Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

A morning’s athletics followed by an afternoon off to mark the halfway point, what a luxury. I was in fairly early, though missed the start of the 50km walk at 8:30. Much athletics is utterly compelling when seen live and yet simple and quick to sum up. I suppose much sport is like that-either you see the whole thing, with ups and downs, or you can boil it down to a story of goals, tries etc. With athletics it almost seems more so, as it is international and so without a home nation to cheer in most events, it can be easy to switch off. Why worry about an Irish gold, other than in the abstract? Similarly, watching highlights of a jump is straightforward, but it is hugely more dramatic watching the rounds develop, not knowing whether the jump you are watching is significant. Yet watching the walk, with Russians making the early move, trailed by a Frenchman who joined the chasing pack, then went it alone, then moved to the front, I was hooked. It helps that it is so obviously such hard work and, I suppose, that elite walkers go at about my running pace. It still seems slightly ridiculous to watch but just as with cricket’s DRS or football, if anyone ever bothered, having the rules explained negates much criticism. Did you know that when a football team scores, the ball ‘belongs’ to the defending team? So every striker you’ve ever seen trying to take the ball out of a ‘keepers hands? Either a cheat or ignorant of the rules for the game he plays. Similarly with the walk, the rule is that one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times; but as judged with the naked eye. So slow-mo may show much, but is only relevant for interest.

One of the Seven Sisters
One of the Seven Sisters.

Heffernan’s win was hugely popular, and he made his final lap plus of the stadium a celebration. He and the other medallists cold cavort a little, but many other finishers could do no more than collapse after the line. Diniz, the Frenchman who made the early walking only to fade, stop a couple of times and look as though he was dropping out, looked in a bad way. It’s a struggle that gets to me emotionally in just the same way as a marathon.

Presidential Palace seem from across the river, Moscow
Putin’s House.

That afternoon, we had a semi organised tour. Semi, in that the team had asked their transport organiser to sort something out, which is a bit like asking me to direct a bus driver round the sights of London. Right you are, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham palace, Hyde park, um, where else do you want to go? In fact, a spare afternoon is such a rarity that people mostly wanted to take pictures, with masses taken on the bus. The bus taking us to Red Square. We need a new cliche, but it was like herding cats once we got there, breaking into smaller and smaller groups.

St Basil's Cathedral; colourful with beautiful 'organic' shaped spires
St Basil’s Cathedral.

Wandering around the square it was all very “the World Championships do Moscow” as people were wearing their accreditation passes as if worried they’d be checked in public. Moment of the afternoon came when we spotted Nadine ‘she’s got a pretty face’ Muller and someone shouted to get a picture for Rob, whose quote that is. Steve went one better, bounding up to ask for a picture and being only momentarily checked by her hand keeping him out of the shot they were currently taking. Great picture, but even better is wondering whether she’ll ever know that that funny English bloke in the hat was Steve Ovett.

Steve Ovett leaning on a railing overlooking Luzhniki Stadium in the distance
Steve’s House.

We were in Red Square for some time, taking pictures and meandering, before slowly making our way back to the bus. A souvenir stall took a good ten minutes to negotiate, while big Ron was tapped by a brave pickpocket. Nothing lost, but the full shoulder contact, hand in pocket. We stopped briefly at the presidential palace, pointed out the British embassy and, the other side of town, consulate and stopped at the top of Sparrow Hills. The view down to the stadium is grand from there, while behind is one of the huge buildings known as seven sisters. Originally there were intended to be 8, around a central huge something or other that was never built. This one is the hub of Moscow state university, which spreads wider than that one massive building on a huge campus. I was happy with an ice cream and a look at the views. This, then, was a day to catch breath and see more of the city than just the metro and a few streets.

WC day 4

WC day 4
Dolgoprudny, Russian Federation

Dolgoprudny, Russian Federation

I was relaxed about my start today, wanting to get a run in and not get out of bed enormously early. I set off around 8.30 and crossed the river. If the stadium is at the bottom of a U shape caused by the river, the hostel is near top left, so crossing allowed me to run down the left edge all the way to the parkland that borders the ‘sparrow hills’ area. The mascot is a sparrow, maybe relatedly. The distances here are huge, great long roads-the equivalent distance on a map of Helsinki might be 5 minutes walk, here it is 10 minutes run. Pedestrian crossings give you a countdown and I nearly didn’t make one the other day across Smolensky Boulevard – it felt easy enough to halfway till I realised I had somehow only 5 of 30 seconds left and 5 lanes of 9 (it’s 9 lanes on both sides) still to cross.

