Athletics glimpses the future at Buenos Aires 2018
The next generation of track and field stars showed plenty of consistency and determination over six exciting days of athletics competition at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018.
Passion and excitement were the order of the day as the world’s most promising young runners, jumpers and throwers gathered at the Youth Olympic Park. With most of the events being held in two stages and performances being combined to determine overall final standings, consistency was also key for those looking for places on the podium.
South African sprinter Luke Davids was one of the stars of the show. The 17-year-old ran a wind-assisted 10.15 in Stage 2 of the men’s 100m. The fastest time ever recorded at a YOG edition, it would have been a joint world record but for a 3.4m/s headwind at the finish line. His combined time of 20.71 gave him the gold, ahead of Nigeria’s Olukunle Akintola and Japan’s Seiryo Ikeda.
“I’ve been dreaming of what I’m experiencing right now for the last few months,” said the victorious South African. “My little sister back home is my inspiration. I want to give her a better life than the one I’ve had. It feels amazing to be the fastest young sprinter. The fans were fantastic and the support they gave me in the warm-ups and on the track the whole time was just sensational.”
Eight medals for Ethiopia
China, Kenya, Cuba and Ukraine finished joint top of the athletics medal table with three golds apiece. Chen Long in the men’s high jump, Li Xinhui in the women’s shot put, and Xi Ricuo in the women’s 5km walk were China’s champions, while Kenya’s Jackson Kavesa Muema and Edinah Jebitok won the men’s 3,000m and women’s 1,500m cross-country events respectively, and Fancy Cherono the women’s 2,000m steeplechase.
The Cuban athletes topping the podium were Lester Alcides Lescay Gay in the men’s long jump, Jordan Alejandro Fortún in the men’s triple jump, and Melany del Pilar Matheus Morejón in the women’s discus. Ukraine’s three gold medallists were Mykhaylo Kokhan and Valeriya Ivanenko in the men’s and women’s hammer and Yaroslava Mahuchikh in the women’s high jump.
No nation collected more medals than Ethiopia, which amassed eight (two golds, two silvers and four bronzes) thanks to their middle-distance, steeplechase and cross-country runners, among them Tasew Yada and Abhram Sime, who respectively won the men’s 800m and the men’s 2,000m steeplechase.
Australia’s athletes also performed well. Keely Small took the honours in the women’s 800m, while Sophie White collected silver in the women’s 100m hurdles and Joshua Cowley clinched another in the men’s long jump. Team-mate Oscar Miers took a second place of his own in a thrilling men’s high jump competition. The young Australian shared a new YOG record of 2.22m with China’s Chen but missed out on the gold on countback.
“I learned a lot being in the Village with the rest of the competitors the whole time,” said Small, who carried the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony. “It really makes you think about the real reasons why you’re here.”
China’s golden shepherd
The vociferous home fans had plenty to cheer when Nazareno Sasia claimed the men’s shot put gold medal with throws of 21.94m and 21.25m, which gave him victory by 1.45m ahead of China’s Jialiang Xing.
Greece’s Elina Tzengko was an equally comfortable winner in the women’s javelin. The 16-year-old threw a personal best 63.34m with her fourth throw in Stage 1 before throwing 61.74m with her first attempt in Stage 2, giving her victory by over 10m ahead of Ecuador’s Juleisy Angulo.
The warm Buenos Aires weather posed a challenge for all the athletes, not least the long-distance runners and walkers, with track temperatures forcing them to adapt their strategies, among them Ecuador’s María Villalva. “My coach and I came up with a special gameplan for today,” said the young South American, who placed fourth in the women’s 5km walk. “I put ice in my cap to help me stay fresh. When my throat started to get dry in the middle of the race I popped a piece of ice in my mouth and it really helped me.”
China’s Xi Ricuo won both stages of the event with a combined time of 45:03.49, nearly a minute clear of Mexico’s Sofia Elizabeth Ramos Rodríguez in second. The 17-year-old Xi grew up in a remote rural community and was destined to spend her life as a shepherd, until her teachers discovered her gift for running at school four years ago. “Athletics has changed my life,” said Xi afterwards. “To come from school to the YOG is just like a dream.”