Although the nine days of competition in Paris have seen an inordinate number of surprises and upsets, none was as great as Tatyana Tomashova’s unexpected win in the Women’s 1500 Metres on the final day of competition.
The heavy favourite had been Süreyya Ayhan, the soon-to-be-25-year-old Turkish runner who had captivated European audiences the past month with her bold, go-to-the-front style of running and spectacular times.
Tonight, the 28-year-old Tomashova had the better plan as she outkicked the pixie-like Ayhan over the final eighty metres of the race to win the gold medal and establish a new championships record.
“I knew it would be a tactical race, and I wanted to kick at the end,” the elated Russian said afterwards.
Ironically, it was Tomashova’s two Russian teammates, Yelena Zadorozhnaya and Yekaterina Rosenberg, who stayed near the front with Ayhan during the early part of the race, making certain that the Turk didn’t forge a large lead which had characterized most of her earlier races.
As the front runners finished the third lap, with 300 metres remaining, Ayhan, just emerging from a boxed-in situation, started her sprint and moved out to a five-metre lead. Midway down the final backstraight, there seemed to be a momentary bit of indecision on the part of the others, until Tomashova began moving on the outside from her position in the middle of the pack.
With 120 to go, and now only those two battling for the gold coming off the final turn, the stronger Tomashova closed out the race marvelously and dipped under four minutes for the first time in her career with 3:58.52.
Ayhan’s 3:59.04 led the bronze-medal performance of Britain’s Hayley Tullett, a PB 3:59.95.
“With about a lap to go, I felt the pace was too slow, and it surprised me,” Tomashova revealed. “I could see that the others around me were tired, so I just hung in there and came away at the end.”
The two protagonists had met one previous time, two weeks ago in Zürich, when Ayhan had her brilliant 3:55.60 win and Tomashova was running a PB 4:00.91. Still, the Russian perhaps saw something in that competition which allowed her to find a way to crack Ayhan’s dominance tonight.
It was somewhat unusual that, at age 28, Tomashova should be moving to shorter distances after a career running the 3000 and 5000, and with formidable PBs of 8:25.56 and 14:39.22, respectively. And in looking back at the race tonight, she felt that this background gave her a lot of “resistance” and stamina in awaiting what was sure to be a fast finish.
The Perm-based runner had been a 5K finalist in both Sydney (13th) and Edmonton (10th), and she was still doing the longer distances on the main European circuit last year. But she also had started dabbling seriously with the 1500, successfully representing Russia in the European Cup (3rd), the European Championships (3rd) and the World Cup (2nd), besides winning her second consecutive Russian title in 2002.
This season, however, has brought an almost exclusive concentration of races at the 1500-metre distance.
“I started running the shorter distance to develop speed for use in the longer races. But in the end, we decided to move completely to the 1500, and I’ll concentrate on that next year for the Olympics.”
Athough it was a sad evening for Ayhan, and for all of the Turks who had gathered in cities and villages in front of outdoor video screens, the suspense of the race had great spectator value and created another important chapter in the history of athletics.