South tennis team has the makings of a dynasty

first_imgStaff Writer By Warren Rappleyea The Middletown High School South girls tennis team rolled through the campaign, losing only once in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III tournament to Watchung Hills. Bad news for their foes, Coach Pat Ouellette has several players ready to step into the lineup to replace this year’s seniors. The coach added that her team’s only loss came against a team that went on to win the overall Group III title. Middletown South defeated both Red Bank Regional and Wall during the Central Jersey Group III tourney. “Watchung Hills will be playing in the Tournament of Champions, so we certainly lost to a good team, but we have a lot to be proud of,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve won the Shore Conference Tournament, and it’s always nice to win your division.” Ouellette’s team was downright dominating this fall, winning the Shore Conference’s Class A North division and also capturing its first Shore Conference Tournament championship. Two singles players won 20 or more matches, and the first doubles tandem produced more than 20 wins. The Eagles were 21-1 on the year. “We have a lot of depth throughout the lineup,” said Ouellette, who frequently used her reserves. “There are a lot of talented players on this team and it’s a challenge, but I have to get them out on the court.” One reason for the depth was the improvement of sophomore Karen Shih. A second doubles player a year ago, and a good one at that, she teamed with Lindsay Moran to win the second doubles title for Monmouth County. Shih worked hard during the off-season and earned the second singles position. Her emergence made the rest of the team that much stronger, Ouellette pointed out. “With Karen moving to second singles it pushed the rest of the lineup down a spot,” the coach explained. Of course, the Eagles also have one of the top first singles players in the Shore in Jaime Fass, who went 21-3 in her senior season. Fass was followed by Shih, who finished up at 20-3. Christine Powers, a senior who was 18-7 at second in 1999, played third this time around and compiled a fine 13-4 mark. The devastating duo of senior Jen Corley and sophomore Lindsay Moran overpowered opponents to the tune of a 21-2 record at first doubles. At second, senior Lucy Hanus and junior Rachel Scherer were 14-1. Ouellette also worked sophomores Melissa Zampella and Kristyn Villany into the lineup, where they won four and three matches respectively. Junior Sara Whipple and freshman Leslie Potter saw time at doubles, and senior Erica Moran was 4-0 in singles action. “We were very strong throughout the lineup and that enabled me to play our younger players, and that experience will help them next year,” Ouellette said. “We have a group of eight sophomores and they’ll be making a mark next season.”last_img read more

Seraphs are first at Rebel Relays

first_img Mater Dei High School’s girls track and field team showcased their overall balance at the season opening Rebel Relays. PHOTOS BY ERIC SUCAR staff Above: Mater Dei High School’s Marie Walsh competes in a relay race during the annual Husky Relays held at Matawan Regional High School in Aberdeen on April 11. Below: Middletown High School North’s Brandon Depalo clears a hurdle during the relays. The Seraphs edged Matawan for the Division I title at the meet hosted by Howell High School on April 4. Mater Dei scored in 12 of the 15 events, which gave the Seraphs just enough to earn the first-place trophy. Mater Dei won four relays on the track, the distance medley relay, the sprint medley, the shuttle hurdles and the 3×400-meter intermediate hurdles. It was Marie Walsh, Aliya Simor, Shanna Kirgan and Jen Poss teaming up to win the DMR in 13:52. The sprint medley consisted of Walsh, Tessa La Marche, Danielle Ostanzo and Shanna Kirgan. They posted a wining time of 4:42.9. In the shuttle hurdles, Kelly Rossidis, Nicole Murphy, Brianna Kiernan and Ciara Chaly clocked 1:19. The same quartet won the intermediate hurdles relay in 3:53.0. Matawan was second in both these events, and Mater Dei wins here play a large role in the team’s championship. The Seraphs outscored the Huskies, 45- 40, on the track. The two teams were even in the field with 40 points each. The victory in the Rebel Relays set the stage for what coach Kevin Attridge expects to be a good season for his squad. “We have some outstanding returning individuals who had great winter seasons and a mix of talented returnees from track and field,” said Attridge. Newcomers, some young, some upperclassmen, have added to the team’s depth, and that came in handy in Howell. Walsh (800-1,600), Liz Shaw (400- 800-1,600), Chaly high jump/hurdles, Rossidis (hurdles), Murphy (hurdles), Shanna Kirgan (400-800), Caitlin Gatto (high jump/100), Kerry Donnelly (800- 1,600), Amanda Mennen (field events), Julia Koch (800-1,600), Kiernan (hurdles) and Simnor (1,600-3,200) are the returning letter winners who are the core of the ’09 Seraphs. At Saturday’s Husky Relays at Matawan High School, Gatto and Chalz won the high jump relay with their jumps totaling 9-5. The Seraphs were third in Division I with 44 points. Upcoming events include the 34th Holmdel Relay Carnival at Holmdel High School on Friday (4:30 p.m.) and Saturday (9:30 a.m.) and the Lion Invitational at Middletown North High School on April 25. BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer last_img read more

