With a brilliantly executed kick, Yuriy Borzakovskiy silenced the critics that have shadowed his career with his gold medal run in the 800 metres.
Sixth at the bell and fourth heading into the final straight, the 23-year-old reached the line in 1:44.45 to claim the first individual gold medal for the Russian squad.
“I am just very happy to win this medal,” Borzakovskiy said.
Since his win at the 2001 IAAF World Indoor Championships as a 19-year-old, Borzakovskiy was widely hailed as the likely successor to World record holder Wilson Kipketer, who had dominated the event for much of the previous decade. But his inconsistent racing styles and unorthodox tactics led to as many big wins as it did frustrating losses. But on the sport’s biggest stage, the Russian champion’s sit-and-kick strategy worked.
Despite a season shortened by injury and illness, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa, this year’s World Indoor champion, held off Kipketer to claim the silver, edging the Dane,1:44.61 to 1:44.65.
“Deep down inside I knew I had the capacity to win a medal,” said Mulaudzi, “but I didn’t expect it to happen. I just had to do it.”
For Kipketer, a three-time World champion and world standard-bearer in the event, his attempt for an Olympic gold medal once again fell short.
“I was too slow in the first 400,” said Kipketer, who took the silver in 2000. “I could have risked it for the gold medal because I was in good condition for a better position.”
Djabir Said-Guerni, the 2003 World Champion, had a hesitant lead at the break, with World leader Wilfred Bungei tailing closely 300 metres into the race. Kipketer and Mulaudzi were following a step behind. When the Algerian reached the half in 51.84, Bungei decided to up the tempo, and jumped to the front.
“When I saw that it was 51.8, I knew it was too slow, so I had to take it,” Bungei said. With 200 to go, Kipketer moved in even with Bungei, briefly making it a two-man race. But Borzakovskiy, timing his finish perfectly, ran wide off the final bend, picking off his competitors one-by-one.
Moroccan Mouhssin Chehibi completed his coming out party in Athens, finishing fourth in 1:45.16, in front of Bungei’s 1:45.31. Running in his third Olympics, Hezekiel Sepeng was sixth, clocking 1:45.53.
“Yes, it was very disappointing,” the South African, who won the silver medal in 1996, said. “But this was Yuriy’s kind of race. And he ran a terrific race.”
Fading down the final stretch, Said Guerni drifted to seventh, clocking 1:45.61.