There is normally pandemonium in the mixed zone where the athlete interviews take place immediately after a competition, but after the men’s 110m Hurdles final there was an extra special mayhem when the news swept through the hall that the gold medallist in waiting, Dayron Robles of Cuba, had been disqualified for impeding China’s Liu Xiang.
That made America’s Jason Richardson the World champion, but he was not initially aware of it because he was surrounded by a press of journalists chatting quietly about his silver medal.
Once he had learned of his promotion, however, the mood changed completely. “As of now, you are the World champion,” said a voice. Overcome by the emotion, this larger than life Texan who wears his heart on his sleeve, bowed his head and struggled to contain his emotions.
“It was all a bit of a whirlwind,” admitted Richardson. “It was always my goal to get gold, but I had to respect the position I was in and I was satisfied with the silver medal. I was happy and busy doing interviews so it took a while to sink in, but I got very excited when it did sink in.”
With the disqualification came an appeal from the Cuban delegation which was eventually turned down, so it was almost midnight in Korea before Richardson could be sure he was safe as gold medallist.
By the time he came into the press conference room with silver medallist Liu, Richardson had had time to reflect on the situation: “I wish it had been a drama-free race. It is a bitter-sweet experience. It’s never good when someone as talented as Dayron gets disqualified. But there are rules and we have to abide by them.
“But I feel I have put in a lot of work and I hope to uphold my status in the future and show people that I am worthy of it.”
He is sure to get a chance in Zurich next week and he is very happy to put his new reputation on the line. Unfortunately, Liu made it quite clear he would not be there. He prefers to go on holiday.
This has been a massive breakthrough year for Richardson. Despite only finishing third in the US world championship trials, he went to Europe and made an immediate impression with his technique, displaying one of the fastest trail legs in the business.
Pre-Eugene he was a lowly eighth at Oslo's Bislett Games, but afterwards he was a changed man, peaking in the Stockholm Samsung Diamond League stop with a win over early season pace-setter and fellow American, David Oliver, before being beaten by Robles in London with Oliver again behind him in third.
It was in London that he established a lifetime best of 13.08, a clocking that could easily have been revised in the Daegu final where his winning time of 13.16 was slowed by a 1.1mps headwind.
Win or lose, Richardson was now up there with the best and it was clear before Daegu that he was going to do some damage. “It is gratifying to be mentioned along with their names,” he said, referring to Robles, Liu and Oliver.
So how has the change been wrought from World youth champion to outright World champion? “The man behind it all is my coach John Smith, my strong faith and a lot of hard work,” explained Richardson. “And we have a wonderful support team in Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County, California).
“My heart’s as big as Texas, I’ve always been a competitor. I’m a Texan and I’ve always competed hard.”
He can say that again. As a youth, Richardson collected both World youth hurdles titles in 2003 when he won the 110m and the 400m, not something that most high hurdlers would attempt in the same championships.
By the time he left high school he had run the third fastest time ever in the 400m Hurdles for a high school student.
Richardson senses that there is something different about high hurdlers that singles them out.
“We’re all kind of crazy in some way. Of all the events, the hurdles is a melting pot, with athletes of all shapes and sizes with both good and bad techniques. I really enjoy the event.”
Inevitably, Richardson’s story has not been all smooth and untroubled.
“In 2007 I was close to quitting, but I knew I had a gift and I moved to Los Angeles. I felt I deserved something better.
“Then I met John Smith in Monaco in 2008 and we developed a rapport and I respected his expertise. It’s been gratifying to see all the hard work I’ve put in resulting in success.”
Michael Butcher for the IAAF