Five Rings: Takeaways From Beijing 2015

Five Rings gives an in-depth look at an event, athlete, or trend in the Olympic sports world and the Olympic movement. In this edition, David DeGuzman looks back at the IAAF Athletics World Championships in Beijing.

What’s great about an event like the IAAF World Championships is the tapestry of stories that take place. Different paths of countless athletes that intersect in a single venue, evolving over the span of nine days. With the Rio Olympics less than a year away, these championships would set the stage and write the prequel for what’s to come in the summer of 2016.

Stories That Inspire

Sport is powerful in many ways and the path to success is different for every athlete. At Beijing 2015, the performances of two athletes in particular will be remembered for how their success on the track was achieved despite obstacles off of it.

Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills ran the anchor leg of the women’s 4×100 meter relay on Saturday, surging from behind the United States in the home stretch to steal gold from the defending Olympic champions. It was a moment of triumph, not just for the Jamaican team, but personally for Williams-Mills, who ran at the London 2012 Olympics with breast cancer. After a fifth-place finish in the 400 meters and a bronze in the relays, she underwent a double mastectomy. Her sister was a victim of ovarian cancer two years prior. Williams-Mills’ heroic leg in the 4×100 relay shows that her amazing story is still being written.

Then there’s Aries Merritt, who as this post is being written is recovering from a kidney transplant. The 30-year-old won bronze in the 110 meter hurdles in Beijing, three months after being told he would need a transplant. The defending Olympic champioin revealed his medical condition in a story published on the IAAF website. Merritt competed with less than 20% kidney function and still managed to get within six hundredths of a second from the gold medal winner, Sergey Shubenkov of Russia.

As for his future? Merritt says he plans to continue competing (via the NY Times):

“It’s definitely going to be very challenging, definitely more challenging than the Olympic final,” Merritt said. “Because I don’t know if I’ll be able to recover and run again. This could be my last time running. Who knows?”

Merritt said that he still had the Rio Olympics in his sights, even though those Games begin in less than year.

“I’m very optimistic about my surgery,” he said. “You might not see me indoors, but hopefully recovery will go to plan and you’ll see me for outdoor season.”

Should Merritt return and make the Olympic team, it would be an incredible ending to what’s already been an inspiring story.

Schippers Becomes A Break-Out Star

The sprint races have been dominated by either the Americans or Jamaicans in recent years. So it’s a bit refreshing to see a European in the mix, even if there’s a cloud of doubt regarding her success. Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands followed up her silver medal performance in the women’s 100 meter final with a gold in the 200 meters, smashing the European record with a time of 21.63 seconds. Three months ago, the Dutch star was solely focused on the heptathlon. Now, it’s safe to say that her sights are set on a sprint gold medal next year in Rio.

London 2012 Wasn’t A Fluke For Team GB

Tell me you haven’t heard this before. Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford — all winning gold. The only difference between Beijing 2015 and London 2012 is that those three instances didn’t happen on the same day. Nevertheless, the stars of what was Super Saturday at London’s Olympic Stadium proved that their performances weren’t a fluke, finding the same success three years later.

In total, Team GB finished with seven medals, including four golds, one silver and a pair of bronzes. It’s a good sign of things to come for British athletes heading into the 2016 games.

Ashton Eaton Tops Himself

It wasn’t the greatest World Championship meet for the Americans. An early celebration cost one American a bronze medal (benefiting another USA athlete), baton struggles once again plagued the men’s 4×100 meter relay team, and when all was said and done, the United States took home the least number of medals since 2003.

One of the few highlights from Beijing 2015 was that of Ashton Eaton, who managed to beat his own world record with 9,045 points and looks to be the man to beat in next year’s Olympic decathlon as the American seeks to defend his gold medal. Eaton’s performance is even more remarkable considering he hadn’t competed in a full decathlon since the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

No One Can Take Down Bolt (Except A Segway)

Bolt’s still got it.

There were doubts about whether he would win gold at these World Championships. But now we’ve learned to never doubt him. And it would be a mistake to do so again next year in Rio.

Usain Bolt beat favorite Justin Gatlin not just once but twice, winning gold and defending his 2013 titles in both the 100 and 200 meter sprints. And he again completed a hat trick by adding gold from the 4×100 meter relay. The Jamaican is the greatest track star of our generation, and it’s a sight to enjoy before it eventually ends.

Of course, out of all the things that happened at these World Championships, this might be the most memorable.

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