World Athletics inaugurated its Continental Tour in 2020, a series designed to showcase the world's best one-day meetings outside the Diamond League. While its roll-out wasn't quite as envisioned when it was announced last November, the series nonetheless illustrated how the sport, its organisers and athletes managed to adapt to and overcome the tremendous challenges, road blocks and disruptions that the global Covid-19 pandemic threw in its path.
Kick-off in Sydney
Comprised of meetings from around the world, the Continental Tour is divided into three levels - Gold, Silver and Bronze - and was to include some 80 competitions representing each of World Athletics six Areas in its inaugural season.
The series kicked off as planned in Sydney with the Australian city's eponymous Track Classic on 22 February, highlighted by a thrilling 1-2 finish by Peter Bol and Joseph Deng in the 800m. The series continued the next day at the Sir Graeme Douglas International in Auckland, another Bronze level meeting, where two-time world indoor champion Tom Walsh delighted the home fans with a 21.66m victory in the shot put.
Then the sky fell as the rapid spread of the Coronavirus pandemic forced uncertainty into every aspect of our lives. For our sport, it meant the cancellation or postponement of meeting after meeting from early March onward, upending the global competition calendar and locking athletes out of their training facilities and fans out of stadiums. Organisers, facing painful budget cuts and continually changing local restrictions, forged on, exploring creative ways in which to stage and deliver their meetings. Fortunately for the sport and for the Continental Tour’s maiden season, many succeeded.
After a break of some three-and-a-half months, the series resumed with the Odlozil Memorial in Prague on 8 June, a Bronze level meeting where local star Nikola Ogrodnikova, the European silver medallist in the javelin, produced the standout performance with a 64.22m effort in an event honouring Dana Zatopkova, the 1952 Olympic champion in the event who died in March at 97.
A month later, on 8 July, the national Grand Prix meeting in Karlstad, Sweden, another bronze meeting, signalled a start of the season in Scandinavia. World discus throw champion Daniel Stahl and world pole vault record-holder Mondo Duplantis were among the local stars who took part. On 1 August the Kuortane Games in the southwestern Finish city provided the next stop, where Stahl again took centre stage, as he would again nine days later at the Swedish national Grand Prix meeting in Sollentuna where he launched the discus 71.37m, the farthest throw in the world in 2020. Twenty-four hours later, after a delay of three months and a day, the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting series was finally launched in Turku, Finland.
Paavo Nurmi Games, Turku, Finland (11 August)
Moved from its original 1 June date, expectations were high for the Paavo Nurmi Games, an event first held in 1957 as a 60th birthday present for the legendary athlete it honours. And the meeting delivered with the best competition in terms of quality that the world had witnessed up to that point in 2020.
Six meeting record fell, topped by Johannes Vetter’s 91.49m javelin blast. Other highlights included Daniel Stahl's 69.23m effort in the discus throw and sprint hurdles world leads by Nadine Visser (12.68) and Andrew Pozzi (13.17).
To ensure safe distancing, organisers capped the meeting's capacity at 6000. All available seats were taken making the meeting the best attended of the season to date.
Gyulai István Memorial, Székesfehérvár, Hungary (19 August)
The next stop was the tenth edition of the Gyulai Memorial, an event honouring the late IAAF General Secretary which attracted nine world leaders and six world champions. Noah Lyles closed his abbreviated 2020 season with an impressive double dash victory, taking the 100m in 10.05 65 minutes before closing the meet with a 20.13 run over the half lap.
As he did during the Diamond League meeting on Monaco on 14 August, Lyles raised his black-gloved fist into the air during his introduction before the 100m. “The glove is a sign that we in the African-American community are struggling in America,” he said. "I have a platform and I intend to use it.”
African record-holder Hugues Fabrice Zango prevailed in the season’s finest gathering of triple jumpers, sailing to a 17.43m effort in the fourth round for the day’s only world lead. He was strong from the outset, reaching 17.40m in round two. Christian Taylor reached 17.34m (twice) to finish second, just ahead of arch-rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo of Portugal who jumped 17.28m. Both were season's bests.
The men's 110m hurdles contest was a thriller, with Orlando Ortega making up a sizable deficit over the final four barriers to edge world champion Grant Holloway by a scant 0.01 in 13.21. In the women's 100m hurdles, Nadine Visser won her fifth race in as many starts, clocking 12.68 to equal her world lead.
A recent tightening of restrictions on public gatherings in Hungary forced organisers to hold the meeting with no spectators.
“Only two weeks before the meeting, we had to take the tough decision of staging the meet behind closed doors as we could only have allowed in a very small crowd based on local restrictions," meeting Managing Director Peter Deutsch said.
“Yet along the way we never lost sight of our goal, which (was) to organise a true athletics meeting, and not a downscaled version with empty lanes or individual performances spanned across continents and the internet.”
Seiko Golden Grand Prix, Tokyo, Japan (23 August)
Initially intended to serve as a late spring preview of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on 10 May, organisers persevered to create a strong competitive opportunity for Japanese athletes on the track that will host the Games in 2021. Several rose to the occasion, especially Nozomi Tanaka, the world U20 3000m champion, who stepped down in distance to the 1500m where, unaided by pace setters, clocked 4:05.27 to break the national record.
Javelin thrower Genki Dean returned to promising form with an 84.05m effort. And, in an eagerly awaited men's 100m showdown, Yoshihide Kiryu pipped Aska Cambridge by 0.02 in 10.14.
Kamila Skolimowska Memorial, Chorzów, Silesia, Poland (6 September)
Johannes Vetter continued his strong 2020 campaign. The German, already history's second farthest thrower coming into the competition, unleashed a massive effort through the cloudy late afternoon sky that ultimately sailed 97.76m. It was the second farthest throw of all-time, landing 72 centimetres shy of Jan Zelezny's 98.48m world record set 24 years ago.
"It was really close to a perfect moment," said Vetter, who threw more than three metres farther than he’d ever thrown before.
Ryan Crouser also put his 2020 dominance of the shot put on full display, winning with a 22.70m effort that capped a series of five throws that flew well beyond the 22-metre line.
Elsewhere on the infield, Daniel Stahl won the discus with a 67.28m throw to notch his 13th straight victory.
Laura Muir produced an impressive 1500m run, the meetings’s best performance on the track, taking a commanding victory in 3:58.24, a meeting record and the second fastest time in the world this year. Sofia Ennaoui of Poland was second in 3:59.70, her first run under the four-minute barrier and within a second of the national record.
Ostrava Golden Spike, Ostrava, Czech Republic (8 September)
Jacob Kiplimo, Ryan Crouser, Christian Taylor and Faith Kipyegon produced the key highlights at the 59th edition of this venerable meeting.
Kiplimo fought off Selemon Barega in a fierce homestraight brawl to take the win in 12:48.63, one of seven meeting records to fall before a crowd of 3000 spectators who were allowed entry to Mestsky Stadium.
Crouser chiseled together another fine series capped by a 22.43m throw in the fourth round to win for the eighth time in as many competitions this year.
Elsewhere on the track, Faith Kipyegon powered to a 3:59.05 meeting record in the 1500m to win by nearly three seconds. Karsten Warholm clocked 47.62 to win the 400m hurdles to take down another meeting record.
In the triple jump, Taylor sailed to a world-leading 17.46m in the final round to steal the win from Hugues Fabrice Zango, who controlled the competition since the second round when he jumped 17.42m.
Hanžeković Memorial, Zagreb, Croatia (14-15 September)
Ryan Crouser continued his unbeaten 2020 campaign on the meeting's opening night, winning the shot put with a Croatian all-comers’ record of 22.74m to highlight the memorial's 70th anniversary edition.
On the next day's main programme, world discus throw champion Daniel Stahl bounced back from a rare defeat with a 68.87m meeting record while Sandra Perkovic thrilled the 700 spectators allowed entry by making the most of her first competition since March, dominating the proceedings with a 64.67m effort.
In the long jump, Swede Khaddi Sagnia produced the finest series of her career, threatening the seven-metre barrier with a 6.92m lifetime best.
Daniel Rowden and Stewart McSweyn impressed on the track, the former with a strong 1:44.09 to win the 800m and the latter with a solid 3:32.17 run to take the 1500m.
Kip Keino Classic, Nairobi, Kenya (3 October)
The Gold meeting series concluded with Nairobi's first ever global one-day meet, highlighted by victories by local heroes Timothy Cheruiyot, Hellen Obiri and Beatrice Chepkoech.
Cheruiyot clocked 3:34.53 to hold off a challenge by 2016 world U20 champion Kumari Taki while Obiri used her strong finishing kick to win the 5000m ahead of world 10,000m bronze medallist Agnes Tirop by less than half a second in 15:06.36. Chepkoech meanwhile led from the outset to win the 3000m steeplechase in 9:29.05, five seconds clear of 2015 world champion Hyvin Kiyeng.
Nicolas Kimeli produced a Kenyan all-comers record in the 5000m in 13:08.32, a notable performance given the Kenyan capital's high altitude.
Also notable was Namibian Beatrice Masilingi's victory in the 400m. The 17-year-old scorched to a 50.99 triumph, an African U18 best.
28 meetings held
In all, 28 Continental Tour meetings, were held across the Gold, Silver and Bronze levels, provided valuable competitive opportunities to athletes from all corners of the globe.
Other highlights from the Silver and Bronze meetings included Yuliya Levchenko's 2.00m leap at the Irena Szewińska Memorial in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on 19 August, the first of just two two-metre clearances this outdoor season.
On 25 August, Vetter starred at the Janusz Kusociński Memorial, also at Chorzów's Śląski Stadium with a 90.86m throw.
Four days later at the Drake Blue Oval Showcase in Des Moines, Iowa, the only Continental Tour meeting in North America this year, Crouser warmed up for his late summer European tour with a 22.72m throw.
German meetings also figured prominently in September. Malaika Mihambo sailed 7.03m at the Anhalt 2020 meeting in Dessau on 8 September, the year's only seven-metre jump. Five days later, Christian Taylor extended his own world lead in the triple jump to 17.57m at the ISTAF meeting in Berlin where the highlights also included a 5.91m pole vault by Mondo Duplantis, Hyvin Kiyeng's 9:06.14 world lead in the 3000m steeplechase and Karsten Warholm's 47.08 meeting record in the 400m hurdles.
Meanwhile, The Gala dei Castelli meeting in Bellinzona, Switzerland, on 15 September featured the international comeback of 2016 Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk who won his event in 45.58. His compatriot Akani Simbine, the African 100m champion, won the short dash in 10.02.
The series concluded on 6 December with the Grande Prêmio Brasil Caixa de Atletismo in Sao Paulo where local star, South American shot put record-holder Darlan Romani produced the best performance, winning his event with a 20.91m effort.
Bob Ramsak for World Athletics
source: www.worldathletics.org >
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