This column appeared in The Japan Times on Sept. 2, 2007, highlighting the 11th IAAF World Athletics Championships.

Headline: A to Z at the world c’ships


OSAKA — I have a good friend named Les Witt.

Well, sort of.

He’s the main character in a yet-to-be-completed novella about a comedian who is repeatedly rejected by TV executives whenever he sends them ideas for a new prime-time program.

Witt is also a huge track and field fan. Posters of Jesse Owens, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Finnish javelin throwers adorn the walls of his cramped Brooklyn studio. He’s busy writing jokes.

Since he’s not here for the 11th IAAF World Athletics Championships, he gets this alphabetical rundown through Friday on the nine-day spectacle’s happenings.

To wit:

A — Awesome. Seeing hundreds of the world’s greatest athletes for nine straight days is a tremendous way to be inspired to achieve success in one’s everyday life.

B — Belarus. Ivan Tshikhan basked in the glow of superstardom when he triumphed from the hammer circle, completing the ultra-difficult event on top with a throw of 83.63 meters.

C — Carolina. Miss Kluft triumphs for the third straight time in the heptathlon at worlds. The smiling Swede amassed 7,032 points, earning a new generation of fans here in Japan along the way.

D — Doctoral degrees. Rarely are the words doctoral degree a topic of conversation at a major international sporting event, but lo and behold, Koji Murofushi, Japan’s 13-time national champ in the hammer throw, two-time worlds medalist and 2004 Olympic champion, made this necessary. Writing his Ph.D on the biomechanics of his event, he gave new appreciation to the concept of mastering one’s trade.

E — Everybody deserves a front-row seat to a pole vault competition once.

F — Fantastic fans. Nagai Stadium hasn’t been filled to capacity, but it has attracted the right group of fans, clapping and cheering for each competitor, showering the winners with adulation and supporting the Japanese athletes with non-stop enthusiasm. Two thumbs up to the boosters.

G — Geography lessons. It’s safe to assume that more people are looking up the words “Moldova,” “Lesotho” and “El Salvador” on the Internet during the course of the 2007 World Championships than they’ll do over the next six months. And that’s a good thing.

H — Hallelujah! Allyson Felix’s winning spirit was contagious after her 200-meter victory on Friday night. You couldn’t leave the stadium in a bad mood.

I — Impressive. USA’s Reese Hoffa, the gold medalist in the men’s shot put, appears to exert more energy making a single attempt, than most of us do over any 12-hour period.

J — Joy and Jubilation. Donald Thomas of the Bahamas gave his tiny nation an unplanned national holiday after winning the high jump. His start in the sport began only 18 months after he gave it a try thanks to a friend’s suggestion.

K — Kenenisa Bekele. The Ethiopian great’s legacy continues to rise. His third straight world championships victory in the men’s 10,000 was a superb exhibit of a man at the top of his game.

L — Longevity. Sprinter Merlene Ottey of Slovenia, originally Jamaica, has competed as a world-class athlete since the 1980s — 24 years ago, she was at the IAAF meet in Helsinki.

M — Memorization. Remembering which athletes have won the most golds is a good way to kill time between hammer throws.

N — Names. Learning the athletes’ names is one of the fun activities here.

O — Okini. That’s how to say thank you in the rich Osaka dialect, and it’s an appropriate response to all the locals here doing their jobs with a smile and showing the world Osaka’s warm hospitality.

P — Powell (long-jump maestro Mike). He remains a popular figure to this day, 16 years after he soared through the Tokyo air for gold.

Q — Quotable. Liu Xiang, the iconic 110-meter winner in the men’s hurdles, had this to say after achieving greatness again on Friday evening: “I realized I won at that last moment. . . . I ran as fast as I could from the start to the very end.”

R — Race walking. Probably 99.9 percent of the population doesn’t pay attention to the sport. They should, especially aspiring comic legends.

S — Syllables (lots of them). Broadcasters must rehearse the athletes’ names, such as Czech pole vaulter Pavla Hamackova-Rybova, plenty of times.

T — Terrific Tyson. Mr. Gay, the winner of the 100- and 200-meter gold medals, is a model of politeness and humility after winning two gold medals.

U — Useful experience. Athletes in their teens and early 20s gained a great deal of practical knowledge by competing in worlds for the first time.

V — Veronica Campbell. The Jamaican speedster beat American Lauryn Williams in a photo finish for the 100-meter gold.

W — Wilfred Bungei (800-meter runner). How can you not root for an athlete named Wilfred?

X — Xiang. His excellence thrilled an entire nation, increasing his marketability exponentially before the Beijing Olympics.

Y — Yekaterina Volkova. The Russian won the women’s 3,000 steeplechase, setting a championships record. ‘Nuff said.

Z — Zamboni push. It’s one fan’s idea to add this event. Who can push a zamboni the farthest on a grass field?

And now it’s time to write a few jokes.