Caseys capture co-state title after playing IHA to draw

first_imgRBC girls finish 23-1-1 BY WARREN RAPPLEYEA Correspondent After losing the past two years in the finals of the NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament to Immaculate Heart Academy (IHA), the Red Bank Catholic High School girls soccer team fought IHA to a 1-1 tie last Thursday at The College of New Jersey. As a result the two teams are co-champions. Red Bank Catholic’s Olivia DeFelice (r) wins control of the ball from Immaculate Heart Academy’s Stefanie Scholz during the second half of the NJSIAA Non-Public A state championship match played Nov. 18 at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township. The teams played to a 1-1 tie and shared the state championship. ERIC SUCAR staff From the start of the season, Caseys coach Ken Santos said his team’s goal was to win Non-Public A, and RBC was determined not to lose to the Blue Eagles for the third straight year. “The girls worked hard all season just to get to this point,” he said. “I thought we played very well and we were right there with them [IHA].” RBC and Immaculate Heart battled through a scoreless first half as the two teams got a feel for the game and began testing each other. Mackenzie Cowley put the Caseys in front in the 51st minute when she took a pass from Kelly Dolan and tucked the ball into the open space high on the right side of the net. It marked the first time RBC had been in front of IHA in the three championship games. The lead, however, was short lived as the Blue Eagles tied things up less than five minutes later when Mary Jane White booted in her own rebound. Both teams had chances to win the contest, and RBC’s Danielle Colaprico hit the cross bar on a free kick late in the game. The Blue Eagles had a good chance with time running out but their shot sailed over the net. While Santos conceded that a win would have been preferable, the RBC coach noted that both teams played well enough to win. The Caseys last won a state championship in 2005, when they shared the title with Pingry after the two teams played to a scoreless tie in the final. “I’m very proud of our girls, they played a great game against a great team,” Santos said. The state title culminates an outstanding campaign for the Caseys, who went 23-1-1 and won four championships (B North Division, Shore Conference Tournament, Non-Public A South sectional and State Non-Public A). In Non-Public A, RBC worked its way to the championship game by downing Bishop Eustace, 5-1, defeating Notre Dame, 5-0, and edging Paul VI, 5-3, in penalty kicks in a game played at Holmdel High School on Nov. 11. The later victory came on a penalty-kick goal by Kelly Dolan and gave the Caseys the Non- Public A South title for the third straight season. Goalkeeper Lisa Capelli also scored in the penalty-kick shoot-out. Cowley scored in regulation for Santos’ team. RBC’s only loss came against Colts Neck in a Shore Conference B North Division contest at the end of the regular season. Despite the loss, the Caseys won the first of their four championships outright.last_img read more

