06 MAR 2008 General News

Women's 800m - FINAL

It was billed as the battle between Maria Mutola and Mayte Martinez. Mutola the gold-laden Mozambique superstar bidding for an unprecedented eighth World Indoor 800m title and the Spanish darling Martinez, the 2003 World Indoor bronze medallist, and home hopeful.

But in one of the biggest surprises of the championships, Australian Tamsyn Lewis produced a seismic shock to take the gold medal from the Ukraine's Tetiana Petlyuk. Mutola in her final competitive season had to settle for bronze. Martinez was fourth.

As a raw 20-year-old back in Toronto 1993, Maria Mutola defeated Russian Svetlana Masterkova to win her first World 800m gold medal and since then she has remarkably won every World Indoor 800m title on offer - bar the 1999 crown which went to Ludmila Formanova.

Yet here in Valencia, Mutola, so often the master tactician, will go to bed tonight and wonder if she was the architect of her own downfall.

The powerful Mozambique athlete loves to dominate from the front, so it was no surprise when she burst straight to the front and went through 200m in 30.24 from Petlyuk with Martinez, so often the head waiter, at the back of a tightly bunched pack of all six finalists.

However, Mutola the fastest woman in the field this year, inexplicably slowed the pace further on the second of four laps - hitting the 400m point in a relatively pedestrian 1:03.11, tracked by the blonde-haired Petlyuk, with Lewis in third and Martinez, to the delight of the home crowd, taking closer order in fourth.

The first decisive move, however, took place down the back stretch on the penultimate lap. As if sensing her opportunity Lewis, burst to the front on the inside and injected some genuine pace into the final. Petlyuk responded on the outside while Mutola appeared to be caught flat footed.

At the bell the high-striding Petyluk led from Lewis. Martinez was a little further back in third with Mutola boxed on the inside, in fourth.

The delirium inside the arena died somewhat when Mutola surged past the Spaniard into third. However, entering the home stretch Petlyuk still held a clear lead from Lewis with Mutola still four metres back.

The miracle did not happen. Mutola came wide but struggled to make any impression. Instead it was Lewis, who exited the 800m heats at last summer's World Championships, who made the move.

Closing with every stride she timed her run to perfection passing Petyluk in the final strides to pick up the gold in 2:02.57 by 0.09. For Mutola at least she had the consolation of bronze in 2:02.97, but surely many regrets.

Martinez was a disappointing fourth in 2:03.15.

For Lewis, the only Australian woman in the team, victory in Valencia represented by far and away her greatest accomplishment in her career.

The 29-year-old Australian's one previous championship gold medal came as a member of the Australian 4x400m team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Lewis, who had prepared for the championships by competing outdoors 'Down Under' recorded a useful 1:59.59 to win the Sydney Grand Prix last month but few would ever have predicted her victory here.

She said of her win: "This is such a good surprise. I was wondering what I was doing out there. Then I realised that I could win the race. This is amazing. I still can't believe it."

But a disappointed Mutola said: "I'm not extremely happy with this bronze medal. I said before that I would only be satisfied with the gold and I still feel that way." 

Lewis became only the fourth athlete ever to win this title. Mutola with seven wins, East German Christine Wachtel with three gold medals and Formanova in 1999 being the other champions. 

Steve Landells for the IAAF