Clearing a height
Clearing a height.

The run was similar. I only ran down to the river, along a bit while waiting to cross the road then crossed the river and had already covered a mile. Staying this side of the river, the stadium is under 2 miles away, but by the time I was opposite it on the other side of the wide river I was over 3 miles in. I crossed at Vorobyovy Gory station which has a bridge running alongside the station. It’s the most convenient for the media entrances, but I came out of the wrong side yesterday and wondered what all the parkland was. That at least primed me for my crossing today. I continued, 5 miles in, along the front of the stadium, encouraged by some spectators. Well, who knows who I might be? I wasn’t running particularly well, until I spotted a group of athletes coming towards me, warming up for the 5 grand-couple of Australians and one gb vest, though I don’t know who he was, given that only Mo was going for us. I passed another group, again multinational, which kept me thinking about my form, trying to look the part.

Group of Ukrainians on the far side of the otherwise empty stadium
Huge group of Ukrainians.

Once I was done and showered I didn’t make it to the station till 10.16. First 5000 heat at 10.20, oh well. I didn’t rush, catching the second tube and reading on the way. An elderly supporter next to me went to exit at Sportivnaya, recommended for spectators, and was stopped by a local, who wanted him to get the next one. I guess it is slightly more convenient for most, and he took it in good part. I took the time to pick up some water and a daily programme and made it into the stadium. Oh look, Farah and Rupp lining up. Sometimes life works with you. With five to go through plus five fastest losers both were in a group of five that moved away from the rest and qualified looking comfortable as the front three, two Kenyans and an Ethiopian, raced off to the finish. The women’s 20km walk finished on the track too, slightly chaotically. Russians were 1,2,3 coming into the stadium, with cones marking off for them to do one lap outside the cones and 3/4 inside. But there was no finish marked so the first placer held hands up and stopped once she crossed the line and had to be rushed on, with 2nd closing, while 3rd place came into the stadium and stopped, looking round. Next time I looked she had pulled out, with china taking bronze, though it is possible the Russian has just heard she was disqualified. That was the track action done, though still with high jump and triple jump qualification and the heptathlon javelin throw going on for action left, right and centre. Rumours that US high jumper Erik Kynard plans to call his son Far are unconfirmed.

The evening session was packed with finals, though spotting a male Spanish discus thrower called Jennifer in the final nearly topped it all. Is there a Spanish Johnny Cash? The Russian walkers’ gold and silver got a huge cheer, but that for Sergey Bubka, presenting the pole vault medals, was greater, topped only by the reception for Isinbaeva. It got louder through the evening as others fell by the wayside and once the track races were moved out of the way. The 400 seemed odd, James nowhere near it, and the two 800s were exciting in different ways. Huge PBs from all three heptathletes in the hunt for bronze meant it went to Schippers, who held third beforehand but was the slowest of the three. She finished behind Johnson-Thompson and Rath but was near enough to stay ahead overall.

5000m heats in the sunshine
Mo and Rupp ease through.

Then Isinbaeva. She fouled once each at different heights on the way up but then cleared 4.82 comfortably and was the only one clear at 4.89. Cue raucous celebrations, but there were still medal ceremonies and the like to finish us off. She knows how to manage a big moment, though, and took on a world record height, given 5 minutes for each attempt, which made sure she had the stage to herself. She didn’t clear, but could then do a lap of honour, plus several cartwheel-back flip combos, while her song (! Lyrics not testing, ‘Isinbaeva…Isinbaeva’ repeat to fade) played over the pa. If she retires I guess she’ll find some way to stay in the public eye. She was the only athlete I’ve yet seen in an in field interview who took the microphone rather than just talk into it. It’s possible she might be a bit of a diva if not given centre stage, mind.

Summary: 1:05:12, 12.66km.

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