Track and field stars shine bright
After putting on a sublime show inside the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, many of the young athletes at the 2014 YOG seem destined to establish themselves at the very highest level.
China opens with golden treble
The first women’s athletics final got underway on 23 August with the 100m hurdles. France’s Laura Valette took the gold in a tight race, equalling her personal best time of 13.34 seconds, as she narrowly defeated Elvira Herman (BLR) on 13.38 seconds and Chloë Beaucarne (BEL) on 13.61 seconds.
Later, Ma Zhenxia (CHN) raised the roof inside the stadium when she won the evening session’s opening event, the 5,000m race walk. Ma finished in 22 minutes, 22.08 seconds, a full 57 seconds ahead of silver medallist Valeria Ortuno Martinez (MEX).
“I’m delighted and would like to thank my coach, who motivated me all the way to win this,” beamed Ma.
And China went on to seal two more women’s golds on the day as Sun Kangping won in the discus with a throw of 64.14 metres before Liang Xiaojing sprinted to victory in the 100m. Her time of 11.65 seconds saw her edge out Paraskevi Andreou (CYP) on 11.71 seconds and Sam Geddes (AUS) on 11.76 seconds.
Elsewhere, Yelyzaveta Baby (UKR) won gold in the long jump to help banish the demons of a poor showing at the 2013 World Junior Championships.
The 17-year-old failed to reach the long jump final on home soil in Donetsk but added 10cm to her previous personal best here in Nanjing to claim gold with a third jump of 6.26m.
“It’s an amazing feeling getting the gold, I can’t believe it,” Baby said. “I guess I’m fast asleep, please tell me it’s not just a dream. I’ve trained so hard and now the dream has come true because all the tough times have paid off in the end.
“I’ve had an amazing experience so far at the Youth Olympics and I hope I can carry on winning at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. I really hope that next time I’ll be less afraid of ending up dead last.”
In the pole vault final, Angelica Moser (SUI) topped the standings with a new personal best of 4.36 metres, adding 4cm to her previous record.
“It’s amazing,” she said afterwards. “I didn’t expect to win gold. I just wanted to give my best and now it’s the gold medal and a personal best. I’m really very happy about this, it’s a perfect moment.”
Later, in the 400m final, Australia’s Jessica Thornton – Sam Geddes’ room-mate at the Youth Olympic Village – won gold in the 400m. Her time of 52.20 seconds was enough to see off Bahrain’s Salwa Nasser (52.74 seconds) and Meleni Rodney of Grenada (53.33 seconds).
Ghana’s Martha Bissah concluded the night’s events with gold in the 800m after finishing in 2:04.90, improving her personal best by 1.42 seconds and comfortably beating Ethiopia’s Hawi Alemu Negeri (2:06.01) and Germany’s Mareen Kalis (2:06.03).
Whyte maintains Jamaican sprinting tradition
On 24 August, Natalliah Whyte upheld Jamaica’s reputation for producing sprinting talent as she won the 200m gold in 23.55 seconds. After the race, Whyte stood underneath the huge TV screen at the finish line and struggled to find the words to describe the images she was seeing.
"I'm overwhelmed," she said. "I was hoping for a fast time, but I didn't expect such a result. Youth Olympic champion… I can't find the words to describe how I'm feeling."
Whyte had worked hard all year to achieve her success but the wet and humid conditions early in the day at the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre proved extremely testing.
"I'm not used to this temperature at the training facilities in Jamaica," she added. "Here it changes every minute, every hour. I just had to run through it."
Brandee Johnson (USA) was tipped to be Whyte's biggest rival for gold but finished with a bronze medal and a time of 24.28 seconds, missing out on silver to Dzhois Koba’s (UKR) 23.94 seconds.
The 3,000m final, meanwhile, saw Japan’s Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu surge to first place with a personal best time of 9:01.58. Her nearest rival, Alina Reh (GER), finished on 9:05.07.
