In the Arena: The best and the worst of 9 hot days in Osaka
OSAKA, Japan: The cheering, at least what there was of it, has stopped. The tens of thousands of Osakans who bothered to come to Nagai Stadium are now back to doing what Osakans do: work hard, smile often, shop underground in their endless air-conditioned malls, play games on their cellphones in the subway and line up for fried octopus balls, one of their favorite fast foods.
The Osakans were friendly, unfailingly helpful hosts to the visitors and athletes who arrived from more than 200 countries. Too bad the world championships never came close to taking over their city. The fact that this meet lacked a world record is probably good news in light of the sport's long-running problems with doping. The fact this meet lacked a genuine buzz is more problematic.
It is unsettling that the world's second most important track and field event cannot fill a stadium with just 36,000 seats in an affluent area of nearly 9 million people that has excellent public transportation.
It is also unsettling that the sport's governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, keeps putting its athletes through a nine-day sauna bath when they are expected to perform their best. This is the same organization that picked Seville, sometimes known as the frying pan of Spain, as host in August 1999.
Hopefully, Berlin will make them look smarter (and kinder) when it stages the 12th edition of the championships in two years, and hopefully the South Korean city of Daegu will fill up its stadium when the championships return to this region in 2011.
For the moment, it seems that sponsors are more excited than the public about athletics in Asia, although that should change at the Beijing Olympics next year, when the Chinese icon Liu Xiang runs in the 110-meter hurdles.
But before the world and Liu leap ahead to 2008, a quick look back at Osaka.
Best single: Multiple medalists make a habit of hogging the glory (if that word still applies to postmodern sports). But Blanka Vlasic, the daughter of a decathlete, made the most of her one event, winning a particularly high-level edition of the women's high jump. The Croatian is agile for someone who stands 1.92 meters, or 6 foot 4, and she was tough enough mentally to clear 2.05 meters on her third and final attempt. There were a victory dance and tears of joy and one suspects there will eventually be a world record of 2.10 meters, even though Vlasic tried and failed to make it happen here.
Best double: Bernard Lagat became the first man to win the 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter at the same world championships. But in light of the weather conditions, the nod goes to Lagat's former country of Kenya, which finally managed to sweep the marathon gold medals. Even with 7 a.m. starts, these were uncommonly brutal tests of endurance and character. Many failed to finish, and Luke Kibet and Catherine Ndereba deserved the highest marks.
Best double that wasn't quite a double: The Dutch extrovert Rutger Smith threw himself back to an era when specialization was not an obligation by finishing fourth in the shot put and then winning a bronze medal in the discus, which he practices just once a week.
Best triple: Two Americans - Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix - joined an exclusive club in Osaka, but Gay won two of his three golds on his own. He demoralized the world-record holder, Asafa Powell, in the 100 without blinking (literally or figuratively) and then set the only men's championship record of the meet in the 200, winning by a lot in 19.76 seconds. His intense third leg set up the Americans for gold in the 4-by-100 relay. With his sotto voce approach, he was a refreshing - if not terribly quotable - change from brash American sprinters past. "I'm probably a mamma's boy," he said. Let's hope that he keeps passing every drug test. Don't be surprised if Felix wins more golds than Gay in Beijing. He should run in the same three events, but she has a genuine chance at four in the 200, 400 and both relays.
Best newcomer: Donald Thomas, who took up the high jump less than two years ago on a dare by a friend, ended up winning the world title for the Bahamas. If he can clear 2.35 meters with rudimentary technique, what happens when he really figures out what to do with his arms and legs?