After all the drama and all the upsets that were witnessed in the magnificent arena of the Beijing Olympic stadium, latest of which were the two US sprint relays being disqualified for dropping the stick in the first round heats, it is possible that many would have refrained from putting their money on World record holder Dayron Robles winning the 110m Hurdles Olympic title.
Well they should have done because the 21-year-old Cuban proved the safest bet of all at these Olympic Games – after Usain Bolt of course!
Robles came into his first Olympic Games as the owner of the two fastest times in the history of the event, a score of 7 out of 8 victories outdoors and 7 out of 9 wins indoors including the second fastest of all-time at 60m Hurdles.
Yet the only titles he could boast were those won at the 2006 CAC Championships and 2007 Pan American Games.
Clearly for Robles tonight was all about winning.
There wasn’t an ounce of a doubt that he would be the man to beat as right from the gun he blasted out of the blocks faster than any other finalist to take a clear lead. His style was fluent, his speed superior, his confidence boosted. All he had to do was master each of the ten barriers which separated him from the line.
Robles did master the race but didn’t look as smooth as when he set a 12.87 World record in Ostrava last 12 June. He looked more controlled and determined not to let any incident step in his way towards Olympic glory. As he crossed the line in 12.93 without even attempting to sprint or dive, he left the audience with a little taste of wonder at what could have been.
When he looked at the clock, he shook his head so as to say ‘not the best time, not good enough’ but soon his expression changed as he realised the magnitude of his achievement. Finally, he had won a major championships title.
“It was very fast and calm,” he explained. “I was confident about how things would go. I feel very good because I am the Olympic champion. It’s always been my dream.”
Robles confirmed everyone’s impressions when saying: “I am satisfied with the time because I wasn’t running after the clock. All I wanted to do was secure the title. I didn’t force, I didn’t need to chase an exceptional time."
“I am a hurdler and just like all other hurdlers I know that our event is one of the hardest. We develop incredible speed and the hurdles come at you very fast. If you don’t know how to react to those hurdles coming fast at you, you’re down on the floor in one moment.”
There would be no repeat of the women’s final tonight, the leader would not tumble.
Running in lane 6 in tonight’s final, Robles was flanked by each of the two ‘David's’ who made it to the final, Payne on the inside and Oliver on the outside.
Oliver lost his own race for gold as early as the first hurdle as he took arguably one of the worst starts of the field. Or maybe was that just an impression, given the speed which Robles produced coming out of the blocks?
Payne was more in contention as he set off to a better start. However, the 26-year-old bronze medallist from Osaka made too many mistakes touching all but the first obstacle. However, reminiscent of a certain Allen Johnson, Olympic champion 12 years ago, hitting the hurdles didn’t affect his speed that much.
Finishing strong, Oliver gave it all his heart to try and grab silver but had to settle for third by just one hundredth of a second, as Payne held on the challenge in a season’s best 13.17.
French record holder Ladji Doucouré, whose girlfriend watching from the stands is a beauty queen, did well to finish in fourth in a season which saw him defying all odds just to make it to Beijing.
It was an amazing race in line with the rest of the Athletics competitions at these Olympic Games, however one can only regret and ask what would have been had Liu Xiang been able to compete at his best.
“Liu Xiang is a great competitor,” Robles said. “When he’s there, you can feel his presence. When he’s on the track there’s always a good time at the end of the race. We athletes never wish an injury upon others, all I can say is I salute him and I hope he’ll get back soon.”
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF