FOLLOWING THE RETIREMENT of New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, this century’s finest shot putter, Lijiao Gong had stepped up her claim to primacy. The 34-year-old Chinese owns complete sets of Olympic and World medals, including golds at major championships in ’17, ’19 and ’21.
Her only significant loss since Rio16 was to Chase Ealey at last year’s Worlds in Eugene. The American’s ’22 season was an epic of consistent excellence, but this year she had been well off that form since mid-May.
The top American, and ’23 world list leader, was Maggie Ewen, still seeking her first big-meet medal after finishing 4th at Doha in ’19 and 9th last year. Also in the mix, mindful of victories in Budapest by fellow Canadian weight throwers, was Commonwealth champion Sarah Mitton.
Qualifying began on a steamy morning with Portugal’s World Indoor winner Auriol Dongmo, who immediately moved to the head of her group with a 64-3¼ (19.59) mark. Noteworthy among others was German Yemisi Ogunleye with a big 63-9½ (19.44) PR. Ealey and Gong moved on with one-and-done qualifiers.
Oregon22 bronze medalist Jessica Schilder led the other group with her 64-5¼ (19.64) throw. Ewen, Mitton and Jamaican Danniel Thomas-Dodd exceeded the qualifying standard, while American Adelaide Aquilla and Swedish NCAA champion Axelina Johansson were eliminated.
About 9 hours later, the 12 finalists reassembled. Ewen opened with what would be her longest mark of the day, 64-¼ (19.51). Three throwers later, a pigtailed Ealey stepped into the ring, spun rapidly and immediately raised her arms in Crouser-like celebration. The measurement showed a 66-9¼ (20.35) season best, a performance nearly a foot farther than anyone else would achieve on this day and the No. 7 throw in U.S. history
In the second round, Dongmo, a glide thrower with no follow-through after release, bumped Ewen down to 3rd with a 64-5 (19.63) cast. Gong, who conducts an audible dialogue with herself before every attempt, awakened with a 63-6¾ (19.37) mark.
Mitton’s 65-3½ (19.90) moved her to 2nd in round 3, and Thomas-Dodd also moved up with her best of the day, 64-3¼ (19.59).
Gong and Dongmo both reached 64-7¼ (19.69) in the fourth round, and neither would improve. But Gong produced a 64-6½ (19.67) in round 5, and that advanced her over Dongmo on the basis…