Felix Sanchez in action in the men's 400m Hurdles (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview

Daily Olympic PREVIEW - Thursday 26 August

AthensGreeceWhen Felix Sanchez failed to make it through the semi-finals of the 400m Hurdles in Sydney four years ago, the pain of disappointment was so acute he swore it would never happen again. To remind him, he kept a flashing red wrist band – a souvenir of the Games – which he’s worn for every race since then. It seems to work – Sanchez has been unbeaten now for more than three years, a stretch lasting more than 40 races.

Men's 400m Hurdles Final

The wrist band is so important to his state of mind that when he misplaced it last season while competing on the European circuit he had a replacement sent over from his home in California. He switches it on before lowering himself into his blocks at the start of his races, and won’t stop wearing it until he wins the Olympic gold.

The moment for Sanchez to turn out the lights will come just less than a minute after 22.30 this evening, if he can do what everyone expects and become the Olympic 400m Hurdles champion. Sanchez dipped under 48 seconds in the semi-finals on Tuesday evening, running 47.93.

Drawn a lane outside the Sydney champion, Angelo Taylor, he never allowed the American to get close. “It was a great test,” said Sanchez. “I wanted to make a statement by beating the Olympic champion.”

Taylor finished fourth in 48.72, and failed to qualify. “I messed up,” he said. “I had it and I messed it up.”

Sanchez, a two-time World champion, ran 47.86 earlier this season, and he looks like he has plenty more to come. “This is the most important race of my life,” he says of the final. “When I take the gold I’ll go to the Dominican Republic and have a party for three days.”

James Carter aims to be the party pooper. The US champion has run a faster time this year, and showed excellent form in the semi-final, winning the third race in 48.18. “I felt easy, relaxed, comfortable,” he said. “I was just cruising out there.”

Jamaican Danny McFarlane, who won the other semi in a personal best 48.00, could also challenge Sanchez, but Sydney silver medallist Hadi Al Somaily of Saudi Arabia, South African pair Llewellyn Herbert and Ockert Cilliers, and Britain’s Chris Rawlinson all fell by the wayside.

Men's 200m Final

It’s been 20 years since any male athlete won the sprint double at an Olympic Games and that man was one of the greatest athletes, let alone sprinters, of all time, Carl Lewis. In Los Angeles in 1984, Lewis added the long jump to his brace of individual sprint medals before leading the USA 4x100m relay quartet home.

With four golds around his neck, Lewis was dubbed the new Jesse Owens. Justin Gatlin is not quite the new Carl Lewis, not yet anyway. But if he wins the 200m final tomorrow night he will become the ninth man in Olympic history to win both the 100m and the 200m at one Games. All but two of the previous eight have been won by American athletes, and Gatlin will be looking to put his name in the record books alongside the likes of Lewis, Owens, Bobby Morrow from 1956, and Eddie Tolan from 1932.

Tolan broke the 200m Olympic record in Los Angeles in 1932. There’s not much chance of that happening here – the current record is Michael Johnson’s World shattering 19.32 from Atlanta, the last World record to be broken at an Olympic Games before Yelena Isinbayeva’s pole vault heroics on Tuesday night.

That’s not saying there won’t be some very fast times. Gatlin looked comfortable in his semi tonight, winning in 20.35, although his training partner Shawn Crawford, having run a blistering 19.95 in the quarter finals, looks a more likely winner. He ran a controlled 20.05 ahead of Bernard Williams and the 36 year-old Namibian Frank Fredericks who is in his fifth Olympic final. Two 100m finalists Asafa Powell of Jamaica and Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu are also in the running.

Men's Long Jump Final

The third final to be decided tomorrow is the men’s Long Jump in which USA’s Dwight Phillips is a clear favourite. Phillips leads the world this year by 25 centimetres and has not been beaten in his last 10 competitions. The World champion heads the list of finalists who emerged from Tuesday’s qualifiers.

His one attempt of 8.31m was 21 centimetres beyond the automatic qualifying distance, a mark bettered by five other jumpers. But the ease with which he did it suggests that Phillips’ pb of 8.60 set in Linz this year – the longest jump in the world since 2000 – could come under threat in the final.

Jonathan Chimier was the surprise of the qualifying round, leaping out to a Mauritius national record of 8.28. Chris Tomlinson also looked in good form, leaping 8.23, only four centimetres short of his British record (although British jumpers have a history of jumping well in qualifiers and poor in finals). Jamaica’s James Beckford and Phillips’ team-mate John Moffitt are also potential medallists.

Chief among the other events will be a pair of middle distance semi-finals. Britain’s 800m gold medallist Kelly Holmes emerged on Tuesday from the joy of her triumph the night before to qualify comfortably for the 1500m semis. This was always going to be her preferred distance at these Games and she looks in shape to make it to the final, at the least.

And the rest

The men’s 800m semis will feature the Kenyan pair Joseph Mutua and Wilfred Bungei, the South Africans Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Hezekiel Sepeng, the World record holder Wilson Kipketer and Russia’s Yuriy Borzakovskiy, all of whom qualified from the first round this evening.

The men’s 110m Hurdles also reaches semi-final stage. World champion Allen Johnson crashed out this evening, his Olympic hopes skidding to a most spectacular halt somewhere under the tenth barrier. So the contest is likely to be between reigning champion Anier Garcia of Cuba and China’s Xiang Liu. Both were in good form this evening. Liu ran 13.26 despite slowing down significantly in the last few strides.

In the field, the women’s High Jump and the men’s Javelin Throw get under way, the latter bringing the triple Olympic champion Jan Zelezny to the arena. The Czech will make history on Friday if he can win a fourth title. Only Ray Ewry, Al Oerter and Carl Lewis have won four consecutive golds in one event.

Finally, we could see the return of Marion Jones to an Olympic running track tomorrow. After her appearance in the Long Jump this evening, she is expected to be part of the USA’s quartet in the first round of the women’s 4x100m relay.

Matthew Brown for the IAAF

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