GUOWEI ZHANG-A BIG THREAT FOR BARSHIM BUT HE NEEDS HIS SLEEP

“I think I just found this feeling and I found the way to do well in the final”, Guowei Zhang said after his immaculate – and characteristically exuberant – performance in today’s men’s high jump qualification. He had just proved that the home crowd’s high hopes of him were not misplaced by being one of the only two jumpers to reach the qualifying height of 2.31 without any failures, the other being Canada’s Commonwealth champion Derek Drouin.

Both giants of the world’s high jump – Qatar’s world indoor champion MutazEssa Barshim and Ukraine’s defending champion Bohdan Bondarenkoneeded more than one attempt on 2.29. 

“I’m going to need wings in Sunday’sfinal”, Bondarenkoadmitted.

Barshim’s coach, StanislawSzczyrba, is well place to evaluate the Chinese challenge to his charge’s medal prospects.

“Zhang is a big threat, very dangerous, and not only because he’s very motivated jumping in his home country,” said Szczyrba. “He’s been very consistent in his development from what I saw. His behavior may seem a little ridiculous sometimes, but this is how he is.”

It’snot only his results that have gained him media attention around the world. He’s been quite emotional about his jumping, roaring and tearing his shirts after most successful attempts, something very unusual for Chinese.

He insists that outside the stadium remains very quiet or even boring. “I never go out, I could stay at home for the entire week watching TV and playing video games. And no matter what I’m in bed every night at 21.30 because I need my sleep and this is what agrees with my nature”, he says.

Zhang, who holds the Chinese indoor record of 2.33m, has competed on the global circuit for a couple of years now but 2015 has been his breakthrough season.

In May he improved his personal best to 2.38 at the Eugene IAAFDiamond League meeting. That’ sonly one centimeter shy of the Chinese record set 31 years ago by Zhu Jianhua, who remains a great role model for Zhang.

The two men have never talked or met, but Zhang has a picture of his predecessor hanging in his dormitory room.

“I hope for a podium finish in Beijing also to pay tribute toZhu Jianhua, who took the bronze back in 1983 in the first edition of IAAF world championships in Helsinki”, Zhang said.

A month after that achievement, Zhang earned victory over a field including all the leading competitors, including Barshim, Bondarenko and Russia’sOlympic champion Ivan Ukhov, in cold and windy conditions at the Oslo DiamondLeague meeting, a victory he greeted with some high energy activity in on the landing bed,

Needless to say, competing at a global championship in his home city is special for Zhang. The Chinese meaning of his first name, Guowei, is “the one to show greatness to the country”. World Championships held in Bird’s Nest Stadium seems like the perfect opportunity to achieve his nominal destiny.

“I don’t think my parents were thinking about it that much when they chose the name for me,” he said. “But now I feel it’s my duty to take Chinese high jump to the highest level in front of my home crowd. That is my understanding.”

Zhang didn’t take up the high jump until he was 15, having tried all different sports before including football, table tennis, and long jump.

“Why don’t you try high jump?”, he was asked one day by his coach. He did and he cleared 1.70 in the first competition he entered. He needed only one year of training to reach 2.00.

And he soon proved that he could handle the big occasion having made significant improvements in big events, including qualifying rounds of Daegu 2011 IAAF World Championships, where he set his then PB at 2.31.

Now his aim is to be the first man of his race to reach the height of 2.40. And with his steady progress, he may soon be joining the elite group of high jumpers challenging the world record of2.45 set by Javier Sotomayor in 1993 (the longest standing in high jump history).

“I’ve been following Barshim and Bondarenko rivalry and also other guys who excel in the high jump. I’m sure watching them helps me as I try to learn from them”, Zhang says.

The Award Ceremony for high jumpers is planned for 20.45 on Sunday night. So he’ll be able to make it to bed on time.

FIVE EXPECTED HIGHLIGHTS ON DAY SIX

The IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 continues with four more finals on Thursday evening. Let’s look at some possible highlights.

1. Women’s hammer throw

It is hard to avoid world record expectations when Anita Wlodarczyk enters the sector for her most important competition of the year.

The Polish thrower is in an incredible form this season. On 1 August, Wlodarczyk became the first woman to break the 80-meter barrier, tossing the hammer out to 81.08m to break her world record.

If not the world record, then another one, the championships record of 78.80m set by Tatyana Beloborodova (formerly Lysenko) in Moscow two years ago, is definitely under threat.

2. Men’s triple jump

This event has been one of the hottest events on the circuit this summer with Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo and USA’s Christian Taylor pushing each other to ever-longer jumps and record levels.

Pichardo started the ‘war’, jumping 18.06m, the third-best mark of all times, at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the year in May. A couple of weeks later, on home soil, the Cuban added two more centimeters to this distance.

In July, it was Taylor’s turn to excel. The London 2012 Olympic Games champion went out to 18.06m, beating Pichardo in a head-to-head battle in Lausanne.

The world record is tantalizingly close and, incidentally, it was set at the IAAF World Championships. Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards jumped 18.29m to win the gold in the Swedish city of Gothenburg 20 years ago, in 1995.

3. Men’s 200m

The second episode of the battle between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin is on the agenda.

After the 100m, the score is 1-0 in the Jamaican’s favor. Both athletes looked very strong in preliminary rounds, so get ready for another close finish.

Also, watch out for 20-year-old Zharnel Hughes. The Briton is actually Usain Bolt’s training partner and Bolt is one of just two athletes that has managed to beat Hughes this season so far. Another one, South Africa’s Anaso Jobodwana, will be in the race, as well.

4. Women’s 400m

Allyson Felix’s 49.89 in the semi-final looked as easy as it gets in this event. Besides being the fastest in the final on paper, Felix is also the most experienced one with six world championship appearances behind her.

The Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller, former world youth and junior champion over this distance is ready to challenge Felix after breaking 50 seconds for the first time in her career earlier this season. The 21-year-old sprinter ran 49.92 to beat a world-class field in Lausanne in July.

Jamaica has an impressive tally of four athletes in this final, with Christine Day and Stephenie McPherson being the most likely podium contenders.

5. Men’s 110m hurdles

Of course, it’s just semi-finals, but in sprint hurdles, where the tiniest mistake can make the difference between the gold medal and complete failure, preliminary rounds can produce biggest surprises and sometimes disasters.

All favorites, including the defending champion David Oliver, the two-time European champion Sergey Shubenkov and the world record holder Aries Merritt, have progressed to this stage but can they continue their medal quest in Beijing?

Best of the rest

Genzebe Dibaba didn’t seem to expend too much energy in a tactical race that took her to the 1500m title, and now it’s time for the Ethiopian to embark on her 5000m campaign, and perhaps a unique world championship doubles, with the heats in this event held during the morning session.

Asbel Kiprop went close to the 1500m world record this summer. Let’s see if he is going to show us some speed, as sometimes happens with the Kenyans in the heats of the men’s middle-distance events, or to opt for a tactical race in the preliminary round.

Other preliminaries in the morning session of the day six are the heats of the women’s 100m hurdles, as well as qualifiers in the women’ s high jump and long jump, as well as men’s discus throw.

BARBER TRYING TO KEEP SURPRISE VICTORY IN PERSPECTIVE

Standing atop the podium with the gold medal around his neck, Canada’s Shawn Barber still looked like a young man in disbelief at his fortune.

The evening prior, the 21-year-old had performed sublimely in the pole vault with first-time clearances at 5.50m, 5.65m, 5.80m, and the winning height of 5.90m while the defending world champion Raphael Holdzeppe of Germany needed three tries at 5.90m.

Olympic champion and world record-holder Renaud Lavilleniefared even worse and cleared only his opening height of 5.80m. The Frenchman shared the bronze medal with the two Poles Pawel Wojciechowski and Piotr Lisek.

A year ago, Barber could have only dreamed of competing with these athletes. The realization that he was the world champion – and $60,000USD richer – was finally sinking in after hearing ‘Oh Canada’ played in the Bird’sNest Stadium.

“I think it’s coming around and hitting me now,” he said.“You know, to have this much media exposure has been a great experience for me.I was fortunate to be very consistent throughout the meet. That was the name of the game. I came in knowing that it was going to be a meet that came down to first attempts. I couldn’t have asked for better competition.”

Barber, who is coached jointly by his father George, a former Canadian international pole vaulter who competed at the inaugural world championships in 1983, and Dennis Mitchell, the University of Akron coach, slept most of the day before receiving his medal. That was not surprising considering he spent an hour in doping control and didn’t sit down to dinner until after 1:00 am.

“There was no celebration. It was pretty much going back and start resting up,” said Barber. “My season is not over; hopefully I will have a chance to celebrate in the next couple of nights at some point. It would be nice but I definitely have my head down to get through the rest of my season.”

Although he has another year of eligibility at Akron, he decided earlier this summer to forego that and turn professional. He signed a contract with agent Paul Doyle, who has rapidly got him a Nike shoe contract and, with fellow Doyle Management staffer Jeff Hartwig, a series of meetings across Europe.  No doubt there is a bonus written into his contract that will pay dividends for a World Championship gold medal.

Barber was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His father had attended the University of Texas at El Paso on an athletics scholarship and wound up teaching and coaching in New Mexico. During his coaching sessions George would often take his son along, even as a young boy, and before long he was trying the pole vault himself. Though he has dual citizenship, he chose to wear the maple leaf.

“My father was a Canadian pole vaulter a number of years ago and he is pretty much the only reason I am a pole vaulter,” Barber said of his decision. “I definitely wouldn’t be in the sport otherwise. It just made a lot of sense to me when I was growing up. It was something I talked about with him and with members of the Canadian federation. I really enjoyed their way of approaching athletics and they have shown me a lot of support and a lot of love and I am very fortunate I made that decision years ago.”

Barber earned a bronze medal for Canada at the 2012 IAAFWorld Junior Championships so his decision precedes the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015.

With a year remaining in his sports science course at Akron, he intends to continue studies and keep to the same schedule and lifestyle that got him where he is. That means classes, evenings watching movies on Netflix and, in the offseason when the weather is good, playing beach volleyball with college friends. He admits he must sometimes hold back on the court out of concern for his well-being.

The 2015 season will continue with competitions in Zurich, Berlin, Brussels, Aachen, and Warsaw. He has a laid-back approach, if not a determined goal.

“I want to give myself an opportunity at six meters but at the beginning of the season my main goal was to put myself in a good position for the World Championships in Beijing,” he said, “and I am fortunate enough to cross that off my list. The rest is the icing on the cake for me. So I am going to go out and have fun at these meets and really enjoy them. That’s priority No.1for me now.”

Now that he is the world champion, Barber is no longer just a kid with potential. As the Rio Olympics approach, surely he will be considered a medal favorite. Yet, he is philosophical about having a ‘target on his back’.

“You still look at those other vaulters doing crazy things,” he says. “I am still only third in the world rankings.

“I think my main thing is I am very consistent. I am able to jump at that 5.80m, 5.90m bars meet after meet after meet and not have so many of those bad meets.  I have that going for me. But that doesn’t mean I am able to beat some of those bigger jumpers like Lavillenie on a daily basis.

“I don’t think there’s so much of a target on my back,” he adds. “I think it’s more of their understanding that I am a competitor and Ican keep up with them and can compete with them at these world-class meets.”

DAY 6 MORNING SESSION REVIEW

Injury halts Souleiman’s 1500ambitions; Reese’s long jump exit marks the end of an era

AyanlehSouleiman of Djibouti, one of the favorites in the men’s 1500m, was left disconsolate on the track after pulling up injured in his first-round heathered. And the end of an era was marked in the women’s long jump, where the woman who has won every global title since 2009, Brittney Reese of the UnitedStates, could only manage 6.39m in qualifying and failed to reach tomorrows final.

Souleiman, world indoor champion last year and with an 800m time of 1:42.97 to his credit this season,  was not the only high-profile athlete failing to progress in the men’s 1500. A time of 3:43.66 failed to do the trick for the Czech Republic’s European indoor champion Jakub Colusa. Silas Kiplagat of Kenya qualified fastest in 3:38.13, with his compatriot, defending champion Asbel Kiprop, who is seeking a hat-trick of titles here, clocking 3:38.97 to progress.

IvanaSpanovic of Serbia headed the women’s long jump qualifiers with a national record of 6.91. Lorraine Ugen of Britain was next best, with 6.87, and her team-mate Katarina Johnson-Thompson, whose high hopes of a heptathlon medal came to grief when she failed to record a legal mark in this event, made no mistakes this time. The world indoor silver medallist was the fifth-best qualifier with 6.79. Tianna Bartoletta, the only woman to have cleared 7.00 this year –she reached 7.12 on June 27 – also moved on without bother, recording 6.71.

Defending100m hurdles champion Brianna Rollins needed to play her automatic wild card to make it to Beijing after failing to finish in the top three at the US trials. But a year of bewildering changes in terms of dominance in this event could yet see Rollins finishing on top, as she was the fastest qualifier for tomorrow’s final in 12.67, ahead of Britain’s Tiffany Porter (12.73) and the Jamaican pair of Danielle Williams (12.77) and Shermaine Williams (12.78), with 2008 Olympic champion down Harper-Nelson of the United States one-hundredth of a second behind.

GenzebeDibaba, seeking to complete a golden double here after her 1500m victory, make no mistake in her 5000m heat, putting in a short and effective burst of acceleration coming into the home straight to win in 15:20.82 ahead of MercyCherono of Kenya and Mimi Belete of Bahrain, who both clocked 15:20.94.

