By Amy Tennery
EUGENE, Ore. (Reuters) -Poland’s Pawel Fajdek began his bid for a fifth straight world title in the men’s hammer throw with a 80.09-metre effort in qualification on the opening day of the championships on Friday.
The meet got rolling under the beating sun as a smattering of fans trickled into Hayward Field, making for a subdued start to the first world championships held on U.S. soil.
There were no surprises in the event, as Fajdek’s compatriot and chief rival Wojciech Nowicki rolled through to Saturday’s final with 79.22, nearly a year since he collected Olympic gold in Tokyo.
Fajdek, who settled for bronze at the 2020 Games, produced the day’s furthest throw on his second attempt.
“For me, the qualifications are really the most difficult part of the championships,” he said. “The circle is fast so we can see some good performances here.”
World bronze medallist Bence Halasz of Hungary moved on with 79.13, as did Norwegian Olympic silver medallist Eivind Henriksen (78.12) and France’s Quentin Bigot (77.95), who took silver three years ago.
Athletics leaders are banking on the 18th edition of the championships drumming up interest in the sport in the U.S., where the men’s big four professional leagues – NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA – have a stranglehold on fans’ attention and spending dollars.
While morning events are typically lightly attended, the rows and rows of empty seats seen at the 15,000-capacity venue on Friday was not what the organisers had hoped for.
The highly-anticipated appearance of American track icon Allyson Felix – the most decorated woman in the sport – in the 4×400 metres relay will be a highlight later on Friday as she is expected to be given a rousing sendoff in her final world competition.
The women’s hammer throw kicked off without some of its brightest stars, reigning champion DeAnna Price and Polish three-time Olympic champion Anita Wlodarczyk, as competitors took advantage of a wide open field.
American Janee Kassanavoid produced the furthest throw with 74.46 metres, with compatriot Brooke Andersen moving onto Sunday’s final with 74.37.
Finland’s Krista Tervo (73.83) and Canadian Camryn Rogers (73.67) also advanced.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Eugene, Oregon, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Christian Radnedge)