 1996 record leap of 18.09/59'4¼" and second only to the WR mark of 18.29m/60'¼" set in 1995 by Great Britain's Jonathan Edwards. "God was good and He's always coming through," declared the new champion after the competition. "Sometimes, mentally, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. But Rana (Reider) told me to open up my mind, trust the training, trust the process and the crowd went wild," revealed Taylor, whose takeoff on the record jump was reportedly 11 centimeters behind the front edge of the board. "I knew I couldn't celebrate too much because Pichardo had one more jump. For everything to line up at the World Championships is what it's all about."

3. Shawn Barber's Gripping Pole Vault Victory: In the men's pole vault, favored French athlete Renaud Lavillenie - the world record holder and reigning Olympic champion - had been receiving all of the pre-meet attention. But collegian Shawn Barber - the lightly-touted Canadian - had quietly been elevating his game throughout the year. Beginning 2015 with his PR clearance set at 5.66m / 18'6¾", the University of Akron junior steadily improved his best to 5.93m / 19'5¼". Along the way, the Bowerman finalist re-set the collegiate pole vault record 4 times, claimed the fabled Armory's facility record, won two more NCAA titles, successfully defended his Canadian national title, lifted his own Canadian national record, won the Pan Am Games vault title, and defeated LaVillenie at the Drake Relays. In the Championship final, the dual citizenship vaulter - the youngest competitor in the field - jumped cleanly through 5.90m/19'4¼"] as Lavillenie and three other remaining challengers went three and out at that height. Only a third attempt clearance by defending champion Raphael Holzdeppe kept the competition alive. With the bar raised to 6.00m / 19'8¼" - a height neither of the two remaining vaulters had ever cleared - the battle raged on. Both athletes failed in their first two attempts. And when the leader Barber missed on his third attempt to end his evening, he was forced to watch helplessly as Holzdeppe had one final shot to grab the gold. When the German's third attempt dislodged the bar, the world championship crown went Barber. With the press, Barber explained his thoughts as the defending champion took his final attempt at 6.00m: "I knew that whatever happened, I was already on the podium. And if he [Holzdeppe] would jump 6 meters, he was more than welcome to the top of the podium."

2. Ashton Easton's World Record Decathlon: Several days before the start of the world championships, word spread that a world record attempt in the decathlon was on. While PR's by Ashton Eaton earlier in the summer in both the 400m [45.55] and the pole vault [5.45 / 17'10½"] made this rumor plausible, reaction was generally subdued in recognition that such record attempts in the hazardous 10-event competition often go awry. Expectations were further dampened early on when Eaton - who long jumped 8.23m / 27'0" in setting the WR in 2012 - could muster only 7.88m / 25'10¼" in the deca's second event. But when the Olympic champion closed Day One with a 45.00 clocking in the 400m - a decathlon world best - expectations were once again elevated. Eaton's first day point total of 4703 was only 25 points behind his WR pace with Day Two remaining. The WR holder soldiered on through track & field's most grueling event, losing a little ground on record pace as the second day wore on. But in the 9th event when Eaton popped a 63.63 / 208'9" heave in the javelin to put him 28 points ahead of record pace, you could feel the electricity in the Bird's Nest. Word spread quickly that Eaton - who closed his earlier record performance with a clocking of 4:14.48 in the 1500 - would need only to run 4:18.25 or better to break his own world mark. A focused - but nonetheless tired - Eaton began the final event with caution. And when the former Oregon athlete hit 1200 meters in a behind-pace 3:32, most thought the record opportunity had slipped away. But the Nike athlete had more to give. Covering the final 300 meters in sub-45 seconds, Eaton hit the line in 4:17.59 - just .73 seconds below the clocking he needed to reset his world mark. While Eaton's point total of 9045 eclipsed his prior WR mark by a mere 6 points, it further affirmed his unofficial title as The World's Greatest Athlete.

1. Aries Merritt's Dramatic Medal Performance: Those who follow track and field closely had been confounded by the inexplicable performance drop by American hurdle star Aries Merritt. After a dominating year in 2012 - when Merritt captured gold medals in the hurdles at the World Indoor Championship and the Olympic Games and capped off the year with a flawless and breathtaking world record hurdle clocking of 12.80 in Brussels - the young star's career had been in a tailspin. Just before the commencement of the World Championships, we learned why. After Merritt's arrival in China and his advising the IAAF top brass, word came that the Olympic champion has been struggling with a rare and critically-threatening kidney ailment that would require a transplant shortly after the conclusion of the championships. Merritt - one of the most engaging and likable athletes on the circuit - was quick to acknowledge the immediate lift he had been receiving through broad-based support from his friend, fans, and others once news of his health issue was released. "I've gotten a lot of support from my fans - and from people I don't even know," revealed Merritt. "They just come up and say, 'We support you. We're so inspired' And it is just a blessing to have so many supporters." Competing in the Championships with only 20% kidney functionality, Merritt somehow advanced through the hurdle rounds, winning his first two races. His winning time of 13.08 in his semi-final represented his best clocking in two years. When asked why he is now starting to look like the Merritt of old, the hurdle star confessed, "I have no idea." In the final, Merritt ran a clean, error-free race and from somewhere summoned the speed and the will to cross the line third in yet another season best time of 13.04. After the race, Merritt - poised to immediately fly back to the States and just days away from receiving a kidney transplant - declared, "This bronze medal will shine brighter than my Olympic gold." Everyone knew why.

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Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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