Dibaba’scompatriot Almaz Ayana, emphasized her status as her most dangerous rival as she finished five seconds clear of fellow Ethiopian Senbere Teferi to win her heat in 15:09.40.

Russia’sOlympic champion Anna Chicherova and joint world indoor champion Mariya Kuchinaqualified safely for Saturday’s final, as did the Pole who shared that title in Sopot with Kuchina, Kamila Licwinko, and former world champion Blanka Vlasic of Croatia.

FrederickDacres of Jamaica produced the best qualifying throw in the men’s discus,65.77, with Poland’s Piotr Malachowski on 65.59 and Gerd Kanter next best with64.78.

DAY 7 PREVIEW

DAY7 preview

Can Liu Hong, world record holder in the women’s 20km race walk, deliver the host nation’s first gold of these championships this morning?

Hopes of that outcome were raised on the morning of Day Two as Zhen Wang established a big lead in the men’s 20km racewalk, but he had to settle for silver after being overtaken in the final kilometer by Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez.

With Russia’s gold and silver medallists from last year absent, 28-year-old Liu – who took 24 seconds off the world record in winning the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in La Coruna in 1hr 24min38sec in June – has a big chance. But her younger team-matesQieyangShijie, the London 2012 bronze medallist, and Xiuzhi Lu, who set an Asian record of 1:25.12 in March, will also fancy their chances, each having beaten Liu in the past.

So a clean sweep for China then? Not impossible…

With the fastest 200m runner in the world this year, three-times world champion Allyson Felix, concentrating on the 400m here, and 100m winner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Prycenot choosing to double up as in Moscow, the way is clear for someone to make a name for themselves.

Dutch-heptathleteDafneSchippers, who ran Fraser-Pryce close in the 100m, looks a strong gold contender, along with JenebahTarmoh of the United States,, Jamaica’s double Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown and Britain’s rising star Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest qualifier in a personal best of 22.22.

BrittneyReese, the winner of the last three world titles, may have failed to qualify for women’s long jump final, but in Tianna Bartoletta, the only one over 7.00metres this year, the United States has another likely champion.

IvanaSpanovic of Serbia, who headed qualification with a national record of 6.91will also fancy her medal chances, as will the British pair of Lorraine Ugen, second-best qualifier with 6.87, and her team-mate Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

The latter, who won long jump silver at last year’s World Indoor Championships, saw her high hopes of a heptathlon medal come to grief when she failed to record a legal mark in this event, made no mistake in qualifying and also looks a strong medal contender.

Defending100m hurdles champion Brianna Rollins needed to play her automatic wild card to make it to Beijing after failing to finish in the top three at the US trials. But a year of bewildering changes in terms of dominance in this event could yet see Rollins finishing on top, as she was the fastest qualifier for tomorrow’s final in 12.67, ahead of Britain’s Tiffany Porter (12.73) and the Jamaican pair of Danielle Williams (12.77) and Shermaine Williams (12.78), with 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson of the United States one-hundredth of a second behind.

Like the women’s sprint hurdles, the men’s 110m hurdles looks a very open contest as33-year-old David Oliver of the United States defends his title against a field of younger rivals including European indoor champion Pascal Martinot-Lagarde of France, world record holder Aries Merritt, regaining his form after illness, and Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment.

WAYDE VAN NIEKERK COMMENTS ON BEING TAKEN TO HOSPITAL AFTER MEN’S 400M FINAL

Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa, who was taken to hospital following his victory in the men’s 400m on Wednesday night after his “vital signs” were said by medical sources to be “unstable”, has said the actions were “out of proportion.”

“My legs just felt tired,” said the23-year-old, whose winning time of 43.48 was the fastest time run since 2007. “Its just the normal feeling for the athlete after the race. I think it all was taken out of proportion.

“It was strange to win a gold medal and end up in the hospital but they just said it was part of the medical procedure.”

Van Niekerk, who was discharged from hospital at around 23.45 local time on Wednesday, added that after crossing the line, his “main goal” had been to try and avoid sitting down.

“I just tried to go as fast as possible to try to get to finish line,” he said. “I was praying through the whole race. And through the last 200 meters said, ‘Lord, please, do not let go on me’.  And that’s when I started kicking and started going even harder.

“And then last few meters of the race I started dying out a little but I had to go through.

“After I crossed the finish line my main goal was to try not to sit down because once I sit down it was going to be finished. I tried to go inside the rest of the team.”

Instead, he lay down on the track, from which he was eventually wheeled away on a stretcher.

“I’m really just grateful that I won the race,” Van Niekerk said. “It’s definitely a confidence boost for me. I would love just to go up from that.”