Sun, Aug 27, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Taipei Universiade: Perspective needed amid stellar Universiade

By James Baron  /  Contributing reporter

Taiwan’s Yang Chun-han runs alongside South Africa’s Thando Roto and Jan Volko of Slovakia in the 100m final at the Taipei Summer Universiade on Thursday.

Photo: Wang Yi-sung, Taipei Times

When Yang Chun-han won gold in the 100m at the Taipei Summer Universiade on Thursday, I was surprised.

Shortly after the opening ceremony, an acquaintance who is involved in athletics in Taiwan was talking up Yang’s chances and I was dismissive.

Sure, he had achieved a personal best of 10.22 seconds at the National Intercollegiate Athletic Games at National Taiwan University in May, breaking the national record in the process (strangely, my acquaintance and several other Taiwanese friends swore blind that he had run a sub-10-second 100m, a claim for which I can find no corroboration).

Yang also scooped a gold in the 200m and a bronze in the 100m at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar, India, last month.

To make yesterday’s final, Yang had to go one further, shaving 0.02 seconds off his personal best to take the heat in 10.20 seconds. So, I take my hat off to him.

However, before I eat it, I think his victory — and Taiwan’s outstanding performance at the Universiade thus far — needs some qualification.

First, several athletes seriously underperformed.

The most glaring example was Cameron Burrell — son of former Olympic Gold medalist Leroy Burrell — who is head coach of the US athletics team at the Games.

The junior Burrell has yet to catch his father, who achieved a then-world record of 9.90 seconds in 1991, but he still ran 9.93 seconds at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) outdoor track and field championships in June.

He took bronze with a time of 10.27 seconds in Taipei.

Pipping him for silver was South African Thando Roto, who achieved a personal best of 9.95 seconds in March.

Jamaica’s Tyquendo Tracey, who was fourth, ran 10.12 seconds in Kingston in June.

This should in no way detract from Yang’s performance, but should just be a reminder that this was not a fast final, given the times some of the competitors have run over the past few months.

Even Slovakia’s Jan Volko, who finished fifth, has gone considerably faster than Yang, clocking a personal best and national record of 10.15 seconds in the preliminary rounds of the World Athletics Championship in London earlier this month.

That leads us to the next proviso: Few of the world’s top athletes who are eligible for the Universiade have shown up — and quite a few are eligible.

While veterans Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt took gold and bronze respectively at the 100m at the World Championships in London this month, many of the standout performers on the track and at the Universiade in general were youngsters.

Sandwiched between Bolt and Gatlin with a time of 9.94 seconds was Christian Coleman. Having blitzed the field with a time of 9.82 seconds at the NCAA event, the University of Tennessee student has the look of a future Olympic champion.

Finishing fifth in London, with a time of 10.05 seconds, was South African Akani Simbine, who claimed gold at the 2015 Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea, setting a Games record of 9.97 seconds.

Along with high-profile teammates Caster Semenya, a double Olympic gold medalist in the 800m, and 400m, and world record holder Wayne van Niekerk, also an Olympic gold medalist in Rio de Janeiro last year, Simbine decided against taking part in the Universiade.

Although the trio were berated by the South African university athletics authorities for refusing to confirm their participation in Taipei, it was pretty obvious from the outset that they had much bigger fish to fry.

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