My first trip with Lloyd-Bell as an IAAF Radio commentator was to the World Junior Championships in Eugene in July 2014. It was a terrific event in an athletics crazy town and a fascinating opportunity to see the next generation of track and field superstars in action.
Less than two years on and I was back in the state of Oregon, a little over 100 miles north of Eugene in Portland, for the World Indoor Championships. I was reunited with presenter Sam Lloyd and techmeister Micky Curling and, while we have lost none of our youthful vigour, some of the competitors we watched as juniors have really blossomed and come of age.
As we collected our start lists at the beginning of each day there was a sense of déjà vu as many of the those atheletes, who were still at school back in 2014, were now competing in a senior global event. And to stunning effect in some cases. American sprinter Trayvon Bromell was still 18 when he lowered the world junior 100 metres record to 9.97 seconds in the summer of 2014 and was hot favourite to be crowned world junior champion in Eugene. In the event he was beaten into second place by compatriot Kendal Williams although he did take gold as with the victorious US relay team.
Now 20 he arrived in Portland with a bronze medal from the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and a personal best mark of 9.84 seconds making him the 10th fastest man in history. But he was only fifth quickest qualifying for the 60 metres final at the Portland Convention Centre and among those ahead of him were former world champion Kim Collins, just about old enough to be Bromell’s father at 39, and another thirty-something Asafa Powell who, incredibly, had still never won a major global title.
It was a case of “out with the old and in with the new” though as Bromell ran a technically brilliant final in front of an adoring American crowd; he was simply in a different class from the rest of the field as he left a blanket for second place behind him to claim a first global title but surely not his last.
Equally impressive was another from the class of 2014. Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha had won the 5000 metres in Eugene a week before celebrating his 17th birthday and set a new personal best indoors over 3000 metres in Stockholm a month prior to lining up in Portland. Signs of what was to come appeared in his heat which he won impressively against a strong field. The final pitted him against some very illustrious company including the defending champion Caleb Ndiku and another Kenyan Augustine Choge, a former Commonwealth 5000 meters champion and World Indoor silver medallist. Also among the starters were 2012 indoor champion Abdelaati Iguidir of Morocco and the US title holder Ryan Hill who would have the support of the partisan crowd.
But it was the tall, rangy teenager who showed maturity way beyond his years, hitting the front with two laps to go and then masterfully holding off his more experienced opponents to claim gold ahead of Hill and Choge and., like Bromell, propel himself into genuine contention for the outdoor world title in London next year.
Others who graduated from the podium at Eugene to that in Portland included Kenyan world Junior 800 metres champion Margeret Wambui who took a bronze and Ethiopian duo Dawit Seyaum and Gudaf Tsegay who finished first and second in the 1500 metres in Eugene and crossed the line for second and third behind Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands here. Unfortunately a hamstring injury prior to the 60 metres final robbed Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith of the chance to add to the impressive list of successful graduates.
As well as the new talent on show, Portland gave us new spectator experiences too. In the finals of the throwing and jumping events, only the top four competitors were granted a sixth and last attempt which heightened the tension. And every event was preceded by a dramatic stage entrance by the athletes, walking individually into the arena down a ramp onto the track amid loud music and pyrotechnics.
Before each of the 60 metre finals the house lights were dimmed and spotlights whirled around in the near darkness just before the competitors came under starters orders. I am proud to say that I was the only one among our team of Sam, Micky, Ronald McIntosh and Connie Henry to recognise the pounding soundtrack to all of this as “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
Still young at heart….
By John Anderson