BIRMINGHAM, England, March 3 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, an athletics heroine who has shone in dark times for her country, again made her compatriots proud as she successfully defended her triple jump crown at the world indoor championships on Saturday.
Tom Walsh, a New Zealander who never fulfilled his mother’s dream of him becoming a rugby All Black, again excelled in his preferred athletic field, winning the shot gold with a record-breaking put on the penultimate morning of the four-day worlds.
Christian Coleman, the U.S. sprinter tipped to take up Usain Bolt’s mantle as the world’s fastest man, was the centre of attention at Arena Birmingham as he overcame an early stumble before easing into the 60 metres semi-finals.
Rojas’s victory, after she belatedly roused herself to produce a fifth-round winning leap of 14.63 metres, the best in the world this year, proved another emotional one for the dramatic figure from Caracas.
When she won the equivalent crown in London last year to become the first Venezuelan to strike gold at an outdoor world championships, Rojas dedicated her triumph to her country, which was embroiled in political and economic strife.
Again, after adding a third world title to her impressive resume at the age of just 22, Rojas felt moved to declare: “This is a great achievement for Venezuela, for our nation. I hope I brought a bit of joy to them and they enjoyed watching it.”
The woman coached by Cuba’s former Olympic long jump champion Ivan Pedroso in Madrid had looked as if she might miss out as the Birmingham-based Jamaican Kimberly Williams led with a fine series, headed by her third round 14.48m.
Yet before her fifth round effort, Rojas started whooping loudly to get the crowd involved and soared out to 14.63. Williams was unable to respond, with Spain’s Ana Peleteiro taking the bronze with 14.40.
Walsh, rapidly becoming as dominant in the shot put arena as his female compatriot Valerie Adams has been, put the competition to bed with his opening effort of 22.13 metres, which he matched in the third round.
Then, with the competition won and to the accompaniment of rock music in the dimly-lit arena, the 26-year-old unleashed his celebratory ‘shot in the dark’ of 22.31 metres, a lifetime best and Oceania record that put him fourth on the all-time list.
The mark also erased East German Ulf Timmermann’s 31-year-old championship record of 22.24m, the longest-standing world indoor championship mark.
However, it also spelled bad news for Walsh’s coach, who had promised to grow ‘mutton chop’ facial hair for the next nine months if his charge won with a personal best.
Walsh, who was a talented rugby player and cricketer as a youngster, reckoned that his mum, who had wanted him to concentrate on rugby, would now accept he had made the right choice to pursue athletics.
“If you knew my mother, you would know that she would never disagree with something she has said. But I made the right decision,” said a smiling Walsh, who consigned Germany’s David Storl (21.44) to silver and Czech Tomas Stanek (also 21.44), who was relegated to bronze on the countback.
“Mum will be pretty happy. It is great to have parents supporting you, whatever you do.”
The men’s 60 metres, the championships’ blue riband event, was set for a dramatic conclusion in the semi-finals and final later on Saturday after world record holder Coleman had overcome a brief stumble to ease through in a modest 6.71 seconds.
The quickest man going into the semis will be Coleman’s U.S. team mate Ronnie Baker, who clocked 6.57 seconds while there was much delight that Kim Collins, the popular 41-year-old veteran from St Kitts & Nevis in his final competition, also qualified.
A busy morning also saw an ominously easy qualification for Sunday’s 4x400 metres relay final by a U.S men’s quartet who clocked 3 minutes 04.00 seconds and could well lower their four-year-old world record of 3:02.13 in Sunday’s final. (Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Ken Ferris)