General News

Historic win for Yong

Historic Gold for Yong
Roundup of the final day of the 7th IAAF World Championships in Athletics
Nick Davies for IAAF

 We are proud of saying that athletics is a truly global sport, and offers unique opportunities for determined performers, whatever their nationality or background. The result of the women's marathon this morning proved that this is no hollow boast. Watched by millions of TV viewers world-wide, Song-Ok Yong beat a top field, including Olympic and World Champions, to bring North Korea its first ever medal at a major sporting event.

The race had been scheduled for an early morning start to ensure it would be seen on prime time TV in Japan, such is the passion for the marathon in that country. And in the absence of the defending world champion Hiromi Suzuki, the unsung Ari Ichihashi proved to be Japan's star. For the first half of the race, the pace was respectable with 10k covered in 35:26 and 20k in 1:10:34. Among the 16 athletes in the lead group were 1996 Olympic champion Fatuma Roba, the 1995 world champion Manuela Machado, the Romanians Lidia Simon and Anuta Catuna, and China's Sun Yingjie whose habit of running with her arms dangling by her sides, made her easy to spot.

The first real break came at around the 28 km point when Yingjie and Roba picked up speed. Only Ichihashi, Simon and Yong could cope with the pace. Shortly afterwards, Roba began to fade and, at the 35 km point, the two Asian runners seized the initiative. Although Ichihashi seemed the most composed, her running style more economical than the North Korean, it was Yong who made the decisive break just 2 km away from the stadium. Simon overtook Roba - who did not finish in Athens two years ago - to take the bronze.

Yong's time of 2:26:59 improved her personal best by almost four minutes, impressive as the heat was climbing in the latter part of the race. "I may be a new marathon runner in the eyes of the rest of the world but hopefully they will know me now." The North-Korean also admitted that she gained strength by thinking about her country's leader Kim Jong II. "This was the real source of my power." Japan won the team gold.

A double Olympic gold medallist , Svetlana Masterkova had never won a World Championship title until tonight. But boosted by a crowd who treated the Alicante based Russian like an honorary-Spaniard, she out-thought and out-kicked her rivals in an enthralling 1500m final. The early pace was made by the experienced Violeta Beclea-Szekely with Regina Jacobs, Carla Sacramento moving into the lead at 800 metres, reached in 2:12.89. But Masterkova was always close by and when Jacobs made her final sprint with 150 metres to go, the Russian eased alongside then pulled away emphatically. By the finish, she had opened up a 10 metre gap on the American, who won her second successive world silver. Ethiopian Kutre Dulecha, who turned 21 just a week ago, won bronze after a spirited last lap.

"I did not fear anyone," said Masterkova after crossing the line in 3:59.54. "I was a little preoccupied, both with my morale and my ankle because I have had many problems. I will need to have an operation after these championships. But I am very happy now because I was disappointing in the 800m [she won bronze]. I needed to win tonight for myself, my family and my friends in Russia and Spain."

South Africa's Hezekial Sepeng almost pulled off a major coup in the men's 800m, grabbing a huge lead which defending champion and world record holder Wilson Kipketer could only claw back with the last stride of the race. So desperate was Kipketer to pass the South African that he threw himself at the finish line, tumbling on to the track. Shaking his head as he stood up, he broke into a smile when he realised that he had won his third successive title - but by just two hundredths of a second - 1:43.30 to 1:43.32.

The early pace had been frantic as first Kipketer, then Japheth Kimutai, Norberto Tellez and Djaabir Said-Guerni jostled for the lead. The bell was reached in 50.11 by Sepeng - but it was his surge at 600 metres that almost paid off. Although the Said-Guerni reacted well, Kipketer was caught napping, and needed to draw on all his reserves before he could haul back Sepeng right on the line.

After the race, Kipketer, a smile on his face said: "Okay, maybe it didn't look like it on television but I knew I was going to catch Sepeng. I just didn't know if I was going to do it before the finish!"

Said-Guerni, who improved the Algerian record to 1:44.18, is just 21 years-old.

The men's sprint relay final was a classic, with Maurice Greene and Britain's Dwain Chambers having a terrific duel down the final straight, roared on by the 52,000 spectators. Although Chambers matched Greene stride for stride for 80 metres, he then began to tighten and the American was able to win his third gold. The US clocked 37.59 with Britain setting a new European record of 37.73.

The battle for silver was also hard fought between Nigeria and Brazil. Deji Aliu was able to overtake Andre Da Silva on the final leg, both teams breaking Area records - with 37.91 and 38.05 respectively. In depth, it was the best world championship final ever.

In the women's final much had been expected of a US team containing Gail Devers and Inger Miller, but it was the Bahamas who proved the class act this evening in the women's 4x100. Superb performances and changeovers by Sevatheda Fynes, Chandra Sturrup, Pauline Davis - making her seventh consecutive appearance at these championships - and Debbie Ferguson brought the Caribbean nation its first relay gold in 41.92. France, anchored by Christine Arron, had also been well-trained and took silver with 42.06 just ahead of Jamaica who clocked 42.15. The Americans, whose changeovers were poor, finished a dejected fourth.

Javelin throwers usually try to make a mighty effort early on to put pressure on their rivals. Greece's Kostas Gatsioudis almost won the final with his first throw (and only the second of the competition) which soared out to land tantalisingly close to the 90 metre line. When it was measured - the mark of 89.18 flashed up - and the world's top javelin throwers faced a colossal challenge.

The legendary Jan Zelezny - recently back from serious injury - made two efforts (83.60 and 87.67) - then fouled three times before withdrawing from the competition. Last year's European champion Steve Backley - suffering with an injured knee - could only achieve 83.84. The Russian Sergey Makarov - who many had tipped for gold - fared even worse with a best effort of 83.20.

With Gatsioudis seemingly destined for glory, Finland's Aki Parvianen stepped up for his penultimate throw. With a mighty bellow he sent the javelin soaring high. As it struck the ground, the crowd roared its approval - 89.52. A Finn would now be on top of the podium for the first time since 1991. Zelezny won the bronze.

The effect of nerves on top level performers can never be underestimated, which is what makes championship athletics so unpredictable and fascinating. In the women's high jump final, only three different marks were actually recorded. Five athletes cleared 1.93, four cleared 1.96 and three 1.99! When the bar was raised to 2.03, only Ukraine's Inga Babakova, and the Russians Yelena Yelesina and Svetlana Lapina remained in the contest, but none could clear the height. Babakova won gold because she had cleared 1.99 first time. Yelesina had needed two attempts and Lapina three, which meant silver and bronze respectively. The Ukrainian had the coolest head tonight, needing just one jump to clear each height.

The men's 4x400m - the last track event of these championships - gave the Seville crowd the chance to enjoy another 43 seconds of world record breaker Michael Johnson. With the Britons making a shock exit in qualifying, only Poland could provide any kind of challenge to the mighty Americans. Yet after a superb third leg by 400m hurdler Angelo Taylor, Poland were 15 metres adrift and, by the time Johnson had completed his lap, that gap had doubled. The US clocked 2:56.45 for gold with Poland recording 2:58.91 and Jamaica winning bronze with 2:59.34.

The women's long relay proved a more dramatic race, with Russia, who broke the world record at the World Indoor Championships in Maebashi this winter, having a titanic struggle with the USA. The Americans held the early advantage but Olga Kotlyarova put the Russians into the lead just before the final changeover. Chased hard by Jearl-Miles Clark, Natalya Nazarova held her nerve as the American and Germany's Grit Breuer began to attack down the home straight. With 50 metres left, Breuer seemed to clip Miles-Clarke's heel, and neither athlete could then find the extra gear to go past Nazarova. She crossed the line to stop the clock at 3:21.98. The USA came home in 3:22.09 with Germany - the defending champions - third in 3:22.43.

The climax of this superb championships came when the King of Spain King Juan Carlos, congratulated the four Spanish athletes who had won medals here over the last nine days. He had earlier presented cups to the winning teams in the marathon races. Yet again, the Seville spectators showed that sport is a fabulous excuse for raucous celebration.