Younger talents produce top-class contests

The ninth World athletics championships in Paris produced just two world bests, both in men's walk events, through Jefferson Perez of Ecuador and Robert Korzeniowski of Poland.

K. P. MOHAN

Kim Collins, far right, crossing the finish line to win the men's 100m. Others from left are : Darren Campbell (bronze), Dwain Chambers (fourth) and Darrel Brown (second). — Pic. AP-

HAILE GEBRSELASSIE was beaten for the second time in a row; Hicham El Guerrouj almost pulled off an improbable double. Doping clouds hovered around American Kelli White, the owner of the women's sprint double. And the young brigade, led by Kenenisa Bekele, Eliud Kipchoge, Tirunesh Dibaba and Carolina Kluft, clearly gave an indication that it was time for the `oldies' to move over.

The ninth World athletics championships in Paris produced just two world bests, both in men's walk events, through Jefferson Perez of Ecuador and Robert Korzeniowski of Poland. There were 10 championship records as well not to speak of many area records and National marks. But the normally explosive sprints looked pedestrian, especially in the men's section, forcing many to wonder whether the tougher dope control measures being taken the world over by different agencies had resulted in such a phenomenon.

Hicham El Guerrouj is comfortably ahead of the rest in the 1,500m final. This was his fourth world title. — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

As though to compensate for the lack of fireworks in the sprints, the distance events produced four top-class contests, two in either sections, and they also brought to the fore the younger talent in Ethiopia and Kenya that was ready to take over the reins from the elder bunch. None exemplified the younger spirit more than Eliud Kipchoge who in a near blanket finish in the 5000m edged Hicham El Guerrouj, the monarch of the metric mile.

That a battered and bruised Kenya, after its annihilation by Ethiopia in the longer event, could come back so strongly and wrest the 5000m title through Kipchoge, the 18-year-old world junior record holder, was highly commendable. Especially so when one takes into consideration that it was billed as a battle between El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in the main. Even if there was to be a Kenyan in the script it was to be Abraham Chebii and not Kipchoge.

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge (left) edges out Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj in the 5,000m final. Kenenisa Bekele, who took the bronze, is in the centre. — Pic. AP-

In the event, Chebii, conqueror of Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie this season, was hopelessly stranded as El Guerrouj tore himself away from the pack and headed for home, with Kipchoge in pursuit, with more than two laps left.

As the Moroccan ran to the line, almost unchallenged till the home straight, the young Kenyan chased him down, coming through the final bend splendidly and eventually beating one of the all time greats we will ever see, just at the finish. Kipchoge's 12:52.79 was a championship record. The Moroccan was just four-hundredth of a second behind, losing his balance a little at the wire after having run himself out of steam on the straight. The silver was a just reward for a man who ran the 5000m heats a day after winning the 1500m.

Ethiopians, gold medallist Kenenisa Bekele (left), silver medallist Haile Gebrselassie (right) and bronze medallist Sileshi Sihine celebrate following the 10,000m event. — Pic. AFP-

El Guerrouj unmatched

El Guerrouj likes to run in front. He did that in the 1500 metres to clock a 3:31.77 that was pass� by his standards, but beyond the capacity of Frenchman Mehdi Baala, his main rival. Expectedly, a wildly-cheering crowd of nearly 60,000 willed Baala towards the gold, but the 28-year-old Moroccan, stepping on the pedal from 1000 metres out, was simply unbeatable. Baala admitted that much. El Guerrouj celebrated like never before and later admitted that he was under pressure and had spent five sleepless nights since he felt that doubts were being expressed about his ability by men like Steve Ovett and Steve Cram, both former world record holders in the metric mile and the mile. The Moroccan had to conquer his own self doubts, and the overwhelming home advantage Baala had, to win his fourth world title.

In the end, there was such a huge difference in class between him and the Frenchman, that El Guerrouj looked like easing through on the straight instead of sprinting hard to the finish. He knew that Baala had little left in him. The Frenchman sprawled on the track moments after the finish, exhausted, but happy that he had the silver.

Allen Johnson exults after his triumph in the 110m hurdles, which was his fourth world title. — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

El Guerrouj, however, did not realise perhaps that Kipchoge had just enough left in him on the home straight in the 5000. Kipchoge's final charge was memorable and so was El Guerrouj's attempt to emulate the great Finn, Paavo Nurmi, the only man ever to have won the distance double on the global stage. The peerless Finn had done that at the 1924 Olympics. And amazingly added the cross-country gold, too!

Bekele, so talented, so sure of himself in the 10,000m where he had the measure of his mentor and idol, Gebrselassie, could not match El Guerrouj's speed over the shorter distance nor the huge `kick' that Kipchoge came up with on the finishing straight. The 21-year-old two-time double World cross-country champion led an Ethiopian sweep in the 10,000m, with Gebrselassie following him and Sileshi Sihine claiming the bronze. Bekele said his victory was for himself as well as for Gebrselassie. The great man smiled, in typical style, and said that what was important was Ethiopia filled the podium. Deep within him he must have wondered what went wrong a second time. "I still have the kick'', he said. It was not enough against the younger man. The man who beat Gebrselassie last time, Kenyan Charles Kamathi, came in seventh and exclaimed, "they were too fast''.

Sergey Makarov with a throw of 85.44 took the javelin gold. — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

The sprinters weren't too fast this time, adding to the speculation that something was wrong somewhere. For the first time in 20 years no one clocked a sub-10 in the 100m final. And in the slowest ever 200m dash, American John Capel turned in 20.30, a timing that could not have fetched anything better than the eighth place in the last two editions of the championships.

Kelli White winning the women's 100m. She went on to bag a sprint double and then doping charges came against her. — Pic. PHIL COLE/GETTY IMAGES-

Suetsugu wins 200 bronze

The one-two finish by Capel and Darvis Patton brought America back into the sprinting focus after a wash-out in the shorter dash, but in the Asian context, Shingo Suetsugu's bronze was of much significance since that happened to be Japan's first medal ever in the sprints. Suetsugu, coached by the 400m legend Susumu Takano, was overjoyed and wept. He had of course looked likely to get a medal since clocking a season-leading 20.03 in June, but it required a desperate lunge at the finish in the final to actually get it, just ahead of the Briton, Darren Campbell.

Women's long jump medal winners: (from left) : Anju Bobby George (bronze), gold medallist Eunice Barber and Tatyana Kotova (silver) on the podium. — Pic. CLIVE ROSE-

Campbell was a bronze medallist in the 100 metres, won by Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis. The Caribbean, Commonwealth Games gold medallist in the 100m and last time World bronze medallist in the 200m, clocked a modest 10.07 to win the coveted gold. The Caribbean domination was further emphasised by Darrel Brown who took the silver. The Trinidadian, last year's world junior champion, clocked a world junior record of 10.01s in the quarterfinal heats.

Even though it was a slow race, it was a tight finish all the same, with Brown, Campbell and Briton Dwain Chambers, one of the pre-race favourites, clocking the same 10.08s. Chambers disappointed again in the shorter relay by letting Britain down on the anchor.

Back to the individual 100. Collins is an easy-going, no-nonsense man who did not consider himself a possible gold medallist at these Worlds. "I wanted it, but I was thought to be the dark horse. So I decided to have a black outfit to fit into that idea,'' Collins said in a lighter vein.

Tatyana Tomoshova, who won the 1,500m, at the presentation ceremony. — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/ GETTY IMAGES-

"I know the other finalists are disappointed. They will come up to me and challenge me,'' said Collins. Asked about his own chances at the Athens Olympics next year Collins said that the Americans would be thirsting for revenge by then.

