The IAAF Ambassadors Press Conference, marking 30 years of the IAAF World Championships, featured two IAAF Ambassadors, 1997 World 400m Hurdles champion Stephane Diagana and 1997 World 200m champion Ato Boldon. Recently-crowned World Pole Vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva was also there as a guest on Thursday (15).
A montage of the 1997 edition was shown before the conference got underway, but afterwards Boldon surprisingly said that despite it being his only World title, it was not his fondest memory.
“That meet was not as satisfying as you'd imagine it would be for a World title,” he said. “Really I was trying to redeem myself for having ruined the 100m in which I was fifth. It's an okay memory, just not one of my top ones. Had I not won, people back home would not have let me back into the country!”
When asked what is his favourite memory, Boldon said the 1998 Commonwealth Games where he won gold in a time of 9.88.
“That evening at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Frankie Fredericks and I really brought the house down,” he said. “It’s not often in my career when I’d go to a championships and I was the featured athlete. It was also my best performance in a high-pressure final.
“Of course, at the end of the day, my country only has one World champion – maybe by the end of today it will be two, with Jehue Gordon in the 400m Hurdles – but for now we only have one World champion, so I’m very proud that I was the first; but my memory of that race was that it was simply more of a relief that I won.”
Diagana, meanwhile, looks back on the 1997 World Championships in Athens as the highlight of his career.
The Frenchman finished fourth at the 1993 edition, then third two years later but was forced to miss the 1996 Olympics through injury.
“Athens is a great, great memory for me,” said Diagana, now 44. “I had great expectations for the 1996 Olympics, but I was out for the whole season with a stress fracture. 1997 was really special, and I thought it may be my last World Championships, so I had to make it better than ever. It was a really tough race with Bryan Bronson, but I’m glad I won and it’s definitely my best memory.”
Diagana was asked about tonight’s women’s 400m Hurdles final and whether he thought Zuzana Hejnova could live up to expectation and win gold for the Czech Republic.
“I think she can go really fast,” he said. “When you’re running so consistently at low 53s, it means you’re probably able to run 52.5, which would be close to the World record. If she doesn’t get it today, then maybe at the end of the season or next year.
“I think she will win gold, but this is the hurdles, not the flat – even in the flat there are no guarantees as we saw the other night with LaShawn Merrit and Kirani James.
“The other favourite maybe is Perri Shakes-Drayton; she has run really fast on the flat. There’s still a big difference between her hurdles and flat times, but if she can run better than ever then she could do a 53.2 or 53.3: those two athletes are my favourites for the final.”
Isinbayeva, meanwhile, reiterated that she will soon be taking a break from the sport as she prioritises becoming a mother.
“I wouldn’t say a definite yes or no about being in Rio (for the 2016 Olympic Games),” she said. “My main goal is to become a mum; the birth of a child means more than any gold medal. Every girl says the same and it’s no different for me.
“Everything will depend on my maternal feelings. If I feel I can come back to the sport in Rio, then I will do it. But if I feel I’d like to stay at home with the baby, then no one would be able to force me to come back.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF