There certainly was no shortage of major upsets at this afternoon’s ISTAF meeting here in Berlin, the first leg of the 2008 ÅF Golden League series, as World champions Jeremy Wariner, Irving Saladino and Janeth Jepkosgei were all denied a chance to remain in the run for the $1 Million Dollar Jackpot.
But today’s first major surprise came in the women’s 100m Hurdles in which 21-year-old Josephine Onyia of Spain defeated both the World Indoor record holder Susanna Kallur and World Indoor champion Lolo Jones, lowering the Spanish national record to 12.50 in the process.
Running in lane 2, Onyia trailed Kallur in the very early stages of the race but thanks to her impressively strong finish, she powered through the second half of the race and crossed the line with 4 hundredths of a second to spare over the Swedish champion. Jones was third in 12.57.
Getting over Valencia shock
Onyia’s time improved her team-mate and good friend’s Glory Alozie former national standard by 7 hundredths and her own personal best by a massive 14 hundredths.
“I’m not really surprised by my time today. I opened my season with 12.64 so I knew I was in shape for such a good time. Today’s race was a better race; I just relaxed myself and ran through. I’m so glad I’ve set the Spanish record and now I just want to move forward.”
With regards to the record, Onyia who just like Alozie was born in Nigeria, moved to Valencia and is now competing for Spain, declared: “Glory is happy for me to have taken her record. We train together, she always gives me motivation and good advice given that she’s older and more experienced. She’s my partner, she’s like my sister.”
Based in Valencia and coached by former Spanish Long Jump record holder Rafael Blanquer, Onyia moved to Spain four years ago and was granted citizenship in May 2007, her first international appearance for her adopted country being this winter’s World Indoor Championships held in Valencia in front of her home crowd.
Although tipped for winning a medal after Kallur’s withdrawal, Onyia unfortunately crashed to the floor in Valencia’s final badly breaking the hurdle and losing all hopes to win her first international medal for Spain.
“That was a big shock,” she explained today. “It was quite difficult to get over it but I had no choice but to get out of the shock. My coach, my family, my friends, my boyfriend…everyone talked to me and helped me look on to the future. This is an Olympic year so I had to think ahead.”
The track is wide!
Third at the 2003 World Youth championships while still running for her native Nigeria, Onyia explained how she believes her hard work in training is finally paying off as she enters the season that could see her repeat Alozie’s silver medal exploit from the Sydney Olympic Games.
“I work a lot on 11 hurdles and 150 metres in training so I can improve my finish. Today I had a good start, it was ok for me. I left the blocks and I saw I was almost level with Susanna so I knew it was ok. But what I love is to finish, I think I have a very strong finish.”
“I ran in Doha but I had a bad race there, I hit a hurdle and lost my rhythm. Here I just wanted to be relaxed and run my race and see who would come out on top. I came here wanting to run 50 something and it feels good to do it. I’m really happy.”
“I’m happy that the world knows that there’s a young girl coming out in the world of hurdles. Last night Usain Bolt broke the men’s 100m World record, it just proves that it’s not just about a couple of athletes, anyone can come out on top. The track is wide; anyone that can step on the track in any given final can come out on top!”
Now that she’s won her first ÅF Golden League meeting and stands as one of ten Jackpot contenders, Onyia has sights set on two fronts.
“My goal is to be in the Olympic final, I know it will be difficult but I’m working hard, just like everyone else is working hard for it. And if I’m in the final I would like to give Spain a medal. The most important thing is to BE in that final though!”
“As for the Jackpot, I will try my best but it will be very very difficult to hold on to the win for six meets.”
Scheduled to compete in Oslo, Rome and Paris before the Olympic Games, Onyia is now another name to watch in the women’s sprint hurdles.
“I just want to keep running, I know the season will get better and better for me.”
Kallur builds confidence despite loss
In second Kallur was just as smiling as Onyia, the European champion making her come back to competition since she pulled her hamstring while training for the World Indoor Championships semi-final in Valencia.
“I didn’t expect to go this fast today. I’ve only had two races in practice so I didn’t know what to expect. This is much better than what I expected really. I know I have many bits that I have to work on, especially the start but this is a good start to my season.
“I’m not disappointed at all, this is all I could give today and it’s definitely promising for the rest of the season. I feel very confident.”
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF