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    A Different Championship: Moscow Struggles to Love Athletics

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    The verdict of the world’s biggest track and field star, Usain Bolt, is hardly likely to be music to the ears of those who organized the Moscow 2013 world athletics championships, which concluded Sunday.

    MOSCOW, August 18 (R-Sport, James Ellingworth) - The verdict of the world’s biggest track and field star, Usain Bolt, is hardly likely to be music to the ears of those who organized the Moscow 2013 world athletics championships, which concluded Sunday.

    “It’s been a different championship. It’s not the best,” he noted.

    At some points in its nine-day run, the event seemed almost routine - an impression not helped by the lack of world records or the crushing Jamaican dominance of the sprints as Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce finished with three gold medals apiece.

    Occasionally, the non-athletic action seemed to dominate – arguments over Russia’s anti-gay legislation or the rows and rows of empty seats.

    But there were also real moments of passion – the vast Luzhniki arena roaring into life for Russian successes as the host nation dethroned the United States from the top of the medal table for the first time in 12 years, and some spectacularly close battles.

    Towards the end, it seemed as if Moscow had learned to love athletics. The crowds got bigger and found their voice, and when Russia’s women beat the U.S. in the 4x400m relay on Saturday, the wall of noise hinted at how a boycott-free 1980 Olympics could have been.

    Bolt agreed. “I think it got better over the days,” he said. “A lot more people got a little more relaxed. A lot more people started smiling. There were a lot more people in the stands. It really picked up at the end. At the start it wasn’t as good.”

    The Jamaican was always the focus of attention as he demolished a field depleted by injuries and positive drug tests in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m finals, admitting he was happy not to have to run world record pace. His female counterpart Fraser-Pryce had a similarly iron grip on women’s sprinting, winning the 100m by the embarrassingly large margin of 0.22 seconds.

    Jamaica’s dominance may be what the rest of the world remembers, but for Russia it will be Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole vault queen, resplendent once again as she soared to the gold medal, a result that kick-started Russia’s charge to the top of the medal table.

    Isinbayeva soon after found herself in a storm of her own making after making a public stand to back a Russian law banning the promotion of homosexuality to under-18s that has led to calls to boycott next year’s Winter Olympics in the country. Isinbayeva, the honorary mayor of the Olympic village in Sochi, also said Russia is home to “traditional people” and a place where “men live with women.” She later said she had been misinterpreted.

    That furore did not deter Russia from further success at the championships, however. Friday and Saturday saw two gold medals each for the hosts, three in women’s events – the 4x400m relay, high jump, hammer throw – plus the men’s long jump.

    Added to two golds from racewalking earlier in the week, that was enough to ensure Russian dominance.

    Elsewhere, Mo Farah staked a claim to be Britain’s greatest ever athlete as he became only the second man ever to hold Olympic and world 5,000m and 10,000m gold at the same time. There was also a superb battle in the women’s 400m as Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu produced an almighty surge of pace to snatch the gold medal from defending champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana by just four thousands of a second.

    In a true Cinderella moment, there was a shock winner on the last day of the championships when Kenya’s Eunice Sum snatched 800m goal despite only having switched her focus to the event at last month’s Kenyan trials – before that, she had been a dedicated 1,500m runner.

    Compelling narratives were everywhere – LaShawn Merritt tasted redemption with his first individual 400m hurdles gold medal since his ban for taking a banned penis-enhancing supplement, and Czech hurdler Zuzana Hejnova capped a sensational season with gold after years of being an also-ran.

    In the field, France’s Teddy Tamgho ended a run of injury and poor form at major championships by producing the third-best triple jump in history to win gold, while men’s hammer titan Krisztian Pars’ 23-competition winning streak was halted by Polish rookie Pawel Fajdek.

    Throughout the nine-day run, the championships were conducted in idiosyncratically Russian style. The opening ceremony was a tour of the country’s cultural and scientific triumphs that ranged from twee to mystifying.

    Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko’s closing speech Sunday, before a ceremonial handover to Beijing, had the feel of a teacher congratulating his class on a project well done.

    “The most important thing is that Russia finished top of the medals table,” he said. “And this was only possible because we were all in this together.”

    That, he said, even outranked stunning performances from the athletes and good organization of the event.

    It was also an unwitting vindication of Usain Bolt, who summed up his attitude to the Russian handling of the championships earlier in the week.

    “Everyone was way too serious,” he said.

    2013 World Athletics Championships, Pawel Fajdek, Krisztian Pars, LaShawn Merritt, Teddy Tamgho, Eunice Sum, Amantle Montsho, Christine Ohuruogu, Zuzana Hejnova, Yelena Isinbayeva, Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Mo Farah
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