Raritan girls volleyball team enjoying newfound success

first_imgKristina Pruckowski is among the seven seniors who remember the years of frustrating losses on Raritan High School’s girls volleyball team.This season has been different, though. Raritan reached double figures in wins for the first time at 12-7, and it made the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) for the first time and the state tournament for only the second time in its young six-year history.“I’ve been there for four years, and this year is a very big accomplishment,” said Pruckowski, a defensive specialist, also known as a libero. “Being in two tournaments is overwhelming and awesome.”Raritan, which is in the middle of the pack in the Shore Conference A Central Division at 6-6, made its SCT debut on Oct. 20 at home against Jackson Liberty High School. Jackson Liberty is a Shore Conference B South team that came in with a 10- 9 record, but it has won only one of five matches that went to a third game.“We worked every single day, and worked hard. A lot of new players challenged us,” Pruckowski said. “It’s a great feeling. We’re definitely ready, definitely excited.”Jackson Liberty was pressed into a third game again, but it came out on top this time against Raritan in the SCT, 25-20, 21- 25, 25-15. Senior setter Nikki Morales had 11 assists.Pruckowski also credited the dedication of head coach Denis Caruano and new assistant coach Sarah Roman, who played volleyball in college and also coaches Raritan’s junior varsity team, which is enjoying a 12-3 season.“They’re very good friends on and off the court, which helps,” Caruano said of his players. “This group remembers the trials and tribulations of losing.”Last season, Raritan had a shot at making the state tournament, but it faltered in its closing matches. It made its only other appearance in the state tournament two years ago when it won eight matches, its highest number of victories before this season. Caruano admitted that he was concerned going into last week before Raritan reached the SCT. The team swept all four of its matches played over four days after backto back losses to St. John Vianney High School and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School the prior week.“I don’t know if I imagined we’d do this well a couple of months ago. And when we lost to Rumson-Fair Haven, I did not want to see this team have another ‘what if’ for this year,” Caruano said.Last week, Raritan beat Long Branch High School on Oct. 13 and followed with victories over Holmdel High School, Point Pleasant Beach High School and Keyport High School. In the last of those victories, Morales got seven of her 21 aces on the season in one game, as Raritan had a 15-0 edge in that category. She also has 55 assists.Raritan won a pair of close 25-23 games over Point Pleasant Beach.Lily Marten, a senior middle hitter who is the team’s all-time blocks leader in a season with 46, got five against Point Pleasant Beach. She also has 49 kills this season.“We’re very strong in our service game,” Caruano said, citing 155 aces in the first 19 games coming into this week, led by sophomore middle hitter Lauren Christ with 31. “And we have good defense.”Christ had seven kills against Jackson Liberty.That aspect is shared by senior Francesca Svoboda, the other setter in Raritan’s 4-2 formation, and junior outside hitters Katy Peterson and Alexis Sideris as the other starters.Four players graduated from last year’s 7-14 team, but Caruano, who took over the team as coach four years ago after it did not win a game in its first two seasons, believed this team had the makings of a winner.Raritan has been ranked No. 8 in one Shore area poll late in the season. It also got a defining victory when it pulled out a third game against Shore Conference A South opponent Lacey Township High School, which has beaten perennial Shore power Southern Regional High School this season.“From the first game, I thought this season could be special,” Caruano said. “The number I kept saying to the players is 10 for a winning record. Qualifying for the Shore Conference Tournament we thought was a lofty goal.”Making both tournaments means a longer season for Raritan and a shorter break time for Caruano, who starts another season as boys basketball coach at Raritan next month. The state has mandated an earlier start for the basketball season from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the Monday beforehand.“Our offense can be stronger, but we can keep the ball alive. Teams don’t score on us on the first return,” Caruano said about the volleyball team.If there are some shaky moments, there are other players who can step in and help settle things down. Many of them are underclassmen, which bodes well for the future and the prospects of the powerful junior varsity team.Raritan can turn to sophomore defensive specialist Michelle Nestor, who Caruano called a “godsend off the bench” with her solid service game and offense. Senior Erin Gill and junior Gabrielle Pantilla also play on the defense, while senior Franny Nizza and junior Hayley Eckert are two outside hitters ready to step in. Boys basketball As for the boys basketball side, Caruano’s team won only five games last season. However, only three players graduated, and two of them were injured much of last season. This season’s team comes off a solid summer as it prepares for Shore Conference A Central Division play against the likes of Manasquan High School, Holmdel High School, Shore Regional High School, Monmouth Regional High School and Rumson-Fair Haven.Raritan swept five teams through the Ironman Tournament at Kean University over the summer, beating Donovan Catholic in the finals. Junior point guard Joe Strand led the scoring last season, and senior shooting guard Chris Nicholl “had probably his best summer,” Caruano said.Dylan Dewysockie, a 6-foot-5 senior, also had proven playing time last season as the biggest player.“We have seven players who, at any point, can start,” Caruano said with preseason tryouts about a month away. “Our biggest issue last season was turnovers. When we were bad, we had twice as many, from 20 to 30 a game. We’re trying to move the ball up the floor into a secondary break, instead of the traditional point guard handling the ball and instead of motion to attack from the lanes.”Raritan is guard-heavy with juniors Ed Tynion at the shooting spot and athletic Jordan Smith able to play both spots. Senior Jepi Tonuzi was the first guard off the bench over the summer. Others who can play at guard are John Rodriguez, John Guccione and Dan Lehan. Kevin Rodriguez, a senior who transferred from St. John Vianney, is also expected to contribute. RARITAN By WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img read more

