| China’s Xiang Liu en route to winning the men’s 110m hurdles gold in Athens on Friday. (Reuters)
Athens: It was another electrifying evening at the athletics competition of the Athens Olympic Games Friday. A Chinese won the men’s 110 hurdles, equalling the world record, Anju Bobby George flattered to deceive in women’s long jump and the Indian women’s 4x400m relay squad surprised everybody, running a fine race to make the final.
Surprises are fun. One expected a surprise from Anju. She promised tons, delivered in grammes. The long jump pit is always opposite to the grandstand side. Hidden somewhat from the glare of the spotlight (not from the television cameras, though), Anju looked tense as she prepared for her first jump.
There had been good signs, with Marion Jones’ first jump a foul, Russian Tatyana Lebedeva’s first jump also a foul, another Russian Irina Simagina’s first being only one of two big ones, till then, at 7.05m. Yet another Russian, Tatyana Kotova, had had hit 7.05. Olympic heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft of Sweden had managed just 6.63.
The men’s 400m relay heats were being started and Maurice Greene & Co. were flexing muscles as Anju waited. When she started off, it was a smooth, well-oiled run, gaining just the needed height and more on length. A gasp from the Indian journos at site — 6.83m. Anju’s best ever.
She had managed this before but it was wind-aided, and, hence, not legal. Her legal best was also the national record, 6.74 at last year’s nationals in Chennai. She got the world championship bronze at 6.7m. Hence this was a best, a national record, and a sure-shot precursor to bigger things.
Experience is a great thing, because you learn what you never even wanted to learn in the first place. The second set of jumps had started and Lebedeva had already gone into 7.07m, while Simagina had dropped to 7.02. Kotova fouled, but Marion reached 6.85, her best. Anju went in, gained more in height than in length and came down at 6.75.
Third jump: Lebedeva had fouled, so had Simagina, Kotova was a meagre 6.7, and though Aussie Bronwyn Jones was at 6.96, Marion had slipped to 6.82. A golden opportunity, if there was one. Anju missed the jump part, running in but failing to take off.
Eyebrows scaled Indian foreheads as the fourth was scaled down to 6.68, a centimetre less than her qualifying mark! When she hit rock-bottom of 6.61 she wasn’t looking an Olympic athlete any more, and the field, anyway, was further ahead. She finished off with another no jump. End of story.
Lebedeva took gold at 7.07, Simagina silver at 7.05 (jump tie-break), Kotova bronze at 7.05, making it an all-Russia affair. Thompson was fourth at 6.96, Marion fifth at 6.85 and Anju sixth at 6.83. It was a field of 12 finalists.
“After the first jump I started feeling a sort of uneasiness,” Anju said later. What sort of uneasiness' “I don’t know, but I just wasn’t feeling good, and I just could not jump properly.” Did the strong field upset her (the world championship field was way weaker than this). “No, no, that didn’t affect me at all.”
So what was the problem' “There was this wind, you see, and a lot of pollution that it carried, and this allergy I have....” Pollution' In Athens' In August' For a girl from Kerala' That needs more than Greek wine to wash down. “I am sorry to have disappointed you all...”
But has she been thinking about why she made a good one in the first jump, which she usually flops, and then flopped the third, from where she generally takes off' “No, I could not understand why this happened, but I was not unfit to start with and my body just would not listen.”
What about the future, has she started thinking about Beijing' “No not Beijing yet, but after this I will be doing some competitions around Europe.” Smaller, less significant events that are held in the pen-umbra of the athletics spotlight.
That was almost goodbye to Indian athletics in Athens. Or so had everybody thought. Till the diminutive quartet of Rajwinder Kaur, K. Mathews Beenamol, Chitra Soman and Manjeet Kaur quietly entered the tracks and started warming up. That these girls, who had come especially for the relay, were still around was not on anybody’s mind.v
When they lined up for the heat, they were dwarfed by the big athletes from Jamaica, Greece, the US and Romania. They went about their work quietly and then they ran. From lane 7, you take a quicker turn before the field catches up.
The field did catch up, much near the first 200m mark, but Rajwinder pushed and pushed, handing the baton over at third. Beenamol, the Sydney quarter-mile finalist who plans to quit some time after these Games, carried it a trifle slower, but Chitra paced up that much.
The icing on the cake was provided by Manjeet, who finished her lap at an incredible 49.85 seconds. Third in the heat, and into the final. The timing of 3:26.89 was a national record.
The Beijing Games’ publicity bid received a filip when Xiang Liu stormed to gold in the men’s 110m hurdles, finishing an astonishing one and a half yards ahead of the field. While qualifying, he had clearly said he had not given off his best and that he could run faster. He did.
He exploded from the blocks and accelerated throughout. By the time he had crossed the last hurdle, he had time to look sideways. There was nobody. That’s when he realised what he had done. He virtually jumped to the finish line, at an Olympic record time of 12.91 seconds. American Allen Johnson’s Olympic mark (Atlanta) of 12.95 is gone, and Briton Colin Jackson’s world record (Stuttgart, 1993) stands equalled.
The US’ Terence Tramel was second at 13.18 and Cuba’s Anier Garcia was third at 13.20. Timothy Mack of the US leaped to the men’s pole vault gold, jumping 5.95m, an Olympic record. Toby Stevenson of the US won silver at 5.9 and Giuseppe Gibilisco of Italy got bronze at 5.85.
The Chinese are again supreme in the women’s 10,000m. Those were the days of Wang Junxia (the world record-holder — 29:31.78 — Ma Junren ward). Athens came back into the ‘red’ as Huina Xing won gold at a personal best time of 30:24.36.
In women’s javelin, another Olympic record was set. On her first attempt, Cuban Osleidys Menendez hured the spear to 71.53, beating Norwegian Trine Hattestad’s Sydney mark of 68.91m. In fact, it remained just one centimetre short of her own world record, set in 2001 in Greece.
Steffi Nerius of Germany won silver (65.82) and Mirela Manjani of Greece won bronze at 64.29.