Lars Riedel

Published : Sep 01, 2001 00:00 IST

AS the last man to complete the throws, Frantz Kruger of South Africa, fouled his final attempt, Lars Riedel threw up his arms in triumph, jumped around, gesticulated to the small band of flag-waving German supporters in the stands and posed for the horde of cameramen infield.

It was the fifth discus gold for the German in the World championships, the best individual collection by any athlete in a single event behind the six in a row that the peerless pole vaulter Sergey Bubka had achieved. From 1991, Riedel has been beaten only once at the Worlds. That was last time, in Seville, when American Anthony Washington took the gold and Riedel's team-mate Jurgen Schult claimed the silver. Riedel, then nursing a hip muscle injury, had finished with the bronze.

In Edmonton, Riedel had to fight a hard battle with the Olympic champion, Virgilijus Alekna of Lithuania before emerging the winner. Alekna had opened with a 67.65 and then stretched it to 69.40 in the third round to sit firmly in front before Riedel snatched the lead in the fourth with 69.50 and then cemented it with a 69.72 in the next round. Alekna fouled his last attempt.

"The competition was very strong today. Virgilijus was as good as ever and I am very proud to have won on this fantastic day," said Riedel.

"My winning throw was nearly perfect. Had my leg been a little quicker during my spin, I would have thrown over 70 metres," the 34-year-old German said.

A knee surgery had kept him away from action for four weeks at the beginning of the season and though he was not among the top performers during the run-up, it was always on the cards that Riedel would be one of the gold medal contenders in Edmonton. Such was the man's stature.

On the all-time lists, Riedel might only figure behind American Al Oerter and countrymen Jurgen Schult and Wolfgang Schmidt in terms of achievements, but there should be no doubts about his undisputed No. 1 status in the 90s. Though he failed to qualify for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic final, he came from the brink in Atlanta, four years later, to win the Olympic crown.

He had two fouls to begin with at Atlanta and then produced a 65.40 to stay in the race and eventually won with a fifth-round throw of 69.40, the longest in a global championship till then. He bettered that as well as Anthony Washington's championship record (69.08m) by reaching 69.50 and then 69.72 in Edmonton.

"I knew Riedel was the only man who could beat me," said Alekna. "The others, Mollenbeck, Shevchenko and Kruger have the potential but they do not scare me just yet."

Hailing from Chemnitz, formerly in the GDR, Riedel's talents came into full bloom only after the re-unification of Germany, when he moved to Mainz in 1990. He went back to Chemnitz after training as an office employee and won his first global title, at the age of 23, at the Tokyo Worlds in 1991, surprising his better-rated countrymen, Schult and Schmidt as well as the Hungarian Atilla Horvath.

After that Riedel has not looked back, though in 1995 he almost failed to make it to the final round, needing all the three throws in the qualification round to go through. A German 1-2 in the 1999 edition was spoilt by Washington in the final round as Schult, the world record holder, and Riedel, bidding for his fifth straight title, ended up second and third.

Riedel is called the modern-day Oerter, but might be lacking Oerter's outstanding record in the Olympics. "I will surely be there in Athens to re-take my Olympic title," said Riedel as he got ready to celebrate his World championship success.

Injuries had been part and parcel of Riedel's career, a back injury having bothered him throughout. So too doping suspicions, like any other thrower. But Riedel has been in the forefront of anti-doping campaigns. He once even suggested that top athletes should show at least 10 negative tests before they are allowed to compete in major events.

The negative reputation of the throwers might be frustrating to many like Riedel, but he battles on. "It is as if this event did not even exist in Germany," he once said about the total lack of attention given to his event compared to the track. Perhaps his fifth world title might bring about a change in attitudes. - K. P. Mohan

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