Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai took respective gold and bronze medals in a hugely competitive men’s long jump at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships to give South Africa a great start to what could turn out to be their greatest global athletics performance ever.
With Wayde Van Niekerk and Caster Semenya both seeking doubles here – Van Niekerk will defend his 400 metres title and seek gold in the 200m, Semenya will defend her 800m title and challenge for further reward in the 1500m final on Monday (August 7), for which she qualified today - South Africa’s growing riches of talent look ready to earn unprecedented rewards.
Manyonga, whose domination of the men’s long jump this season was abruptly interrupted by the ankle injury he suffered in winning last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, showed he had fully recovered here as he won a hugely volatile and competitive final with a best effort of 8.48 metres.
Early leader Jarrion Lawson of the United States produced a final effort that fell just four centimetres short of reclaiming top spot, settling for silver ahead of Manyonga’s South African compatriot Ruswahl Samaai, who won bronze with 8.32m.
The two South Africans have thus been suitably rewarded at the end of a season in which they have claimed 11 of the 12 best jumps, with Manyonga leading that list with the 8.65m he produced at altitude in Potchefstroom back in April.
The final saw 10 of the 12 finalists registering jumps over 8.00m, with defending champion Aleksandr Menkov, A Russian competing under a neutral banner, finishing just outside the medals with 8.27m, one place and one centimetre ahead of Cuba’s Maykel Masso.
It was just like old times in the women’s 10,000m final as Tirunesh Dibaba – five-times a world champion and three times an Olympic champion - sprinted clear to finish ahead of her Kenyan rival Agnes Tirop.
But the 32-year-old Dibaba’s reward was silver on a night when her compatriot Almaz Ayana, who succeeded her as Olympic champion in a world record of 29min 17.45sec, finished fully 300m clear after breaking away shortly before the halfway mark of what had been a slow race to earn another global gold in 30:16.32.
Dibaba clocked 31:02.69, with the 21-year-old Tirop, who became the second youngest winner of the world cross country title two years ago, earning the bronze medal in a personal best of 31:03.50.
Ayana, who had established an eight-second lead by the time she moved through 5,000m in 15:51.38, was an inexorably accelerating body in the closing stages, completing the final 3,000m in 8.41.
The 25-year-old former steeplechaser has reportedly been struggling with injury and illness all season which has obliged her to cancel a number of planned appearances on the IAAF Diamond League circuit.
Dibaba, who had been seeking sixth world gold medal - and a fourth at 10,000 - was also something of a mystery given that she had not raced on the circuit following her second place at the London Marathon this April.
"I am very happy to win this title, much more than when I won the Olympic gold because I have been sick this year and didn't expect it," said Ayana.
"In fact, this was my first race of 2017."
Dibaba commented: "I have won many gold medals before but since I became a marathon runner, I only returned to the track for this race.
"I have only had two months of training, so I am happy to win silver this time."
Andrius Gudzius produced the discus throw of his life, 69.21m, to earn gold by a margin of just two centimetres from the Swede who heads this year’s world lists with 71.29m, Daniel Stahl.
The 26-year-old Lithuanian, World Under-20 champion in 2010, produced his decisive effort in the second round and there was nothing a field that included Poland’s defending champion Piotr Malachowski and the man who took Olympic gold in this stadium five years ago, Germany’s Robert Harting, could do about it.
Another personal best throw, 68.03m, earned the bronze medal for Mason Finley of the United States ahead of Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres, whose best was 65.83.
"Every athlete must be dreaming about the world title and I managed it tonight," said Gudzius.
"I still cannot believe it and I think I need some time to understand what has just happened.
"I am so delighted. I was thinking about a medal but I did not expect gold."
Germany’s Carolin Schafer finished the opening day of the heptathlon with a narrow lead over Belgium’s Olympic champion Nafi Thiam, 4,036 points to 3,664, after clocking 23.58sec in the fourth and final event of the first day, the 200m, following home Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, winner of the heat in 22.86.
Third place was held overnight by Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez, who had produced three personal bests in the earlier high jump.
The evening had begun with more reallocation medal ceremonies following retrospective doping bans.
Kara Goucher of the United States and Britain's Jo Pavey received respective silver and bronze medals from the 2007 World Championships following the ban on original silver medallist Elvan Abbeylegesse of Turkey.