Athens: The result wasn’t totally unexpected, but Hicham el Guerrouj just wouldn’t stop crying. It was probably one of the most momentous day of his life. The 30-year-old Kenyan Bernard Lagat had caught up with him on the home stretch and had even pushed ahead a shoulder. The last, smooth burst of energy that Moroccan Guerrouj (also 30) produced was to be seen to be believed here on Tuesday evening.
His movement was panther-like, his throttle burst was quiet, yet with whopping power. He finished for gold at 3:34.18, way below his July 1998 world record of 3:26.00 and worse than Kenyan Noah Ngeny’s Olympic record (Sydney) of 3:32.07, but it was a very special day. Being the best for so long over that distance, he has finally got an Olympic gold. He sat on the track and went down to kiss it, and went around hugging competitors and everybody he could. The king has finally been crowned.
It was a dream. A dream that he had kept in himself for a long, long time. In Atlanta, he was running on the heels of the great Said Aouita, his compatriot. What happened there wasn’t reported, wasn’t talked about, because Aouita used to command the respect that Haile Gebrselassie has been around with. Clipped near the heel, Hicham just tumbled and could not keep pace. He had cried then, too. And he had cried in Sydney as well, on missing the gold. On Tuesday, they were tears of joy.
“It’s finally over,” he said beaming. “Four years ago I was crying tears of sorrow, today I am crying tears of joy. I am like a five-year-old, living something wonderful with the people I love and people who love me.
“I had some very difficult moments this season. That’s the kind of test that makes great athletes. There were times I didn’t even know if I was going to the Olympics, ranked only eighth in the world. But I eventually managed to come back, thanks to my determination and the support of my family, coach and federation. I just cannot express my joy. I thank God and my wife for my new-born girl. I’m so happy,” said the IAAF’s Athlete of the Year last season with Stacy Dragila.
Kenyan Lagat said: “I knew it was going to come down to the kick. Today I stayed just right behind him. In the last 50m I thought it might like in Zurich. But Hicham just had the best kick.”
Lagat’s silver effort was 3:34.30, Rui Silva of Portugal finishing with bronze at 3:34.68.
The other great fight was in women’s pole vault. Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia untimately prevailed, and with a world record at that. She vaulted 4.91m, beating her own mark of 4.90, set this July in London. She also finally wiped the name of the great Stacy Dragila off Olympic reccords. Dragila had set an Olympic mark of 4.6 in Sydney. Tha race to the top wasn’t easy for Yelena, though. Not with Russian Svetlana Feofanova and Pole Anna Rogowska breathing down her neck.
With Yelena moving through the 4.4, 4.55, 4.65 progressions, Svetlana and Anna were right on her heels. When Yelena failed her first attempt at 4.7 and Svetlana cracked it, there was panic. Anna was creeping up slower than expected though, but creeping up she was.
Yelena had the guts to try the 4.8m mark when the field had mastered 4.7. But Yelena had been in such rarefied atmosphere before. Experience helped her to push — 4.8 was conquered. Of course, the field had stopped at 4.75 (Svetlana silver at that level, Anna bronze at 4.7). Then came the world record.
She had given it her all. And she explained why. “It means a lot. It was the goal of my career. If you asked me what would I prefer, the Olympic gold or the world record, it would be the Olympic gold. The Olympic Games is every four years and I don’t know if I will be still competing in 2008. But you can break the world record whenever you like.” And she can say that, the Volgograd-born 22-year-old has done so four times before this.
She is childish, yet, in her dreams. She wants to buy a yacht. “I’d really like to buy a car too (with the bonuses she will receive from her world record), but don’t have the money yet, so I don’t really know.”
Disaster struck favourite Perdita Felicien of Canada in the women’s 100m hurdles, when she clipped the first hurdle and fell over on Irina Shevchenko of Russia on the sixth lane (from her fifth), both thus ousted. It was sad for Felicien, the 2003 world champion, sadder for Irina.
Joanna Hayes of the US made full use of the opportunity to break the Olympic record (Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova’s 12.38 set in Seoul, 1988), at 12.37 and clinch gold. Ukraine’s Olena Krasovska won silver at a personal best of 12.45 and US’ Melissa Morrison got bronze at 12.56.
The men’s 3,000m steeplechase was won by Kenyan Ezekiel Kemboi at 8:05.81. The Kenyans made a 1-2-3 in this race, confirming their superiority in this category. Brimin Kipruto won silver at 8:06.11 and Paul Kipsiele Koech the bronze at 8:06.64.
The women’s 400m gold went to Tonique Williams-Darling of the Bahamas at 49.41 seconds, followed by Ana Guevara of Mexico (49.56) ad Natalya Antyukh of Russia (49.89).