Australia’s Jana Pittman brought all 83,000 people in the packed Melbourne Cricket Ground to their feet as she unleashed a commanding performance under huge pressure to win the women’s 400m Hurdles final at the 18th Commonwealth Games this evening.
‘I felt electric down the back straight’
This was the one they’d all been waiting for. Having seen one of their big track hopes, Craig Mottram, lose out in the men’s 5000m, the pressure on Pittman was approaching ‘Freemanesque’.
The 23-year-old, never the Australian media’s greatest favourite, couldn’t afford to lose. Wearing glasses and sporting tightly plaited hair, Pittman didn’t disappoint, rising to the occasion to successfully defend her title in a Games record of 53.82.
“I really wanted this so much,” she said. “It’s almost a relief. The crowd was amazing. It was all about the crowd for me.”
Pittman ran a superb race. Starting fast, she rose first at every hurdle in the first half of the race, eased off slightly round the second bend and powered home down the straight to win by more than a second.
“I felt electric down the back straight,” she said. “I had a really good race. Tonight is the most amazing experience of my life. It’s the most exciting thing to happen to me, and I think my wedding (to Chris Rawlinson, on 31 March) will be second.”
England’s Tasha Danvers-Smith took the silver in 55.17, making amends for her performance in Manchester four years ago when she fell at the final hurdle while in third place.
“I’m happy to have won a medal,” said Danvers-Smith. “A lot of people said it couldn’t be done. They said I was 28 and washed up. They said that I’d had a baby and they wrote me off. I’ve proved tonight that I can do it.”
Scotland’s Lee McConnell was third in a personal best 55.25.
Scott’s last round winner
Martin Scott added to another emotional night for Australia when he snatched the Discus Throw gold from Canada’s Jason Tunks in the last round with a 63.48m effort, three metres beyond his previous best.
Scott was in third when he entered the circle. With virtually all other action in the stadium finished, over 160,000 eyes turned on him. Tunks had led since the very first round but had to watch as Martin’s discus sailed out on a wave of noise to beat his own best mark by 41 centimetres.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Martin. “I came in as the underdog so this just shows what I can achieve in this environment.”
Tunks and fellow Canadian Dariusz Slowick, who had been in second place, tried to respond but they had to settle for the minor medals.
“It makes me sick,” said Tunks.
“I’m still getting goose bumps,” said Slowick. “It was the greatest moment of my life.”
Jamaica makes the sprints their own
Australians may have provided the drama, but Jamaican sprinters have been making these Games their own, and the script continued in the 200m finals tonight.
Omar Brown took the men’s gold in 20.47. But it was mighty close. Brown just caught Stephan Buckland of Mauritius on the line and both were given the same time. Buckland had run an excellent bend but missed the gold by the width of his vest.
The blanket finish included another Jamaican, Chris Williams, who closed fast at the end to take bronze in 20.52.
Brown had qualified fastest from the semis in 20.49 earlier in the evening when Williams almost made a disastrous error. He and Buckland slowed dramatically in the last few strides, thinking they were safely through.
But Williams was caught by two athletes to his left – a silly mistake, meaning he was the slowest qualifier in 20.73 and was drawn in lane seven for the final. Perhaps that cost him the gold, as he’d looked the most impressive in the first two rounds.
After their one-three in the men’s race, Jamaicans finished one and two in the women’s final. But not in the expected order.
Campbell - silver!
Olympic champion Veronica Campbell was a clear favourite for the gold but she had to be content with silver tonight as Sherone Simpson strode past her 20 metres from the line to take the title in 22.59.
Campbell finished second in 22.72, with South Africa’s Geraldine Pillay claiming bronze in 22.92.
The 100m champion Sheri-Ann Brooks, who’d looked a likely medallist in the earlier rounds, ran out of steam and finished fifth in 23.07.
Gold, Games’ record, and silver for South Africa
Pillay was just one of four South African medallists on the night. Twenty-year-old Louis van Zyl from South Africa won the men’s 400m Hurdles in a Games record 48.05, beating his team-mate Alwyn Myburgh to the line.
Myburgh took the silver in 48.23 and Jamaica’s Kemel Thompson the bronze in 48.63.
“It’s perfect,” said van Zyl. “It’s indescribable,” said Myburgh. “We did it. South Africa.”
South Africa appear to be an emerging power in this event with three men in the final. Pieter de Villiers finished seventh in 50.51. “We’re good friends, we train together. It’s a team atmosphere,” said Myburgh.
The defending champion, Chris Rawlinson of England, ended his international career in eighth place in a weary 52.89. He’s been suffering from a disease of the pelvic bones, he explained.
“I wanted tonight to be something to remember, hopefully with a medal,” he said. “But even in warm up I was in pain. After 100 metres I was in complete agony.”
At least he had his future wife, Jana Pittman’s success to celebrate.
Smith adds another
Anika Smith completed a great night for South Africa when she won the women’s High Jump with a personal best of 1.91.
But after last night’s wrangling in the men’s final, there was another bout of controversy here when the Welsh jumper Julie Crane was ruled to have fouled when she tried to pull out of a jump.
Crane ran back to her mark and clearly thought she had time to make another attempt but the judges refused, saying she had broken the plane of the bar. After much arguing and explaining Crane ended up with silver with a best of 1.88 and Jamaica’s Karen Beautle was third with 1.83.
800m - Confident sprint brings Kipchirchir home clear
Kenya’s Alex Kipchirchir won a cracking 800m final in 1:45.88. The world championships finallist strode away from the field in the home straight as Canada’s Achraf Tadili was rewarded for attacking from the front at the bell with a silver medal.
The Pan American champion in 2003, Tadili’s burst split the field and he held on for the second, dipping at the line just five hundredths ahead of Kenya’s John Litei in 1:46.93.
“The race was fantastic,” said Kipchirchir. “I knew I had the feet to do it.”
“I did a smart race,” said Tadili. Indeed he did.
News of the heats...Mutola, the clear favourite
Maria Mutola did too. The 10-time World champion stamped her authority on the women’s 800m in the semi-finals, striding away from her most likely challenger, Jamaica’s Kenia Sinclair, to win in 1:59.03. Mutola was the quickest qualifier, while Sinclair was the only other athlete under two minutes as she came home in 1:59.62.
As a note of interest, Mozambique appear to have another quality 800m runner on the way. Leonor Piuza ran 2:01.84, a personal best by nearly four seconds and just failed to make the final.
Double-barrelled Jamaicans dominated the 100m Hurdles semi-finals with Brigitte Foster-Hylton breaking the Games record in 12.65. Delloreen Ennis-London and Lacena Golding-Clarke were also in flying form, clocking 12.89 and 12.90 respectively. Canada’s Angela Whyte split them with 12.80.
Australia’s Kym Howe led three Australians at the top of the queue of qualifiers for the women’s Pole Vault final on Saturday with a best of 4.20m.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF
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