France clinch closest relay final
We knew there would be a new champion for the first time since 1997 when the United States crashed out of the semi-finals yesterday. But few would have guessed it would be France.
The French took the gold from Trinidad and Tobago in the closest sprint relay final in World Championships history. The French won in a world leading time, 38.08, while Trinidad set a national record 38.10 for silver leaving the Olympic champions Great Britain trailing in third place in their best time of the year 38.27.
After yesterday’s semi-finals it looked like the race would be between Trinidad and Tobago and the Britain, but it was clearly going to be a close-run thing.
In the event France’s quartet of Ladji Doucouré, Ronald Pognon, Eddy de Lepine and Lueyi Dovy clinched a dramatic victory to match that of their women’s team two years ago and take the gold outside North America for the first time. After United States and Canada, France became only the third nation in World Championships history to win the title.
Britain, led off by Jason Gardner as they were in last year’s Olympic final, had an early lead. Gardener flew round the bend to hand the baton to Marlon Devonish. It was a good change.
But France, through Ronald Pognon were starting to close on the second leg, and Trinidad’s Marc Burns, in lane three, also made up ground.
It all changed around the final bend where Eddy de Lepine ran a fantastic leg for France giving them a metre lead at the final exchange. Trinidad’s Jacey Harper had also run well to hand on to Darrel Brown while Britain slipped back to third.
Britain’s Christian Malcolm – running with cramps – passed on to anchor runner Mark Lewis Francis, but he never looked like making up the ground.
If anything Brown and France’s last leg runner Dovy pulled away. Brown closed on Dovy in the final few strides and as they dipped for the line it looked like he might have stolen the victory.
But the result was on the scoreboard within moments. He had missed the gold by two hundredths of a second. France had it.
“We have to be content with a silver medal,” said Trinidad’s lead off runner Pierre Kevon. “But seeing that it was so close I cannot help thinking that the exchanging could have been a little more fluent. But I will take silver for now.”
Lewis Francis held off the fast closing Jamaican Michael Frater for the bronze. On the penultimate day, this was Britain’s first medal of the championships.
“An injury robbed the team as Christian Malcolm had cramps in the final,” said Britain’s Gardener.
“A medal and the season’s best is an achievement in a championships final,” said Lewis Francis.
But the real achievement belonged to France.
Dovy, in disbelief, ran to find his team-mates. The four Frenchmen re-united on the home straight, hugging with joy. Doucouré had won his second gold in two days.
“I mean, we just really, really wanted it, that is why it was possible,” he said. “Before coming to Helsinki I imagined winning two medals, maybe two bronzes, but this really is a dream because I know I have two gold medals.”