Brilliant Isaac Makwala sets up van Nierkerk showdown
Botswanan says he is ‘running with anger’ after he stole the show on a sodden day
Isaac Makwala celebrates his second place finish in his 200m semi-final in London. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP
There was no stopping him this time. After squeezing two qualifying rounds into the one night, Isaac Makwala is through to the final of the 200 metres and with that London gets the classic showdown it thought was denied.
The Botswana runner produced arguably the single-most outstanding performance of these World Championships in his race for salvation. Suddenly athletics had found its new superman - for one night anyway.
Because after being prohibited from running the 400m final on Tuesday because of the vomiting bug, Makwala ran two 200m races - just over two hours apart - and twice had the rain-soaked stadium crowd on its feet.
“I’m still running with anger, with a broken heart, but I will be fighting,” said Makwala, after finishing second in his semi-final, clocking 20.14, running in lane one; after the sole re-run of his semi-final, a while earlier, still pretty heroic.
The only man likely to stop Makwala from winning gold now is Wayde van Nierkerk, the South African who won that 400m and is now looking to complete a track double. He didn’t look great in his semi-final, going through as the fastest loser, but van Nierkerk has a habit of saving his best until last.
“I knew it would be a tough challenge,” he said. “To see my name in the final is a real pleasure. I’ve got time to recover now and give it my all in the final.”
No messing from Makwala on the night though. Firstly, after being granted special permission for a solo re-run of the heat he missed on Monday night with the illness, Makwala took to the wet track just as the crowd was filling it, and ran 20.20 - well inside the 20.53 he needed for that place in the semi-final, promptly celebrating by falling to the track and helping himself to five push-ups.
Winning his semi-final in 20.12 was the American Isiah Young, while Ramil Guliyev won van Niekerk’s semi-final in 20.17, the South African clocking 20.38 in third.
No ordinary athletes
The final (9.52pm Thursday) is more likely to be decided by Makwala and van Niekerk. These remember are no ordinary athletes. Last month, Makwala became the first athlete in history to run sub-20 for 200m and sub-44 for 400m on the same evening, also within two hours, including his 19.77 personal best.
In the other lane, van Nierkerk, the world record holder for 400m with the 43.03 he ran at the Rio Olympics, is the only man in history to go sub-10, sub-20, and sub-44.
After being forbidden to enter the stadium on Tuesday night, Makwala said his “heart was breaking” and questioned how officials could know he was ill, without tests. “There is something fishy they do not want to tell us,” said Makwala. “It is not that I was sick, there is something more to it. How can they just look at you and see you are sick? If they had tested me I would not have that problem, but they just assumed.”
However the IAAF replied: “There is nothing we want more than extraordinary competition in these championships. We freed up the competition schedule to allow this to happen.” Although not the expected circumstances (and the 400m was always going to be Makwala strongest race) at least now London gets the showdown it deserves.
Thomas Barr would have watched the final of the 400m hurdles with some envy. Also ruled out of his semi-final because of the same illness, Barr might have fancied his chances in a race won by the 21 year-old Norwegian Karsten Warholm, the former European junior decathlon in what is his first proper season in the event.
Indeed Warholm’s winning time of 48.35 was well outside the 47.97 that Barr ran to finish fourth in Rio last summer, although a brilliant race nonetheless, won from the front and enough to gold off Yasmani Copello from Turkey, who win silver in 48.49, with America’s reigning Olympic champion Kerron Clement only third in 48.52
“Thank you, London! I truly don’t believe it,” said Warholm, who hit the front from the first hurdle and never looked back. “I’ve worked so hard for this but I don’t know what I have done. This is an amazing feeling.”
Looking equally amazed at her victory in the 400m final was the American Phyllis Francis, who ran a personal best of 49.21 to strike but in truth was helped to that position after Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the Olympic champion from the Bahamas, completely buckled in the last 20 metres when poised for victory.
Team mate Allyson Felix won silver, Salwa Eid Naser, the 19-year-old Bahraini, won silver in a national record of 50.06, with America’s former champion Allyson Felix third in 50.08. Miller-Uibo ended up fifth, staying upright somehow.
Mo Farah continues to do all his hard talking on the track, comfortably qualifying from his 5,000m heat without breaking stride or even it seemed even sweat, and will now go into Saturday’s evening final aiming for his fifth successive 5,000m/10,000m championship double, his seventh World championship gold: “I’m a bit tired, but you have just got to recover,” said Farah, finishing second behind Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia, looking as unstoppable as ever.