Two years after finishing fifth in the Berlin World championships behind Caster Semenya, Maria Savinova got a much closer look as she swept past the South African with 30m to go to claim the 2011 World title in Daegu this evening.
Berlin had been a difficult experience for Savinova. Clearly, it was an important lesson for her because in Daegu, Savinova went virtually into retreat and hardly left her room: “I did not even go into the athletes’ village,” she said, “but stayed in my room watching Russian soaps. I was either training or in my room.”
The lack of distraction worked a treat and when Savinova got out onto the track she was raring to go. But she still saw Semenya as the biggest challenge. “I thought I was running for silver and saw little hope of winning. Semenya looked so toned and ready to win when we lined up for the final.”
As they entered the final straight there only appeared to be one winner, but suddenly something changed. It was noticeable in Savinova’s pace: “Suddenly, I saw there was a chance to win.”
In those last 30m the Russian coasted past and then did something she did in Barcelona last summer – she started to smile and the smile just got broader the closer to the line she got.
Her winning time of 1:55.87 eclipsed her previous best of 1:56.95 set winning the Russian trials in Cheboksary 22 July.
But it could have been much faster: “Once I saw I was going to win, I decelerated,” explained the 26-year-old. That time could have been faster.”
Not that she seemed too concerned about that. There will clearly be other occasions where she can think about going faster.
But what about the race? Was she not concerned at the fast pace set by Jepkosgei up front? “Not in the slightest. I like to run an even pace with not too much contact with other runners, so I was happy.
“It was an ideal race for me, really. There were no obstacles that appeared in my way. Everything worked to my advantage.”
With three Russians in the race, was there an element of team tactics about the way they ran? “None whatsoever. We raced as individuals. There were no team tactics.”
For the record, Yekaterina Kostetskaya was fifth and Yuliya Rusanova was eighth.
It may have looked plain sailing now that the gold is round her neck, but there were problems in the build-up to this race.
“Five days before we came here I picked up a stomach bug and I was very afraid. But the whole thing cleared up in time.”
Another problem was racing. After the Russian trials on July 22, Savinova was looking for a race, but was unable to find one: “I did not race for a whole month. It was very frustrating.” Maybe, but it hardly seemed to matter. It may even have done her good as things turned out.
Savinova first came to note at the European Indoor Championships in Torino where she employed her trademark finishing kick to lift the title and emerge from obscurity.
Then came the glitch in Berlin (“I was not ready enough, it was not a good year for me”)
There followed an excellent year where she lifted both significant titles on offer in 2010, the World Indoors and the European Championships.
And now the World outdoor title: “This year has been a dream,” she said. “I can hardly find the words to describe it. I am happy and more than satisfied with the outcome.”
In between times, she got married last autumn to her boyfriend, Aleksey Farnasov. “Aleksey is also an athlete, he is part of the training group, and he comes on trips with me, so nothing specific has changed, really,” she said, referring to married life.
The man Savinova credits with her breakthrough in recent years was her coach of the last four years, Vladimir Kazarin. Kazarin was in the medals press conference to share in her moment of triumph.
Born in Chelyabinsk, Savinova started to train with Kazarin four years ago in Yekaterinburg. Under Kazarin, the results started to come, beginning with Torino.
In the beginning, Savinova used to spend a lot of time worrying about Semenya, Jepkosgei and Pamela Jelimo, all the big stars. Now the boot is on the other foot.
They have to worry about her. Little Masha from Chelyabinsk has become the woman to beat.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF