| President A.P. J. Abdul Kalam congratulated Anju Bobby George (seen kissing her medal on the podium in Paris on Sunday), and said her effort would “encourage many more of our athletes to dream of similar feats”. (AP)
Paris: While the US remain the dominant force in athletics they leave the world championships with their reputation, if not in tatters, at least tarnished by the off the field incidents which seemed never to go away.
IOC president Jacques Rogge had said prior to the championships it was a paradox athletics received little or no coverage within the US which is the sport’s strongest nation. The scandals here will have done their cause little good as the team put on their own show of the The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
However, it should take nothing away from the wonderful achievements of Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj in the 1,500 m and American Allen Johnson in the 110m hurdles taking their fourth world crowns.
The symbolism of seeing 20-year-old Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele take over the baton of long distance king from compatriot Haile Gebrselassie in the 10,000m was a shining light as were the dominant shows by Ana Guevara in the 400m and Jana Pittman, who replaced Cathy Freeman in Australian hearts, in the 400m hurdles.
In a championships lacking in outstanding times, Bekele and El Guerrouj’s ultimately glorious failure to double up in the 5,000m title gave the event the dramatic ending it needed.
For the Americans, the bad was the revelation sprint queen Kelli White had tested positive for modafinil which stimulates the nervous system and combats tiredness. According to sources, Kelli’s urine sample taken after the 200m did not test positive. However, the official verdict is yet to be declared.
However, they too are being held to account by the IOC when it was revealed newly-crowned 400m champion Jerome Young had run at the Sydney Olympics despite testing positive for steroids in 1999.
While the 27-year-old Jamaican-born athlete was cleared in an internal hearing the IOC wanted to know why they hadn’t been informed particularly as he went on to win gold in the 4x400m relay Olympic gold – having run in the heats.
Jon Drummond provided the ugly input in both his refusal to leave the track after being disqualified in his 100m quarter final and his subsequent 20 minute lie-down protest.
The bad continued into the 100m where the fading powers of Olympic champion Maurice Greene and world record holder Tim Montgomery were laid bare.
Instead the sprinters from the most powerful nation in the world had to bow to Kim Collins from little St Kitts and Nevis – population 45,000, less than were in the Stade de France that night.
However, the young American breed raced to the rescue as John Capel led home Darvis Patton for a 1-2 in the 200m and then inspired the 4x100m relay team to gold. For Capel it was a glorious response to his eighth place in the Olympic final.
For the Americans, though, it was left to Allen Johnson to keep up his high standards both on the track and off it. The American hierarchy must be wishing there were more like him.
It was also a championship in which several new faces came out in the open. No race illustrated that better than Bekele’s accelerating away from his mentor Gebrselassie. Hot on the heels of Bekele, Ethiopia provided one of the youngest world champions in history when Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia made a giant leap up from a world junior cross country title to shock the veterans and win the women’s 5,000m gold.
And then El Guerrouj had a glimpse of the future as Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge showed tactical awareness belying his 18 years as he spoiled the Moroccan’s dreams of a double gold by beating him on the line in the 5,000m.
Australia, of course, got Pittman. Japanese sprinter Shingo Suetsugu came to Paris with not much more than a fast time under his belt, but his reputation grew and grew as he earned a bronze medal in the men’s 200m.
India’s long jumper Anju Bobby George, a recent Mike Powell trainee, arrived with dreams and translated it to bronze at 6.7m Saturday, threatening, for the first time, to put India firmly on the field map.