The Americans, for the first time since Mike Marsh finished fifth in 1995, failed to get among the medals. World record holder Tim Montgomery clocked a 10.11 for fifth, with girlfriend Marion Jones in attendance. Montgomery flew back home after that. Bernard Williams, last time bronze winner in the American sweep of medals, behind Maurice Greene and Montgomery, looking good in the rounds, clocked 10.13 for the sixth place. Nigerians Deji Aliu and Uchenna Emedolu brought up the rear.

Greene grimaced through a semifinal to finish eighth and go out. He felt his left quad, the same muscle that saw him hobble through the final strides at Edmonton for a 9.80, had popped just after the start. He had high hopes just before the meet started, but went out rather tamely, while gunning for his fourth straight 100m title. In a field where there was no clear favourite, Greene could have been a better bet than most, if only for his experience at this level. But then experience alone did not matter in the case of Frankie Fredericks of Namibia. The veteran finished in 20.47 to take the seventh place in the 200m.

However, another veteran, 32-year-old Allen Johnson won his fourth world title in the high hurdles all right. The American tipped many a hurdle over, clipped a few on way to a 13.12 triumph. Chinese Liu Xiang was third behind another American, Terrence Trammell. It was China's first men's medal since Zhu Jianhua won the bronze in high jump at the inaugural meet at Helsinki in 1983.

Qatar's first is Kenya's loss

Tirunesh Dibaba, who clobbered a field of heavyweights in the 5000m, displays her gold medal. — Pic. CLIVE ROSE/GETTY IMAGES-

Qatar had its first gold, thanks to its `import' from Kenya. Stephen Cherono, who clocked a world-leading time in the 5000m at Ostrava in June, turned up in the maroon of Qatar in Paris, under his new name, Saaeed Saif Shaheen and in his pet event. And duly won the 3000m steeplechase. He was challenged all the way by a `true' Kenyan Ezekiel Kemboi. The Kenyans, Shaheen's elder brother Abraham Cherono included, felt bad in the end that their monopoly had been eroded. Cherono finished fifth.

Kenya also fared poorly with Michael Rotich alone finishing (8th) the course among the five who started. The Ethiopians fared no better, with the world and Olympic champion and the overwhelming favourite, Gezahegne Abera, being among the non-finishers. Moroccan Jaouad Gharib was the surprise winner, holding off a serious challenge from Spaniard Juilo Rey after both entered the stadium together. The 31-year-old Moroccan, better known as a half-marathoner, was running only his second marathon.

Italian Giuseppe Gibilisco's upset victory marked the pole vault competition, with the members of the six-metre club, defending champion Dmitri Markov of Australia, Tim Lobinger of Germany and Okkert Birts of South Africa, faltering in front of the 24-year-old Sicilian's brilliance. Gibilisco climbed to a personal best and an Italian National record of 5.90 to grab the gold with Brits claiming the silver and Patrik Kristianson of Sweden the bronze.

An ankle injury having put a serious question mark over Jonathan Edwards's participation, Sweden's triumph in triple jump was always taken for granted. In the event, Christian Olsson opened with a 17.72 and no one passed that. Edwards qualified for the final, but did not progress into the last three rounds, ending up last at 16.31. He did not take his third jump and bid a tearful farewell. A few days before the championships the Briton had announced that he was going to retire after the meet. He might have thought that he would go out, guns blazing, but that was not to be.

A new champion emerged in each of the men's throwing events, though not necessarily from the younger bunch. Belarussian Andrey Mikhnevich, just back from a doping ban, took the shot put title, while Lithuanian Virgilijus Alekna took the discus title.

Carolina Kluft of Sweden, who touched 7001 points, to dominate the muti-event heptathlon show. — Pic. CLIVE ROSE/GETTY IMAGES-

In a hammer competition that was billed as the one that could reach unprecedented levels, but that never really developed into one, Belarussian Ivan Tikhon, walked away with the honours with an 83.05. Japanese Murofushi, pre-meet favourite, but injured during training back home and not really in his element, was pushed to the bronze status by Hungarian Adrian Annus on his last throw, 80.36 to 80.12. Tikhon, Annus and Murofushi had all crossed 84.00m this season with the Japanese on top at 84.86. Tikhon's technique came in for high praise from Murofushi and Annus.

