After numerous frustratingly close attempts, Yuriy Borzakovskiy finally got it right.
“I can’t really believe it yet,” the 23-year-old Russian said after his oft-criticised sit-and-kick tactic reaped the ultimate dividend. “Maybe I’ll believe it tomorrow. Or the day after. Or when I get home.”
At last year’s World Championships, Borzakovskiy surged to the front with about 250 metres to go, but faltered in the final strides to finish second. In the Athens race, with its moderate pace, he didn’t make his move until the leaders reached the top of the homestretch. It was a simple yet perfect recipe that led to his 1:44.45 win. His was the first-ever middle distance gold medal earned by a Russian man.
After the race, the vanquished paid their respects.
“It’s like that for Yuriy,” South African Hezekiel Sepeng, the 1996 silver medallist, said. “He planned his race perfectly. Out of ten, Yuriy will win only one. And this race is the one that he planned very good. I just say, well done.”
World leader Wilfred Bungei, a strong pre-race favorite, was impressed as well. “He knows how to run a tactical race. He’s very experienced with that.”
Hailed as a prodigious talent when he won the World Youth title in 1998 at 17, his quick ascendancy continued the following year with his stunning victory over a solid field at the European Cup the following year. In 2000, he set World junior indoor and outdoor records –1:44.38 and 1:44.33 respectively—and ran to a sixth place finish in Sydney.
But adding to the developing “Borza” mystique, the following year he decided early in the season not to compete at the 2001 World Championships, or, the following year, at the 2002 European Championships. His progression continued in 2001 when he lowered his national record to 1:42.47, making him, at the time, the fifth fastest ever over the distance.
“I have been training very hard recently,” Borzakovskiy said after the race, seemingly still coming to grips with his victory. “But I have been training very hard for 13 years, so I have accumulated a lot of training.”
“Obviously, this is my job now, but this isn’t work for me,” he continued. “I just really enjoy training. I love running. It’s pleasure. I run for pleasure. And I run with all my heart.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF