PORTLAND, Oregon — The United States closed out the world indoor athletics championships with another gold rush and a record medal haul on Sunday, while Ethiopia emerged from the doping shadows and into the spotlight by dominating the distance events.
Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba and Yomif Kejelcha interrupted the American assault on the podium, taking gold in the men’s and women’s 3,000 meters before the Portland party shifted into overdrive with the U.S. closing out the four day meeting with victories in the women’s high jump, men’s 1,500 metres and long jump and both 4x400m relays.
The United States finished as the runaway leader at the top of the medal table with 23, smashing the old mark of 19 while claiming 13 gold, as many as the rest of the world combined.
Ethiopia was a distant second with two gold and five medals. No other country had more than one gold.
The U.S. record may, however, come with an asterisk, because their chief rival Russia has been banned from international competition by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation uncovered evidence of what it termed state sponsored doping.
Ethiopia also arrived at the championships under a doping cloud, the long distance powerhouse identified by the IAAF as one of five countries that are in critical care regarding their drug-testing systems.
The final day of competition began with Kejelcha holding off a hard-charging American Ryan Hill to take the men’s 3,000m before Dibaba, indoor world record-holder in the 1500, mile, 3,000 and 5,000m, made it a clean sweep of the distance gold by leading a one-two Ethiopian finish in the women’s event.
Burundi kept the African roll going with Francine Niyonsaba winning the women’s 800m.
“Doping is not good news for athletes,” Dibaba told reporters. “I think it is altitude and hard training (responsible for success).”
American Matthew Centrowitz, who lives and trains in Portland, brought a thrilling end to African domination of the distance races with a victory in the men’s 1,500m, taking gold after bronze and silver at the 2011 and 2013 world outdoor championships.
Vashti Cunningham, the 18-year-old high jumping sensation, also soared to gold while the U.S. squads stormed to victory in the relays.
Jamaica also picked up their first gold on the final day, Omar McLeod gave the Caribbean sprinting power gold in the men’s 60m hurdles.
With the IAAF promising changes in the wake of doping and corruption scandals, the indoor championships could have a very different look when they are staged in Birmingham, England in 2018.
The Portland worlds were held in a modest 7,000 temporary facility and struggled for attention in the United States where they were going head-to-head against the hugely popular college basketball tournament known as March Madness.
The absence of the biggest names in athletics, including Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt, did not help while organisers took the opportunity to try several cosmetic changes to the meet format to generate interest.
“I think this is the start,” said Vin Lananna, president of the TrackTown USA local organising committee. “I don’t think everything can happen all at once. I think what we have created is a valuable show, the entertainment has been really good.
“I think this is the first step in the new president’s initiative to be more innovative to be more accessible and we have certainly accomplished that.”