Czech Jan Zelezny's attempt to get his fourth world title failed in the javelin, as Sergey Makarov of Russia won at 85.44. Zelezny finished at fourth with 84.09.

American Tom Pappas, who did not finish last time, won the decathlon crown, after trailing Kazakh Dmitry Karpov on the opening day. Karpov's weakness in pole vault and javelin — and Pappas's strength in these events — eventually settled the argument, but the 22-year-old Kazakh has emerged as a leading contender from Asia after the fading away of continental record holder Ramil Ganiyev of Uzbekistan. Twenty year-old Chinese Qi Haifeng, with a National record of 8126, was seventh.

Despite so many problems with team compositions, what with Greene limping off, Montgomery flying home and Drummond being disqualified, the US 4x100m relay team still won the gold. An inspired anchor by Joshua Johnson against Britain's Dwain Chambers, who got the baton in lead, helped the US salvage some of its prestige that had taken a hard knock in the individual 100. The longer relay was also won against a spirited opposition from France.

Doping charge spoils White double

Kelli White looked so awesome in the absence of Marion Jones in the sprints that everyone forgot the presence of the defending champion, Zhanna Block, or the challenge of Frenchwomen Christine Arron and Muriel Hurtis. Yet, after she bagged the double, when the doping charge came against her, doubts were naturally expressed whether American athletics, if not world athletics, was as `clean' as it was being made out to be. As White herself has pointed out, the doping charge has spoilt her image beyond repair, no matter that she will escape suspension.

An outstanding show by Ana Guevara of Mexico, who clocked a 48.89 in the 400m, to join a small group of women who have clocked sub-49, and an equally facile victory for Maria Mutola in the 800m kept the script on the charted course.

However, there was an upset of great magnitude in the 1500m when Russian Tatyana Tomoshova outkicked Turk Sureyya Ayhan on the straight for a championship record of 3:58.52. Ayhan seemed to have miscalculated her early `kick', starting from around 240 metres out. She had hinted at a surprise strategy for the final, but eventually the loss, against all expectations, made all that talk meaningless.

Svetlana Feofanova of Russia cleared 4.75m to take the pole vault gold, despite running fever on the eve of the competition. — Pic. CLIVE ROSE/GETTY IMAGES-

The young brigade was truly on display in the 5000m, just as it was in the men's 5000m, when Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba, just 18, clobbered a field containing some of the heavyweights of women's distance running. It was such a closely fought race that till the `bell' it was anyone's for the taking. But Dibaba had the better `kick' and better endurance, as it turned out. Spaniard Marta Dominguez held off 36-year-old Kenyan Edith Masai for the bronze.

The ones to suffer against the youthful brilliance of Dibaba included Gabriela Szabo of Romania, Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland and Zahra Quaziz of Morocco. Ethiopian Berhane Adere, winner of the 10,000m in the third fastest timing in history (30:04.18), aiming for a unique double, and Chinese Sun Yingjie, Asian Games double gold winner and bronze winner in the 10,000m in Paris, were also there in the fray. But they could do very little after the initial promise. At tenth, the Chinese finished a rung above Adere.

A bunch of Japanese could not stop former world best performer, Catherine Ndereba of Kenya from winning the marathon in a championship best of 2:23:55. Japanese Mizuki Noguchi, Masako Chiba and Naoko Sakamoto filled up the next three places.

The elimination of American Gail Devers from the semifinals of the 100m hurdles paved the way for Canadian Perdita Felicien's surprise victory in the final, with the favourite Bridgette Foster of Jamaica taking the silver.

Record holders slip up

A bigger favourite, Russian Yuliya Pechonkina had to make way for a younger champion from Australia in the 400m hurdles. Just 20 days after setting a world record of 52.34s, Pechonkina faltered badly on the last two hurdles to allow Australian Jana Pittman a clear way to the gold, with American veteran Sandra Glover claiming the silver.