Andrews’ kick does the trick at national championships

first_imgBy TIM MORRIS Staff Writer Robby Andrews’ running career has been one of electrifying kicks at the end of races.He has used them to win national championships at the high school, college and professional levels.On June 20 at the USA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, which served as the trials for the United States team that will compete at the World Track and Field Championships in Beijing, China, Aug. 22-30, he produced the most memorable and important dash to the finish line of his career.With 200 meters to go, the former Manalapan High School great summoned that remarkable kick to surge from back-of-the-pack to second place in the 1,500-meter final to put him on the U.S. team that will go to Beijing. The top three finishers who have met the world-qualifying standard move on.“They just took off, and I tried to stay as calm as I could,” Andrews said after the race in an interview on “Honestly, I thought with 200 to go I missed the boat. My dad (Bob Andrews) was at the 150, and he’s yelling, ‘Don’t wait,’ and I’m like it’s not over yet. And I just went for it.”As he charged toward the finish line from ninth place at warp speed, veteran Leonel Manzano and Ben Blankenship were still in front of him. Matt Centrowitz, who had broken open the raceth his move with 600 meters to go, was out front headed to the win (3:37.25).Andrews caught Manzano and Blankenship just before the line, out-leaning them to take second place in 3:38.75, followed by Manzano (3:38.76) and Blankenship (3:38.78).Andrews’ final 400 meters was 52.13, which was more than a second quicker than either Manzano or Blankenship.As he roared toward the finish line, Andrews said he wasn’t sure he’d catch either one of them.“I didn’t know I had it until the line,” he said. “This is my first world team, and I couldn’t be happier. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Races like this make all the sacrifices worth it.”The success also justified Andrews’ decision to run the 1,500 rather than the 800, which has been his better distance over the years.Andrews, who runs for Adidas, still has some work to do to get to Beijing. Even though the second-place finish puts him on the USA team, he still has to run a world championships qualifying time, 3:36.20, to secure his spot on the team. He has until the beginning of Aug. 9 to do it. With a personal best of 3:34.78 (3:57.15 for the mile), the qualifying time is well within his reach.It’s been quite a year already for the ex- Braves great. In the winter, he captured his first USATF national championship in the 1,000 meters with another strong finishing kick. In May, he anchored the USA’s 4×800- relay team to the gold medal at the World Relay Championships in the Bahamas.Two other nationally ranked athletes from the Freehold area made their respective finals at the national championships in the steeplechase: former Colts Neck High School greats Ashley Higginson and Craig Forys.Higginson, who runs for Saucony and is a member of the New Jersey-New York Track Club, was fifth in the women’s 3K steeplechase (9:35.55). The ex-Princeton University All-American looked to make her second national team. She competed for Team USA at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.There may be a silver lining for Higginson. With the fifth-place finish, she could be named to the U.S. team that will compete in the Pan-American Games in Toronto, Canada, July 20-26.Forys finished ninth in the men’s steeplechase (9:34.40). The former All-American at the University of Michigan runs for the New York Athletic Club.All three standouts will gear up for next year’s Olympic Trials back in Eugene July 1-10, 2016.last_img read more

