27 AUG 1999 General News

Magic Anton raises the roof

Abel Anton celebrating victory (© Allsport)Abel Anton celebrating victory (© Allsport) © Copyright

Spain forgot its obsession with football tonight as a sold-out Estadio Olimpico offered a vivid and deafening ambience to match any Barcelona-Real Madrid game.

They had come to see Yago Lamela duel with Ivan Pedroso in the long jump but also in the hope of seeing a Spaniard come into the stadium first, as leader of the marathon. Abel Anton, the defending champion, lived up to all their expectations.

Showing superb pace judgement, Anton closed on the Japanese leader Nobuyuki Sato after 2 hours of arduous competition - and as he drew away, the stadium roared its delight. And not just them, for the population of Seville seemed to be lining the entire course, urging Anton to glory. Once inside the stadium - he completed a final lap which he, and those privileged to be here with him, will never forget.

Carried on a wave of emotion, Anton had a lightness of step which defied the punishing nature of a race which started in blazing sun with 27 degrees temperature and 49% humidity. With his closest rival, the Italian Vincenzo Modica, safely behind, Anton was able to enjoy the most extraordinary 400 metres of his life. He crossed the line in 2:13:36 - but the time seemed an irrelevancy on a night like this.

Later, Anton was congratulated in the Mixed Zone (where athletes are interviewed after the race) by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

"For me, winning in Seville is special because it is a city where I always get great support. I can't describe how emotional it was to arrive first in a stadium in my own country with my own people supporting me. The hardest part of the race was when I passed Modica at 37 km and started to chase Sato."

The Moroccan El Mostafa Damaoui had led the race between 10k (32:30) and 25k (1:19:49) but was overtaken by Sato at around 27k and eventually faded to finish 14th.

Although the marathon was out of this world, the long jump was a thrilling contest too.

From the very first round. Pedroso opened the hostilities with 8.19, Gregor Cankar got involved with 8.20, and straight afterwards, Yago Lamela his system flooded with adrenaline thanks to the capacity crowd, took the lead with an impressive 8.34. In the second round, the Spaniard no-jumped but his rivals closed the gap - Pedroso with 8.33 and Cankar 8.32. Just two centimetres separated the medal contenders.

But then, in round three, the sparks really flew - hitting the board close to the plasticine foul line, Pedroso took off like a missile and touched down with 8.56. Could the man from Asturias, roused by the 60,000 spectators, rise to the challenge? He tried, jumping 8.40 after another foul, but could not prevent the Cuban from winning his third successive world title.

"I felt some pressure from Lamela but once I had jumped 8.50 I was certain that we would be enough for gold," Pedroso said.

Gregor Cankar, the former world junior champion from Slovenia, won bronze by improving to 8.36 in the fourth round. The USA, who have produced so many legendary jumpers, made their worst ever showing in this event with Kevin Dilworth finishing 7th with 8.00.

The phenomenal courage of Ludmila Engquist, who is suffering from breast cancer, may not have been rewarded with gold tonight but she got a lion's share of the applause, despite Gail Dever's superb run.

Winning the title in 12.37, a championship record, the American showed her aptitude for the big occasion. She has now won three individual world championship titles and two Olympic crowns. Devers exploded from the blocks, as did 21 year-old Glory Alozie.

The Valencia-based Nigerian pushed Devers hard but the American held on, despite badly clipping her trail leg on the final barrier. The collision knocked Devers off stride, but there was no repetition of her dramatic fall in the 1992 Olympics when she was also leading the race. Engquist, coming through strongly in the final stages, broke Sweden's national record with 12.47 for bronze.

"I was just trying to attack the hurdles," said Devers, "But over the last two hurdles I felt I was getting too close so I backed off a little. I asked for God's help on the start line. So He would run with me and for me."

The Swede was generous in defeat, acknowledging Devers' superiority on the night: "I am a little disappointed but a medal is a wonderful thing for me after all I have been through with my injury."

After being the bridesmaid in so many championships, Morocco's Salah Hissou, the former 10,000m world record holder, finally won gold tonight in the 5000m. But Hissou had to work hard for his victory, needing a championship record of 12:58.13 after an incredible last kilometre of 2:28.5 (unofficial).

Bob Kennedy had led through the first kilometre in 2:38.16 with Kenya's Benjamin Limo doing the pace making through 2k in 5:14.26. But from halfway, Hissou began to apply the pressure. With a lap and a half to go, Hissou's team mate Brahim Lahlafi was second with the Moroccan-turned-Belgian Mohamed Mourit running the race of his life in third. Of the Kenyans, defending champion Daniel Komen was a shadow of his former self, with Benjamin Limo proving the more potent threat.

At the bell, Lahlafi burst into the lead but he could not shake off his pursuers. First Hissou went past - then Mourit - and to add to his misery, Limo moved into second just a step from the finish line. It won't be much consolation but Lahlafi ran the fastest race of his life to clock 12:59.09.

The women's javelin produced gold for yet another athlete to have changed allegiance. Mirlea Manjani-Tzelili, born and raised in Albania, won gold for her adopted country of Greece with a personal best of 67.09. Manjani-Tzelili made her best effort in the third round to overtake defending champion Trine Hattestad (66.06), with Tatyana Shikolenko then improving her personal best to 66.37 with her penultimate throw to relegate the Norwegian to bronze.

Nick Davies for the IAAF