It was always going to be a fight between Hestrie Cloete and Kajsa Bergqvist at the high jump pit, one thought. But Cloete won without a fight, with a world-lead equalling 2.06, while Bergqvist had to settle for the bronze on a countback with Russian Marina Kuptsova. The Swede had problems right from 1.98m.

Cloete, with her personal best and African record now joins Bergqvist who this season had a similar effort at Eberstadt, Germany, as the women who have jumped that high apart from world record holder Stefka Kostadinova (2.09m) and Lyudmila Andonova (2.07), both Bulgarians.

World record holder Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia had to be satisfied with the bronze as her team-mate and former world record holder, Svetlana Feofanova took the pole vault gold, despite running a fever on the eve of the competition, with German Annika Becker coming second. Former world record holder and defending champion Stacy Dragila was fourth. Feofanova cleared 4.75, Becker 4.70 and Isinbayeva 4.65. Dragila could manage only 4.55.

"I knew I wasn't at the 4.70m-4.80m level I wanted to be, but I wanted to give it a try . . . It is great to see the new generation of vaulters to make their breakthrough. I feel like a pioneer,'' said Dragila.

It looked as though nearly 55,000 paying public had turned up at the Stade de France to have the chance to sing La Marseillaise for the first time at the championships on August 30.

Eunice Barber obliged at the long jump pit, with a last-gasp 6.99 that pushed Russian Tatyana Kotova (6.74) to the silver spot. But the medals ceremony was held only the next day. And they sang the French National Anthem all right.

Just as it was important for the French, August 30 was historic for India, too, as Anju B. George won the first ever global medal among seniors in athletics. She led the first round with 6.61, was in third place till third, regained that position from Briton Jade Johnson in the fifth round with an eventual medal-winning jump of 6.70m and stayed there. Johnson jumped 6.53 on her last jump after having reached 6.63 earlier.

"I was only concerned about Jade,'' said coach Mike Powell, who had a ring-side seat along with Anju's husband and coach Bobby George.

Kluft crosses 7000

By the time Eunice Barber came onto the long jump stage she has been outclassed in the heptathlon by a 20-year-old Swede. Carolina Kluft, her good looks and youthful charm enough to attract attention, dominated the multi-event show to such an extent that it was only a question of whether she would cross 7000 points rather than whether Barber would have any chance of challenging her, notwithstanding the tremendous support the latter received from her home fans. Four personal bests on the opening day established Kluft's credentials and eventually she touched 7001 points, only the third woman in history, after Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Russian Larisa Nikitina to cross 7000. The last time was by Joyner-Kersee at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Kluft's 7001 came from 1097 in 100m hurdles (13.18s), 1158 in high jump (1.94m), 807 in shot put (14.19m), 1081 in 200m (22.98s), 1066 in long jump (6.68m), 858 in javelin (49.90m) and 934 in 800m (2:12.12). She did not have a PB in long jump and javelin.

Olympic champion Denise Lewis, in the midst of a controversy back home in Britain, relating to her newly-appointed German coach Dr Ekkart Arbeit, formerly in charge of GDR's doping programme, finished in fifth place (6254) behind Belarussian Natalya Sazanovich (6524) and the defending champion from Russia, Yelena Prokhorova (6452)

Most of the favourites, bar in the javelin, obliged in the throwing events. Svetlana Krivelyova of Russia (shot put), Irina Yatchenko of Belarus (discus) and Yipsi Moreno of Cuba (hammer) were among the top favourites in their events and won. Greek Mirela Manjani, winner in 1999, took the javelin ahead of the favourite Tatyana Shikolenko of Russia.

With White withdrawing from the US 4x100m relay team, the French, brilliantly anchored by Christine Arron brought off a big upset clocking a National record of 41.78s. The longer relay was won by the US, however, without much ado.