In the hammer, eventual winner Xu Xinying (CHN) took gold with a distance of 68.35m, her best-ever competitive result. With three other throwers in the event having superior personal bests to her own, Xu's performance was heralded as a minor shock, not least by the athlete herself.
“The result was beyond my expectations,” she said. “The standards here are very high. The other competitors were nervous but I was nervous too. I just told myself to ignore the rankings.”
Australian Alex Hulley took silver behind Xu to complete a “room-mate treble” following Jessica Thornton and Sam Geddes’ medal-winning exploits a day earlier.
“I was going absolutely crazy watching on TV and it spurred me on to win,” Hulley said. “Tonight we're going to have a great party.”
Finally, Yuliya Levchenko (UKR) triumphed in the high jump with a personal best of 1.89m while Alena Bugakova (RUS) won gold in the shot put with a throw of 18.95m.
Magerman flies to 400m hurdles victory
On the morning of 25 August, France’s Yanis David dominated in the triple jump. David took the lead with a jump of 13.18m on her third attempt before sealing gold with a personal best jump of 13.33m.
Further back, Tay-Lieha Clark (AUS) managed 13.06m while Eszter Bajnok (HUN) took bronze with a jump of 13.01m.
“I'm very happy,” said Yanis. “The stadium, the setting, everything is so loud and exciting. It gets you going in here.”
Also in the morning session, Kokeb Tesfaye Alemu (ETH) got the better of Winfred Mbithe (KEN) to take the 1,500m gold in 4:15.38. Mbithe finished just behind on 4:17.91 while Dalila Gosa (BRN) picked up the bronze with a time of 4:18.36.
In the evening session, Gezelle Mageman sealed South Africa’s first gold medal of the Youth Olympic Games as she set a new personal best of 57.91 seconds in the 400m hurdles.
Afterwards, Gezelle explained that she is keen to keep her prize away from prying eyes: “I’m definitely keeping this medal in a room, in a box,” she said. “Nobody touches it but me.”
The race was big on drama as Eileen Demes (GER) crashed into a hurdle and fell at the 200m mark. Following the fall, Michaela Perskova (SVK) went on to take silver in 58.26 seconds and Anne Sofie Fruerskov Kirkegaard (DEN) managed to keep her concentration to seal bronze.
“I kept running and I was telling myself over and over again to just run faster and try to win a medal,” Kirkegaard said after the race.
In the javelin final, meanwhile, Hanna Tarasiuk (BLR) dominated proceedings from the outset. The 16-year-old took an unassailable lead with an opening throw of 55.10m before throwing a personal best of 59.52m with her fourth.
Silver medallist Fabienne Schonig (GER) was a long way behind with 53.68m while Nagisa Mori (JPN) took bronze with a throw of 52.27m.
In the 2,000m steeplechase the stage was set for a repeat of the Ethiopia-Kenya match-up in the men’s final.
Unlike in the men’s event, it was Kenya who triumphed, as Rosefine Chepngetich’s time of 6:22.67 saw her finish well clear of Ethiopia’s Zewdinesh Mamo Teklemaream (6:26.02). Hungary’s Lili Anna Toth sealed third in 6:31.92.
International relay provides fitting finale
In what was a new event for these Games, the track and field schedule came to a close on 26 August with the introduction of the 8x100m mixed team relay.
Team 34, consisting of eight athletes of different nationalities who were previously unfamiliar with each other, raced to victory on Yanshan Road in 1:40.20.
Rachel Pace (AUS), normally a 100m sprinter, finished in second place with team 38 and thoroughly enjoyed the event.
“It was really great to race alongside people from other countries,” she said. “It’s my first medal at the Games and, while it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t medal in my own event, doing it with a group is just as good.”
Pace was enthused by how the event promoted interaction with other nationalities by dismantling the traditional country-based squad system.
“We had a wide variety of people,” she said. “The others spoke a little bit of English, just enough for us to communicate with each other.”
“I’m really glad they have done something that promotes team events as well as individual.”