Holmdel tennis team aims for return trip to the TOC

first_imgBy MATTHEW ROCCO Correspondent After a strong 2014 campaign, the Holmdel High School girls tennis team expects to make another run at a state title this fall.The Hornets lost three of their seniors from last season, two of whom were starters. But overall, the team will return five out of the top seven players from a 2014 squad that advanced all the way to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC) finals.“We’re going to be tough this year,” Hornets head coach Chuck Chelednik said. “We won’t miss a beat too much.”Ola Wojciak, who led Holmdel at first singles a year ago, will be back for her sophomore season. Also returning to the court are senior Sarah Yan and junior Brianna Gibbs, last season’s second and third singles players, respectively. Junior Emily Kong is slated to play doubles again this season. Senior Tiffany Chen, a key player at first doubles last year, will bring experience to Holmdel’s doubles tandems.Chelednik raved about an incoming freshman class that includes Vicky Vought and Natalie Cipriano. The two newcomers and Vought’s sophomore sister, Rita, are in the doubles mix as well.With a large group of players in line for prime spots on the roster, Chelednik said challenge matches this week will determine the order for singles and doubles in 2015.“We have 11 girls, maybe 12, that would legitimately be in the top three on any other Shore Conference team,” Chelednik added.“It’s good if you’re a soccer team, but when you can only start seven?” he joked. “Some of the toughest matches they’ll have all year will be this week.” That’s the challenge facing Holmdel, as the defending Shore Conference Tournament champions gear up for a new season. It’s an enviable problem to have, of course, and Chelednik is thankful that the Hornets have so many weapons to choose from.“We should be close to where we were last year,” he said. “I’ve spoken to the girls about this. We were so close [to a TOC title] last year, so let’s improve. They learned a lot last year. It was a great experience.”The 14-year head coach believes that doubles play can make or break Holmdel’s season. Since the Hornets lost experienced doubles contributors to graduation, he expects that singles will have to carry the team early before this year’s new doubles partners become fully acclimated.“We just need to find the best doubles combinations. It all comes down to doubles,” Chelednik said. “We have the talent level.”last_img read more

Hornets’ bids for Group II soccer titles end in finals

first_imgBy MATTHEW ROCCO Correspondent Holmdel High School’s boys’ and girls’ soccer teams faced the same scenario in the NJSIAA tournament: being one win away from taking home the ultimate piece of postseason hardware.While it did not pan out for the Hornets, they certainly made their mark on the big stage.For the boys, the Group II championship ended in a 2-1 loss in a heartbreaking and shocking fashion . The Hornets took a 1-0 lead into the homestretch, but Garfield High School turned the game around in a flash. After the game moved into the 77th minute, it took just seconds for Garfield to connect twice.The first goal came with a little over two minutes left in regulation. Twenty-seven seconds later, Garfield posted the gamewinning goal off a free kick that was sent into the box and headed past the goalie.The game was a nail-biter from kickoff to the final whistle. Holmdel and Garfield were locked in a scoreless tie until a chipped pass from Justin McStay found Leo Nobrega on a breakaway. That goal, which gave the Hornets a 1-0 edge with eight minutes to go, came on the heels of a Garfield score that was waved off by the officials on a holding call.Holmdel’s fortunes quickly turned bleak as a state title ultimately eluded these Hornets, who shocked the NJSIAA tournament in their own way this season.Ranked ninth in the Central Jersey, Group II bracket, Holmdel defeated higherseeded teams all the way to an unexpected sectional crown. The Hornets’ final upset was a 1-0 victory over No. 2-seed Bordentown Regional High School in the finals.The Central Jersey, Group II championship was the shining achievement during a remarkable turnaround as the 2015 campaign neared its end. The Hornets won only three of their first 13 games this season, and a 6-0 blowout at the hands of Toms River High School North knocked Holmdel out of the Shore Conference Tournament in the round of 32.The Hornets put the loss behind them, winning their four sectional matchups and a Group II semifinal game vs. Delran High School.Holmdel (13-7-5) counted on the leadership of senior Tyler Marchiano in the net this season, while senior left back Nick Chrystal anchored the defense. McStay, a sophomore, led the Hornets in scoring.Holmdel’s girls’ soccer team had an equally impressive run on the journey to defend its 2014 group championship.The Lady Hornets made it to the group stage by surviving a thriller of the sectional finals. Holmdel and fellow Shore Conference member Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School were deadlocked, 2-2, before the Hornets clinched the Central Jersey Group II title on penalty kicks.Holmdel faced another Shore Conference opponent, Point Pleasant Borough High School, in the Group II semifinals. Hannah Lee and Gabriella Bair were responsible for the Hornets’ attack, each contributing a goal and assist to power a 2-1 win.The run ultimately fell one game shy of back-to-back state titles. Ramapo High School put two goals on the board in the first half, and Holmdel could not break though Ramapo’s defense in a 2-0 decision. Ramapo, which outshot the Hornets by a wide margin, 11-1, was on the losing end of Holmdel’s championship last year.Like the boys, Holmdel’s girls (16-7-1) found another gear late in the season to reach the Group II final again. Rumson-Fair Haven beat the Hornets in both of their meetings during the regular season. Holmdel also had an early exit in the Shore Conference Tournament. The girls lost to Toms River South, 2-1, in the first round.last_img read more

