Sprinters, hurdlers, throwers and jumpers all hit the track, and infield, as Athletics kicked off day one of ten at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium under sweltering conditions.
As is the case for all sports at the Tokyo Games due to coronavirus countermeasures, the stadium was devoid of spectators, however considering it’s capacity to hold 68,000, the lack of presence and energy was felt more than ever.
First round preliminary heats in the women’s 100 meters went off at 9 am sharp as Natacha Ngoye Akamai of Congo sprinted to victory in 11.47, among three athletes advancing.
As the heat was already searing on the track in the morning hours, one veteran journalist working on the fourth level of the press tribune described conditions as “super hot and humid” although with “an occasional breeze”. Morning temperatures approached 30 degrees Celsius, but uncomfortable humidity around 80 percent made it seem hotter.
The journalist also noted that it felt “odd with no fans” in the massive stadium and one could “hear the sound of cicadas”.
Despite the discomfort in the stands, the heat on the track actually bode well for some athletes, notably the women’s sprinters and 400m hurdlers, considering fast qualifying times.
Men’s 400m hurdles world record holder Karsten Warholm had no problems at all cruising to an easy victory in his third round heat in 48.65. The Norwegian arrives in Tokyo fresh off breaking Kevin Young’s 29-year-old world record in the event, having clocked 46.70 at the Oslo Bislett Games on July 1st.
“It was nice to get out on the track again,” Warholm said. “I’ve been here for two weeks already. I’m starting to get bored, so it was very nice to get around.”
Moving forward, the Norwegian could be threatened by Benjamin Rai of the U.S. or Abderrahman Samba of Qatar, both of whom also easily qualified for the next round. Perhaps the world record could once again be in jeopardy?
“Maybe someone else will do it (break the record),” Warholm said. “I’ve done my job.”
Veteran Jamaican sprinters displayed top form in the 100m heats. Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce clocked two of the quickest times as six athletes went under 11 seconds.
Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast set an African record of 10.78, a performance that left her in disbelief.
“Surprise, surprise,” said the former world silver medalist. “I really didn’t expect to run as fast as I just did. I didn’t even train in the warm-up area.”
Additional events contested in the morning session included the men’s high jump and discus qualifications, and first rounds of the men’s 3000m steeplechase, women’s 800m and men’s 400m hurdles.
Steeplechasers were apparently not hindered either by the hot and humid conditions as Japan’s Ryugi Myura set a national record in the first heat of the men’s 3000m steeplechase, clocking 8:09.92, just behind winner Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia.
Swedish discus favorite Daniel Stahl had the top throw in two flights of competitors with a toss of 66.12 meters. Thirteen of 32 men’s high jumpers soared over 2.28m, including two-time world champion and twice Olympic medalist Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar.
Following a six-hour break, Athletics resumes in the evening with dual gender 4x400m mixed relay heats, women’s 5000m rounds, triple jump and shot put qualifications.
The first medals of track and field will be awarded in the men’s 10,000m final, the final event on the track in the evening affair.
Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei is the likely favorite – the 24-year-old distance runner from Uganda having set the world record at 26:11.00, last October in Valencia, Spain.
Follow Brian on Twitter - @Brian_Pinelli