11 MAR 2006 General News Moscow, Russia

Heshko blocks Komen's path to redemption

Ivan Heshko of Ukraine wins the men's 1500m final (Getty Images)Ivan Heshko of Ukraine wins the men's 1500m final (Getty Images) © Copyright
One of the great aspects of being an international athlete is that if you make a glaring error in a summer Championship, there is always the winter to make amends. Not too many people should be telling that to Kenyan Daniel Kipchirchir Komen.

In the best race so far at the 11th IAAF World Indoor Championships, Komen, who is currently the IAAF World Ranked number one at 1500m, looked set to make up for crashing out in the first round heats of the 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki, Finland, last August.

With two laps left, he was leading. He was on control and he looked on course to win the first major gold medal of his career.

But behind him, he could hear pounding and the noise was reverberating from the running shoes of Ukraine’s Ivan Hesko, and so began the type of gripping drama that makes the middle distance such a spectacle.

Heshko, 26, has been creating the perfect foundation for this moment. Three years ago in Birmingham, he won bronze at the World Indoor Championships; in 2004, he won silver and in Madrid last March he was crowned the European Indoor 1500m champion.

Now he sensed his chance of securing the one title he had been after - and he took it. He moved into second just before the bell and Komen did not know what to do.

“It was not a good race for me,” said Komen. “I was really hoping to make up for what went wrong in Helsinki but I could sense that the field was still behind me and it was hard to react.”

“It was a slow pace, I prefer much it quicker but at least it is till much better than my failure in Helsinki. I hope to win the gold one day.”

Heshko was sensational along the back straight, digging in with power and speed and importantly never letting up in his rhythm. His smile was wide even before he crossed the line and when his victory was confirmed, he looked like he could not believe it.

He had triumphed in 3:42.08 from Komen in 3:42.55 with his Kenyan teammate Elkanah Onkware Angwenyi third in 3:42.98.

Komen has become the great enigma. In Helsinki he went out in the heats when he was the clear favourite, being boxed in the on the finish and never being able to react. At 21, he has all the potential to join some of the Kenyan greats but could we be witnessing an athlete who is going to have a career of failing to deliver at World Championship level?

Listen to the words of the champion to understand that might be so. “I saw on his body that he was fading,” said Hesko. Fading? The fastest runner in the world? They are phrases that do not go together. But they did here today and Heshko took full advantage.

He added: “I chose to attack on the last lap. It is a great day for me because my preparation was slowed down by injury early this year. So it means a winter without total preparation but I was able to win. What a great sign that is for me?”

But what sign does it show about Komen? He said: “I wasn’t in top shape because I could not train properly for three weeks after Stuttgart because of a leg injury. The air in the hall was very dry and we did not make any pre-race plan with Elkanah. It just happened that we went for the lead at the same time.”

That they might have done, but it just does not add. No game plan, beaten for pace, unable to respond. Helsinki, we thought was a one-off, but now the pressure will descend upon Komen again next when the 11th World Championships in Athletics take place in Osaka in 2007.

As for Heshko, the summer beckons, the European Championships in Gothenburg and the honour of going there as being the World Indoor champion. No wonder he was smiling.

Richard Lewis for the IAAF