If Thursday night was “American night” in the Athens Olympic stadium, then tonight very much had a China theme, as Liu Xiang and Huina Xing won the men’s 110 metres Hurdles and women’s 10,000m respectively, with Liu equalling the 11-year-old World record of 12.91 in a stunning display of sprint hurdling.
Nearly a second World record
This was not the only outstanding performance of the night, though, as Osleidys Menendez, of Cuba, came within 1cm of the World record in the women’s Javelin Throw, her first-round 71.53m effort killing off all opposition.
A Chinese miracle
The 21-year-old Liu clearly thrived on his first Olympic experience. “It is an amazing experience being the Olympic champion,” Liu said. “I'm so happy that I don't even have the power to cry. This feels like kind of a miracle.
“I didn't dare to think I would get a medal of any kind here,” he added, somewhat modestly, since he had seemed to be in the best form of all the hurdlers in the qualifying rounds.
The race packed into its 13 seconds a volume’s worth of drama.
From the gun, Liu was clean away and never to be caught. The Chinese powered through the last hurdle and stormed towards the finish line celebrating his Olympic gold medal, the first athletics medal won by a Chinese man.
Way behind Xiang, France’s Ladji Doucouré hit the ninth hurdle and smashed into the final barrier, stumbling home eighth as four men passed him. Repeating his Sydney performance Terrence Trammell took silver in 13.18, 0.02sec clear of defending Olympic champion Anier Garcia.
Korzeniowski crowns career with another gold
First thing in the morning, Poland’s Robert Korzeniowski had added a wonderful fourth Olympic gold medal to his collection by winning his third successive 50-kilometre Walk. The 36-year-old Pole had also won the 20km Walk at the Sydney Games four years ago.
Korzeniowski clocked 3:38:46, beating Russia’s World record-holder Denis Nizhegorodov by more than four minutes. Aleksey Voyevodin, of Russia, finished third in 3:43:34. “This is my fourth gold medal and the sweetest of all,” Korzeniowski said. “It’s the one I’ve wanted the most, the one I’ve worked the hardest for, the one I deserve the most.”
Russian Long Jump sweep
Another multiple Olympic medallist from Sydney, Marion Jones, ended her second Olympic Games without a medal of any kind.
Jones managed just fifth in her only individual event in Athens, the women’s Long Jump, and then less than an hour later she was involved in a piece of baton bungling that saw the United States sprint relay squad miss out on seemingly certain medals, if not the gold.
The women’s Long Jump was notable for Russia’s first ever medal sweep of the event, as Tatyana Lebedeva, with 7.07 metres, beat her team mates Irina Simagina and Tatyana Kotova, who both jumped 2cm less. Simagina won the silver on countback.
The triumph represented a tremendous comeback from disappointment for Lebedeva, who had been expected to win the Triple Jump earlier in the week. Now with her gold medal in her hand while on the podium for the Russian national anthem, she sobbed uncontrollably.
“After the Triple Jump, my coach said to me that I must relax and not be afraid to compete,” she said. “I think it was my day. It felt like a good day for a good jump.”
In the women’s 10,000m, 20-year-old Xing Huina upstaged the Ethiopians to storm to gold, clocking 30:24.36, with silver going to Ejegayehu Dibaba and Derartu Tulu, the champion in 1992 and 2000, this time taking bronze.
For Britain's Paula Radcliffe, there was further heartache as she dropped out with less than nine laps to go. The 1999 World silver medallist entered the event only as a last-ditch attempt to win an Olympic medal after dropping out of Sunday’s Marathon.
Jamaican relay joy
Jamaica’s quartet of Tayna Lawrence, Sherone Simpson, Aleen Bailey and 200m champion Veronica Campbell ran the fastest winning time in the women’s 4x100m Relay for 20 years, exerting enough pressure on the fancied American squad that, on the second changeover, Jones could never quite reach Lauryn Williams with the stick. “I could taste the medal,” lead-off runner Angela Williams, said. “It was ours to win.” But it was Russia who took the silver medal and France the bronze behind Jamaica’s first ever gold in this event.
In the women’s Javelin, Menendez’s series after her Olympic record first throw was impressive, but the battle for the minor medals in the final round was thrilling.
First, Steffi Nerius blasted out a personal best of 65.82, taking the German from fourth to second. Then Mirela Manjani responded to the home crowd’s urgings to set a season’s best of 64.29 to snatch third. Nikola Brejchova - virtually holding a silver medal in her hand five minutes earlier - was now only fourth.
“I have been waiting for this moment all my life,” Menendez said. “I’ve already won everything there is to win, I don’t know what comes next.”
Close to 6 metres in the vault
More than 16 hours after Robert Korzeniowski stepped out at the beginning of the Walk, the final medals of the day were determined and, as is customary, it was the Pole Vaulters who were still going three and a half hours after their event started. And thanks to Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson, the Americans did not go home entirely empty-handed tonight.
In what became a shoot-out between the Americans, Mack took gold when he managed the Olympic Record 5.95m on his third attempt, and Stevenson - who had led on countback - did not. Giuseppe Gibilisco, the Italian coached by Vitaliy Petrov, the mentor to Sergey Bubka, won bronze with 5.85 to Igor Pavlov’s 5.80.
Mack’s third attempt at 6.00m was probably the closest of his trials, though this did not dampen his delight. “Thanks for staying,” he shouted to the hardy fans who had stayed to close to midnight to follow the fascinating competition.
Steven Downes for the IAAF
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