Athens: Wednesday evening presented wonderful kaleidoscopic images in the Olympic Stadium athletics programme. The biggest came in the 400m hurdles for women. It was expected that 25-year-old Fani Halkia of Greece would put up a great show for the hosts. She had grabbed lane four with an Olympic record time of 52.77 in qualifying. The gold, though, is always a bonus.
Shooting off the blocks, she never let go, all the while when the likes of Jana Pittman, the 400m world champion and world record (52.34) holder Yulina Pechenkina of Russia were sagging way back.
Into the home stretch she broke away into a long lead from Ionela Tirlea-Manolache of Romania and Tetiana Tereshchuk-Antipova of Ukraine and as she crossed the line at 52.82 seconds, she threw up her arms in sheer exuberance.
The stadium broke out into spontaneous clapping, and flashbulbs were brighter than floodlights. She lapped the track, she bowed in front of her coach Yorgos Panagiotopolous, she cried, she laughed, and shook hands with all she could.
Following the ignominious exit of Greece’s two top sprinters, Kostantonos Kederis (200m) and Katerina Thanou (100H), this was relief.
That was a matinee show of Olympic proportions. “What happened today was wonderful,” she said later, at her press conference.
“It was great and yes I did believe it. Back in the Village Voulaq (Patoulidou, the 100m gold medallist in Barcelona, 1992) told me that I could do it. Describing what happened is beyond my words, like am earthquake.” She said her next step would be to repeat the feat in Beijing.
Fani, who is also a journalist, said she understands that “no Greek athlete needs illegal help, just his Greek soul... A few unfortunate cases are not the reality. As of Kederis and Thanou, they have been executed based on speculation.”
Ionela won silver at 53.38 and Tetiana bronze at 53.44. Jana was fifth, while Yuliya eighth.
The women’s 200m, later, wasn’t as close as it was expected to be. Sydney Games silver medallist Veronica Campbell of Jamaica was good for gold at a personal best of 22.05 seconds.
Felix Allyson of the US came in for silver at 22.18 (a world junior record) and the experienced and 2001 Edmonton world championships silver medallist, Debbie Ferguson of the Bahamas, could manage only bronze at 22.30, her season’s best.
Debbie, in fact, had the least reaction time (0.193 seconds) of the three medallists. But poor qualifying, that put her in lane eight, did her in. She failed to get over her initial handicap in the final.
The women’s hammer throw final was always the preserve of Olga Kuzenkova of Russia, the gold winner at 75.02m, and Olympic record, wiping out her own existing mark of 73.71 (set in the qualifying here).
The Sydney Games silver medallist (at 69.77m) achieved her record throw in the third attempt and never really bothered about the field. Silver winner Yipsi Moreno’s (Cuba) best was 73.36, on her fifth, and another Cuban, Yunaika Crawford, got bronze at 7.16m, her personal best set in the third attempt.
The other interesting story was the women’s pole vault prize ceremony, with the champions being presented the medallions by the evergreen Sergei Bubka.
There was as big a cheer from the stands for Bubka as was for the winners. Bubka, regal in a formal suit, couldn’t avoid that proud smile.