The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chase Ealey wanted to be better than okay. Now she’s a world champion.

Chase Ealey of the United States celebrates after winning the women’s shot put final. (Robert Ghement/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

EUGENE, Ore. — On Saturday afternoon, Chase Ealey decorated her eyelids with painted red, white and blue dots. As a ritual, she applies makeup before every one of her major shot put competitions. “I don’t always cry it off into oblivion and have people having to fan my face,” Ealey said.

Saturday night was different for both Ealey and American women’s shot put. The second day of the first world championships contested on U.S. soil belonged to the host country. Minutes before American men swept the 100 meters final, Ealey earned the first U.S. women’s shot put world championship gold medal. She won with a heave of 20.49 meters on her first throw, 10 centimeters better than reigning Olympic gold medalist Liljiao Gong of China.

Ealey, a 27-year-old from Los Alamos, N.M., covered her face with both hands after her final throw, already assured of victory when she stepped into the circle. The tears undid her pre-competition makeup work. She trotted to the stands to embrace her mom, stepdad, boyfriend and training partner. Somebody handed her an American flag, and she stretched it across her broad shoulders.

“It’s amazing,” Ealey said. “I haven’t quite absorbed the information that has happened.”

At a news conference this week, Ealey admitted she had not taken shot put seriously in high school or even college. When she turned professional, she discovered a new appreciation for track and field. She fell in love with the sport, which made her respect her event more.

“I really wanted to stop just being okay at something,” Ealey said. “I just started going for it.”

Fred Kerley is world’s fastest man after leading 1-2-3 finish for USA

The world championships are only two days old, but they will be hard-pressed to surpass the continuation of the rivalry in the 10,000 between Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey and Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, who at the Tokyo Olympics executed the astonishing feat of winning medals in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000. Gidey and Hassan had traded titles and world records for the past two years, and the latest chapter arrived early Saturday afternoon.

While Karissa Schweizer became the third-fastest American woman at the event on her way to ninth place, Gidey, the world record holder, reasserted herself after Hassan’s Olympic gold medal last summer.

With 200 meters to go, Hassan charged around the small lead pack, an attempt to pass late and steal a gold medal. Gidey responded with a full sprint. Rather than catching or passing Gidey, the great Hassan faded to fourth, her smooth striding breaking into pieces. Gidey still had to hold off Kenya’s Hellen Oribi. After 9,999 meters, Gidey needed to lean, like a sprinter, at the line for the final one.

After she crossed the line for gold in 30:09.94, the best time in the world this year, Gidey clasped her hands into a ball and pressed them to her head and dropped to her knees.

Though Hassan had collapsed on the homestretch, the race brought her only satisfaction owing to the toll of her Olympic treble. Hassan took more than seven months off after the Games and had barely run this year. She will still run the 5,000 here next week.

“I trained so hard, and after Tokyo, I crashed — mentally crashed,” Hassan said. “I was like, ‘I don’t even care about running.’ I’m happy I’m standing here.”

Allyson Felix bids a joyful goodbye to track and field

Another rivalry resurfaced Friday morning with the preliminary rounds of the men’s 400 hurdles. Rai Benjamin and Karsten Warholm shared a track, albeit in different heats, for the first time since their epic confrontation in Tokyo last summer, when Benjamin obliterated Warholm’s record in 46.17 seconds but still took silver because Warholm ran in a nearly unthinkable 45.94.

Benjamin cautioned that those times should not be expected at these world championships. Benjamin has dealt with persistent tendinitis, which required a platelet-rich plasma injection in his hamstring after last month’s U.S. championships. Warholm suffered a small hamstring tear in early June and didn’t know for certain he would race at the world championships until last week. Brazilian Alison dos Santos, the bronze medalist in Tokyo, actually has the best time in the world this year.

And yet, even in diminished condition, neither man would concede or yield the other any ground. They both won their heats on cruise control, all but walking by the finish line. Benjamin stayed on the track for multiple heats so he could watch Warholm in person. Warholm slapped himself across the face before he settled into the blocks.

“I’m home,” Benjamin said. “I’m pretty confident. I got the home crowd here. This is my track. It’s my house.”

“You guys have seen me run before,” Warholm said. “There’s going to be a fight. You know it.”

In another preliminary, a U.S. champion bitterly showed why the early rounds can never be taken for granted, especially when hurdles are involved. The United States entered Friday morning with realistic hopes of sweeping the 110 hurdles podium. With Trey Cunningham, Grant Holloway and Devon Allen breezing into the semifinals, it still might. But it will happen without the hurdler who won last month at the U.S. championships.

In his heat, Daniel Roberts seized control at the start and led comfortably as he reached the eighth hurdle. He was in his best form and running in a heat, which meant he could run conservatively and prioritize clearing hurdles. And then, disaster: His toe clipped the top of the eighth hurdle, and he stumbled and hurtled to the ground, rolling under the ninth hurdle as he watched the world championships continue without him.

“The 110 hurdles, for me, it correlates a lot with life,” Roberts said. “No matter how well or how good you’re doing, there’s always going to be obstacles in your way. And no matter how well you’re doing, you still have to make sure you put the right effort and focus into finishing the race. It’s just a part of the game. I’m going to bounce back. I’m about to get up and do some great things.”

The event received unsettling news in the evening when two Japanese marathon runners, along with four members of Japan’s support staff and its head coach, tested positive for covid.