| Hicham El Guerrouj celebrates winning the men’s 5,000m on Saturday, adding to his 1,500 gold
Athens: The athletics programme of the Athens Olympic Games is coming to an end. Saturday again presented a fine show of individual and team enterprise, with the great Hicham el Guerrouj of Morocco claiming his second Olympic gold, Yuri Borzakovskiy coming in from nowhere to take the 800m honours, Britain piping the US in men’s 4x100 relay and the Indian women’s 1,600m relay team finishing a poor seventh (as reported in Sunday’s Late City edition).
Also winning her second gold was Kelly Holmes of Britain, in women’s 1,500m (after her 800m win).
The men’s 5,000m was supposed to be a fight between Hicham, world record-holder Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele and Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge. That it was. With three laps to go, the winners and losers had been clearly marked out. The top three were in front and with 200m to go Hicham broke out, with a shoulder ahead in the last 200m.
Bekele (silver-winner) and Kipchoge (bronze) were in the chase but Hicham was Hicham. As he crossed the line he was delirious with joy. Looking at the camera, he said: “Two, two golds.”
And then he kissed his leg, lay down on the ground, took his shoes on his head, bowed to everyone. “I am happy to have won two gold medals in five days,” Hicham said later.
“I was relaxed in the race and let my opponents do the work. I stayed behind until the last 100m. Two days ago I received a message from a friend in Touluse, saying ‘in 1997 Athens discovered the prince, in 2004 Athens will discover the king.’ At the stadium I was thinking of Paavo Nurmi and told myself ‘this is a great day for you’.”
The 800m final was an upset. The indomitable Wilson Kipketer was in the fray, and it did not seem this lithe African, now running for Denmark, could be beaten. Sure enough, with 200m to the tape, Kipketer and South Africa’s Mbulaeni Mulaudzi surged ahead in loping strides.
Borzakovskiy, who was only sixth at the Sydney Games and had silver at last year’s world championships, accelerated quite suddenly. It was an incredible burst of speed that took him to the tape, way ahead of the field.
Borzakovskiy spread his hands out wide, smiled and looked heavenwards. It was such a great run, even Kipketer was left smiling.
“I dedicate this medal to my wife and child,” said Borzakovskiy later. Kipketer said: “I was too slow in the first 400m. I could have risked it for the gold medal because I was in good condition for a better position.”
The men’s 4x100 relay final was an eagerly awaited one. The US line-up was formidable, to say the least. Shawn Crawford (200m champion) was there, 100m champion Justin Gatlin was there, so was Coby Miller and former world champion Maurice Greene. The Britons presented Jason Gardener, Darren Campell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis. Then there were the Nigerians, always a threat.
The race was as brilliantly speedy as it could be. The Britons and Kenyans soon established a fine lead. But the last US man was Greene. Greene received the baton in third place, then there was this awesome acceleration.
Matthew Elias managed a hair’s breadth win, at 38.07 seconds, Greene a hundredth of a second behind. The Nigerians took bronze at 38.23.
The other British success came some time before the relay, in women’s 1,500m. Russian Tatyana Tomashova had been leading the pack from the halfway stage and looked pretty unbeatable. The big Russian looked too strong for the petite (5’-4”) Briton, Kelly Holmes.
Into the home stretch, though, Kelly let go all her reserve and burst into a brilliant sprint, pushing the field to the background. As Kelly went down to the track, head to the ground, she could not believe her win, in a national record time of 3:57.90. Tomashova came in at 3:58.12, followed by Maria Cioncan of Romania.
The US, though, remained unbeaten in the men’s 4x400 relay. They were marked out as clear winners and so they were, winning in 2:55.91, beating the Aussies (3:00.60) and Nigerians (3:00.90).
The men’s javelin started off on a slow pace. The commotion of hot races all around could have been a distraction. But in the end it was the second effort of Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen that saw him to the gold at 86.50m. It was the only 85-plus metre throw, with Latvian Vadims Vasilevskis’ 84.95 fetching silver and Russian Sergey Makarov’s 84.34 the bronze.
On the other hand, Bobby Aloysius of India had gone out in the qualifying stage of a very competitive event, the women’s high jump. The rather tender-looking world indoor champion Yelena Slesarenko of Russia completed her eighth jump at 2.06m, an Olympic record.
Hestrie Coete of South Africa won silver at 2.02 and Viktoriya Styopina of Ukraine bronze at the same height, losing on jump tie-break statistics.
The women from India were at least expected to give a fight. The problem was that the team’s best runner, Manjeet Kaur, had suddenly taken ill Saturday morning, throwing up, and with a fever. She was hospitalised temporarily (now better). Hence Satti Geetha had to replace her.
India, in lane 7, had to make the best start to be somewhere near the lane 4 and lane 5 girls. The start by Geetha was disgraceful. She was a soft lope in a sprint relay. She came in last, and a very bad last at that, finishing her lap in 52.91 seconds where India have seen sub-52 in the qualifiers.
K. Mathews Beenamol took over and made up some ground, running a 51.52 second lap, finishing third-last. The way Chitra Soman ran, India could well have again gone back, but for a poor run by the Romanians and because of a shoe problem of Dimitra Dova of the Greek team.
Rajwinder Kaur’s effort wasn’t enough and India were seventh at 3:28.51.
The Americans won at 3:19.01, Russians silver at 3:20.16 and Jamaicans bronze at 3:22.00.
Beenamol said after the race: “The loss of our best runner (Manjeet) was a setback. There was no way she could run today. But we tried our best. Even Rajwinder’s left toe had a cut and she had problems running.”
Beenamol, for whom this was supposed to be the swansong Olympics, refused to talk about her retirement plans.
“I will be having a holiday in Germany after this, and then maybe I will do a few events. But who knows about the Asian Games and who knows about the Beijing Olympic Games'”