FA charges Mourinho for verbal attack on referee Taylor

first_imgBy Mike CollettCHELSEA manager Jose Mourinho was charged with misconduct by the FA on Thursday following comments he made about referee Anthony Taylor after last month’s 1-1 draw at Southampton in the Premier League.The Portuguese was furious with Taylor after he booked Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas for diving in the December 28 match.Mourinho said the referee’s failure to award a penalty was a scandal and that he should be ashamed.He added that his team were being unfairly targeted in a campaign waged against them after Fabregas became the fifth Chelsea player to become involved in a row over diving in a matter of weeks.The Spaniard, though, appeared to be tripped by Southampton defender Matt Targett in the penalty area.“In other countries where I have worked, tomorrow in the sports papers it would be a front-page scandal because it is a scandal,” said Mourinho.“It is not a small penalty, it is a penalty like Big Ben. In this country, and I am happy with that, more than happy with that, we will just say that it was a big mistake with a big influence on the result.“I will go to the referee and wish him a good year and tell him he will be ashamed,” added Mourinho.In a statement, the FA said his remarks constituted improper conduct in that they allege and/or imply bias on the part of a referee or referees and/or bring the game into disrepute.Mourinho has until 1800 GMT on January 13 to respond to the charge.The FA will not take any action against him following the comments he made before the game against Stoke City on December 19 but gave him a formal warning as managers and players are banned from making pre-match media comments about officials.Before the game Mourinho said he hoped referee Neil Swarbrick “does his job”.“I like these matches,” added the Chelsea manager. “It’s no problem with a good referee that can understand what is aggressivity or when aggressivity finishes and when the rules of the game start.“I know it is difficult for every team to play this kind of match but again I’m not worried. The referee is there exactly to judge what is aggressivity. And aggressivity I always welcome, it makes the game much more beautiful and difficult.”last_img read more

Two remanded in connection with referee attacks (Updated)

first_imgBy Constantinos PsillidesTwo men from Nicosia, 22 and 24, were remanded on Thursday, each for four days in connection with two bomb attacks against referees.They were arrested in their respective homes during early morning simultaneous raids.According to police spokesman Andreas Angelides, the two suspects are believed to be part of the organisation ‘Thyraeniotes’, a reference to Thyra 9, or Gate 9 in English – the main fan group of Nicosia side Omonia – or armed urban guerrillas.The group assumed the responsibility for the explosive devices placed on referee Vasilis Demetriou’s wife’s car on February 27, and at the referee association offices in October last year in a public proclamation on March 5.This had been left at the steps of the old GSP stadium in Nicosia for MEGA TV reporter Panayiotis Demopoulos who had been contacted by an individual identifying himself only as member of the organisation, and he was given instructions on how to retrieve the proclamation.Police found that the number belonged to a pre-paid phone card that was bought from a kiosk in the Pallouriotissa area of Nicosia, on March 3. CCTV cameras placed the 22-year-old at the kiosk the day the card was bought. The two suspects appear to have called each other on their mobiles that day.Officers said they found a copy of the proclamation with notes in the 22-year-old’s house. During the raid at the 24-year-old’s house, police found a gas mask and a taser.In the proclamation, the organisation had also declared war against corruption in Cypriot football. They also ranted against DISY politicians, Cyprus Football Federation chairman Kostakis Koutsokoumnis and the current management of the football club Omonia. The suspects are facing charges of conspiracy to commit a felony, attempting to destroy property using an explosive device, and taking part in a criminal organisation.last_img read more

