Track and field

The joyful essence of track and field -- more, please

The joyful essence of track and field -- more, please

LONDON — If you don’t know the rules of steeplechase, here’s a quick crash course, and crash is the word because spills are not uncommon. The runners run 3000 meters. That’s 1.8 miles. There are 28 barriers — that’s the precise word — and seven water jumps.

If you know who Horace Ashenfelter is, call the producers at Jeopardy. You can win a lot of money.

If you don’t, which means you’re not one of Mr. Ashenfelter’s relatives or, otherwise, an all-consumed track and field geek, this: in the biggest surprise of the 2017 IAAF track and field world championships, which wound to a close Sunday, bigger than Justin Gatlin winning, bigger than Usain Bolt and Mo Farah losing, an American, Emma Coburn, won the women’s steeplechase, immediately followed across the line by another American, Courtney Frerichs.

Such great stories -- how to reach would-be track fans?

Such great stories -- how to reach would-be track fans?

LONDON — Usain Bolt lost. Mo Farah lost. So what?

A mesmerizing show like Saturday’s is all that is great about track and field. Stars. Action galore. A roaring and appreciative crowd in a landmark venue.

Awesome. Truly awesome.

The sun comes up Sunday on a new day, and with it the close of these 2017 IAAF world championships. Bask if you want in the glow if you are given to sentimentality. The realist knows that when the party is over, it is over, and on the track the Bolt and Farah show is over.

Here's why track and field needs to change

Here's why track and field needs to change

LONDON — Coming into these 2017 IAAF world championships, the American Fred Kerley was the next big thing in the men’s 400.

More precisely, Fred Kerley of Texas A&M was the next big thing. He came to London having run 15 individual 400s in 2017. He had won 15.

It didn’t go Kerley’s way in the 400 final. He finished seventh, a result pre-figured in the semifinal, when he just barely qualified for the final on time. This is not to beat on Kerley. Just the opposite. It’s to pay him respect. He’s 22, and — counting the rounds and the final here — he ran 18 400s this year, plus a bunch of relays, plus some 200s to boot.

On Isaac Makwala: why let facts spoil righteous outrage?

On Isaac Makwala: why let facts spoil righteous outrage?

LONDON — So this is what it has come to: a television personality and three former athletes in high dudgeon interrogating a learned medical doctor on the BBC in a segment of car crash-style TV that encapsulates so much of what passes in 2017 for dialogue in the public arena. On the one hand, rational, even scientific, thought begging to be heard. On the other, know-it-all counterpoint rooted in grievance and conflict.

The flashpoint at these 2017 IAAF world championships: an apparent outbreak of norovirus. Public Health England issued a statement late Thursday saying it had “been made aware of approximately 40 people reporting illness,” three confirmed by lab testing as norovirus.

Appreciating genuine greatness when it -- she -- is right in front of us

Appreciating genuine greatness when it -- she -- is right in front of us

LONDON — It can be difficult sometimes, living as we do in the here and now, to appreciate the gift of genuine greatness when it — more accurately, she — is right in front of us.

There are so many demands on our attention, so many cries that so-and-so or such-and-such is the next big thing, the coming huge star. We whipsaw from this to that and back to this again, mesmerized, tantalized, titillated by the paparazzi-hounded, TMZ-stylized comings and goings of the larger-than-life, the outlandish, the can-you-top-this, the freak show at the club at 3 in the morning or maybe was it 4, dude, I forget.

When we say we want our kids to grow up and be someone like Allyson Felix.

The 2017 IAAF world championships disconnect

The 2017 IAAF world championships disconnect

LONDON — No matter if it’s sports or what journalists call hard news, all young reporters learn early on a truism. Whether it’s a big court case, a political race or a major sports event like these 2017 IAAF track and field world championships or an NFL Super Bowl, there are always — always — at least two storylines.

There’s the action itself.

And then there’s what’s happening around it.

With the 2017 worlds nearing the halfway mark, it’s entirely unclear whether they seem destined to be remembered for the track and field itself, which truly has been remarkable if not historic.

A lifetime ban for athletes for doping is a non-starter, and other cultural differences

A lifetime ban for athletes for doping is a non-starter, and other cultural differences

LONDON — The marathon course here at these 2017 IAAF world championships started and finished at Tower Bridge. Just a few steps away, of course, is Tower Hill, where the likes of Anne Boleyn met her fate.

It’s fascinating, those historical and cultural markers that, in turn, frame — consciously or otherwise — national identity.

In Britain, one might argue, right is right, wrong is wrong, rules are rules, black is black, white is white. When you make a mistake, it’s off with your head. You wonder why the Pilgrims wanted out? The United States, by definition, is a land of second chances. The American national narrative  — the founding national story, told over and again — is redemption.

To be clear: find fault all you want with these oversimplifications. Detail, if you please, the countless exceptions.

The truth: Justin Gatlin, from despair to destiny

The truth: Justin Gatlin, from despair to destiny

LONDON — They introduced Justin Gatlin to the Olympic Stadium crowd here Sunday evening, just before they put a gold medal around his neck, before The Star-Spangled Banner played in his honor, and along with some cheers a chorus of boos rang out.

The cheers — great. The boos — this fell somewhere between disappointing and reprehensible. Olympic-style sport is not the English Premier League, the NFL or NBA. It is supposed to be about promoting three key values: friendship, excellence and respect.

Saturday’s men’s 100-meter final immediately became arguably the biggest gold-medal victory in the history of the event. Gatlin defeated the sport’s biggest legend, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. It’s how the race will forever be remembered: who beat Bolt, and in Bolt’s last individual 100? Gatlin. And who, before Saturday, was the last guy ever to beat Bolt? Gatlin, in Rome in 2013.

Justin Gatlin: an all-time tale of redemption and respect

Justin Gatlin: an all-time tale of redemption and respect

LONDON — Act II of the morality play shall now commence, and if there is justice in this world, let it rain Justin Gatlin’s way. He is deserving, more than deserving, of your appreciation and, more, your respect.

A few days ago, before the start of these 2017 IAAF world championships, Usain Bolt had said he was both “unbeatable” and “unstoppable,” adding, “Without a doubt. If I show up at a championship, you know that I’m ready to go.”

Without a doubt, the track and field establishment wanted Bolt — king of the scene, a “genius,” according to IAAF president Sebastian Coe — to win Saturday night’s 100 meters, Bolt’s last hurrah, the final competitive 100 the greatest sprinter humankind has ever seen had said he intended to run.

Farah. Mo Farah. Knight of the realm, for running fast

Farah. Mo Farah. Knight of the realm, for running fast

LONDON — Five years ago, the London Summer Olympics opened with a happy and glorious riff, Daniel Craig reprising his role as James Bond, escorting Her Majesty the Queen out to the royal helicopter, where it then wheeled above cheering crowds in the sun-splashed city below (hello!) and then under Tower Bridge to Olympic Stadium.

From the moment the “queen” and “007” jumped out of that copter, Mo Farah, the Somali-born British distance runner, has gone on to win the Olympic distance double-double thunderball, first in London and then in Rio, the men’s 5,000 and 10,000. For his efforts, the queen on January 1 of this year made Farah a Knight of the Realm. Pretty heady stuff.

The problem with encores, as 007 could readily tell you, is that it’s always tough to top the spectre of that last installment. So many critics. The world is not enough, as it were.