29 OCT 2004 General News

The end of the winning line

Tonique Williams-Darling (l) is followed home by Ana Guevara (Getty Images)Tonique Williams-Darling (l) is followed home by Ana Guevara (Getty Images) © Copyright

All good things must come to an end. It’s a trite but true statement that was displayed on the athletics tracks of the world several times this year as several significant win streaks, all by heavy Olympic favourites, came to dramatic conclusions.

The win streak Grim Reaper made his first appearance the most devastating and merciless one, taking down two of the sport’s biggest stars on July 2nd at Rome’s Golden Gala.

Guevara

Reigning World Champion Ana Guevara was the first to fall. Including rounds, the Mexican national heroine arrived in Rome riding a 28-race streak, unbeaten since her bronze medal-winning performance in Edmonton on August 7, 2001.

But in Rome, still on the mend from early season injury, she crossed paths for the first time this year with Tonique Williams-Darling, the Bahamian who would go on to win not only the Olympic title that a few months earlier had seemed a certainty for Guevara, but also half of the Golden League million dollar jackpot. It wasn’t until their sixth and last meeting of the summer, at the World Athletics Final, that Guevara returned to her winning ways.

El Guerrouj

But the shock waves were to reverberate again in Rome. Just 15 minutes later came the international headline-grabbing defeat of Hicham El Guerrouj on the same track where he set his still-standing World records in the 1500 and One Mile.

The Moroccan, arguably one of the finest middle distance runners in history, had won 81 of 83 finals in the 1500/mile since 1996, and brought a 29-race win streak to Rome, one that began soon after he finished second at the 2000 Olympic Games. He too would later acknowledge that respiratory problems slowed him in the race, where he eventually finished a badly-beaten ninth.

Adding to the pre-Athens drama, El Guerrouj would lose again a little more than a month later, finishing second to Bernard Lagat in Zurich. But that rare pair of losses was all but forgotten when he went on to capture the 1500/5000 double in Athens, a feat last accomplished by Paavo Nurmi 80 years ago.

Mutola

Maria Mutola, the eight-time indoor/outdoor World champion and reigning Olympic gold medallist, would be the next, just four days later. Her streak of 36 wins (including heats) that began at the Commonwealth Games in late July 2002, would be snapped in her fifth outdoor race of the year by Russian Svetlana Cherkasova in Lausanne. But unlike Guevara and El Guerrouj, Mutola couldn’t bounce back in Athens, and finished just outside of the medals.

Olsson

The fourth streak to end in July was perhaps the least likely, considering the setting. In front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd on hand in Stockholm’s charming Olympic Stadium, World Triple Jump champion Christian Olsson's 29-meet win streak was finally halted by Romanian Marian Oprea. The Swede, whose last loss came on February 23, 2003, later said the loss allowed him to train like “number two again,” using it to win the last remaining title missing from his enourmous collection, that of Olympic champion. Fortunately for Olsson, the loss didn’t come at a TDK Golden League meeting, and he was able to share the Jackpot with Williams-Darling.

Sanchez

Felix Sanchez, the World and Olympic 400m Hurdles champion, wasn’t quite as fortunate, at least as far as the TDK Golden League was concerned. The week after capturing the Olympic title, the 27-year-old brought the longest current win streak - 43, including heats - to the penultimate leg of the six-meet. The dominant force in the event since his last loss on July 2, 2001, his streak came to an unceremonious end when injury struck the Dominican on the race’s back stretch.

Among the athletes tempting fate in 2005 include Olympic high jump champion Stefan Holm, undefeated this year in 22 competitions, and Veronica Campbell, the Olympic 200 metre champion, who won 16 races (including heats) in her specialty this year.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF