Always held in Stockholms Stadion, this is the same stadium that was home of the 1912 Olympics. (We walked over less than a block from our new apartment.) I think the records are a lot faster and farther now — and I get the feeling the costumes are a bit sleeker. (The Brazilian woman competing in the pole vault kept adjusting the bottom of her two-piece suit. I think she should have just gone with a G-string.)Competitors who break stadium records win diamonds — and some of the records are world records, which makes that even more impressive, not to mention difficult. Only one athlete won a diamond this year: Melanie Walker, clocking just under one minute for the 400-meter hurdles. She was rewarded with $10,000 along with a one-karat diamond.
A Russian woman was aiming to get a diamond in the pole vault, asking the judges to raise the bar to 4.86 meters. She didn’t make it, but won the event by curling her body over the bar at 4.76 m. A Norwegian guy built like Thor and named Thorkilden set a world lead with the javelin, though not a record — it was wild to see it arcing through the air, to hit the grass past the 88-meter mark. (Crazy also to see the meet staff just standing around in the middle of the field, waiting to pick up the spears after they punctured the grass.)
I was pretty thrilled to see Caster Semenya in the flesh, the woman who created so much controversy last year when competitors accused her of being genetically male. Her performance was disappointing, however, as she was last in the 800 m.The best for me may have been watching the pole vault. Our seats were perched above the women as they started their sprints, poles braced at their hips. That corner of the stadium would start rhythmically clapping whenever a woman was about to jump. The heights they reached were amazing. The favorite, until she scratched out, was a Swedish 18-year-old, Angelica Bengtsson. The crowd would exhale as one every time she missed.
The men’s 200-meter race, starring Usain “Lightning” Bolt, was billed as the evening’s main attraction. Bolt started right in front of us. The crowd was wild for him, camera flashes popping, and he delivered — striding ahead in the first and only turn, and then stretching out for a victory. Back home that evening, Matt read to me about why Bolt is so fast: an almost freakish blend of balance and strength.I found the whole evening so exciting — I had forgotten how beautiful track and field events are. And the way world-class athletes run is astounding, inspirational even. But I can’t say I will be putting on running shoes any time soon… I’m happy enough biking to work.