He won, he fell, he was physically sick. So it was understandable that Marek Plawgo needed a few minutes to gather his thoughts after a thrilling finish to the men’s 400m Hurdles at the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final this afternoon.
But, once he was ready, Poland’s double medallist from the World Championships in Osaka spoke long and loud about the importance of his dramatic victory. After a race which saw the first three athletes cross the line almost as one, it was Plawgo who was left celebrating the biggest victory - and payday - of his career.
Having beaten a field stacked with talent – including the last two Olympic champions, the last two World champions, and the reigning Commonwealth Games and African champion – Plawgo now has more evidence for his own assertion that he can win his event at the Olympic Games, in Beijing, next year.
Rating his victory here as the second-best result of his career – behind only his individual event bronze medal in Osaka – Plawgo said: “In every training session next year I will be focused on winning the gold medal, and hearing the Polish national anthem, at the 400m Hurdles victory ceremony in Beijing.
“The medal (in Osaka) changed everything because, after that, I believed that I could beat anybody. My best result was in the final in Osaka but this is the best season of my career and this is the second best (result) because it was the strongest race I have ever been in."
“There were two Olympic champions (Angelo Taylor and Felix Sanchez) and two gold medallists from the World Championships (Bershawn Jackson and Kerron Clement).” There was also L.J. van Zyl, South Africa’s Commonwealth Games and African champion, and James Carter, of the United States, a top-four finisher at the last two Olympics and World Championships.
Taylor, the 2000 Olympic 400m Hurdles champion, had opted for the 400m flat in Osaka while misfortune befell both Jackson and van Zyl and neither made the final. Plawgo, who took bronze behind Clement, of the US, and Sanchez, of the Dominican Republic, in Osaka, beat Clement here in a shared time (48.35), closely followed by Carter (48.36).
In Osaka, the 26-year-old Plawgo set a Polish record 48.12 and featured in a national relay team which finished third. Since then he has won all four of his 400m Hurdles races at Italian meetings in Rieti and Rovereto and at the Golden League meeting in Berlin. However, following Berlin, he had to settle for third place in a flat 400m in Warsaw.
“I didn’t expect that it was going to be so fast today,” Plawgo said. “In Warsaw I did 46.63 so, after that, I could not expect anything more than 49-flat. It seems like I have had a competition every three or four days and I was really tired so this was absolutely unbelievable for me."
“I didn’t expect to win four races in a row, including the Golden League in Berlin and the World Athletics Final here. I sit in bed sometimes thinking: ‘Oh, that is what I did this year – much more than I could have expected’. So I need to repeat that next year.”
A former basketball player who switched to athletics, Plawgo won the World Junior title in 2000 and the 2002 European Indoor 400m. But today counts as his first senior global triumph and, as an event winner, Plawgo receives US$30,000, his biggest prize purse.
He has moved from Bytom, where he went to school, to Wroclaw and he has already worked out how he will spend his earnings. “With this money I can improve my flat,” Plawgo said. If he can finish his flat in the style he finished his race here today, it should have it looking good.
Through athletics Plawgo has made a good life for himself, emerging from a part of Poland where many struggle. His only sibling, a brother, has left home – like many Poles – to live in Great Britain, where wages and job opportunities give them a better chance of a stable living.
“My brother moved to Dover and has lived there since last year,” Plawgo said. “In the area where I lived unemployment is a big problem. The wages are really low so that is why he moved to England, to get some money, to have a good start in Poland when he came back after a few years.”
David Powell for the IAAF