Van Niekerk express lights up the Bird’s Nest

first_imgBy Nick MulvenneyWayde van Niekerk lit up the Bird’s Nest with a stunning 400 metres run to win a first sprint gold for South Africa and cap a night of exceptional performances at the World Athletics Championships on Wednesday.Two of those came in the men’s javelin and women’s 3,000 metres steeplechase where Kenyans Julius Yego and Hyvin Jepkemoi added another two gold medals to the East African powerhouse’s already considerable haul.The scourge of doping returned to haunt the sport, however, when two of their compatriots were provisionally banned for failing drug tests on the eve of the championships.Part two of the sprint showdown between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, which for many has encapsulated the doping crisis that has tarnished the sport over the last month, also moved a step closer.The fact that Bolt has never failed a dope test while Gatlin has served two drug bans provided the backdrop for their first meeting in Sunday’s 100 metres final, from which the Jamaican emerged triumphant.Gatlin’s run of 19.87 seconds to win his 200m semi-final on Wednesday was the second fastest ever at that stage of a world championships, however, and will give him confidence he can end Bolt’s six-year grip on the title in Thursday’s final.“I think that I have a lot left in the tank,” the 33-year-old American said. “I just have to control the race … and I think we’ll be able to bring it home.”Bolt also looked in fine form, though, and took time to chat to a fellow competitor as he approached the line to win his heat with his first sub-20 second time of the year (19.95).“I can’t complain,” he said. “I’m happy with my form. I just did what I had to do.”For once, though, the 29-year-old was not the most impressive performer on the track with that honour going to Van Niekerk.Racing against a field containing a record five sprinters who had run under 44 seconds, the 23-year-old dominated the contest from start to finish and crossed the line in 43.48 seconds.The effort of running a time that only American world record holder Michael Johnson and his compatriots Butch Reynolds and Jeremy Wariner have bettered took its toll, however.Van Niekerk collapsed on the track at the end of the race and was taken to hospital with his “vital signs unstable”, the IAAF’s medical delegate said, leaving runner-up LaShawn Merritt to hail the quality of the race.“It’s crazy. We’re warriors. We’re animals,” said the American 2013 world champion, whose personal best 43.65 was good enough only for silver ahead of Olympic champion Kirani James (43.78).Van Niekerk was discharged just before midnight local time.While Van Niekerk’s time was the best since 2007, you would have to go back as far as 2001 to witness a javelin flying as far as the 92.72 metres Yego managed to give Kenya its first world title in a field event.To the diminutive Yego, who learned the javelin from watching videos on the internet after being rejected as a runner, fell the duty of reacting to the positive dope tests of his team-mates Koki Manunga and Joyce Zakary.“It’s a shame,” he said. “I always believe we can win clean so it’s a shame to them.”Jepkemoi produced a performance more typical of her nation to win the steeplechase, outsprinting favourite Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia and German Gesa Krause down the home straight to win Kenya’s sixth gold in nine minutes, 19.11 seconds.Zuzana Hejnova already knew her race was won when she went over the final obstacle in the 400 metres hurdles and the Czech, who ran the year’s best time of 53.50 seconds, became the first woman to successfully defend the world title in the event.A thrilling women’s pole vault contest featuring Cuba’s Yarisley Silva, Brazil’s Fabiana Murer and Greece’s Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou kept the crowd engrossed all evening in the gaps between the other events.Silva took the title when she cleared 4.90 metres at the third attempt, leaving Murer, one of her country’s best hopes of gold in athletics at next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, with silver and Kyriakopoulou claiming the bronze.last_img read more