At 34, Kelly Holmes became the oldest winner of the women’s Olympic 800 metres gold medal, passing defending champion, Maria Mutola, in the dying strides of a pulsating final tonight.
The race finished with the first four separated by just 0.13sec, and Mutola, the leader at 797 metres, beaten into fourth.
“That was probably the best field assembled in a women’s 800 metres for a very long time,” said Holmes, who had finished fourth in the event in 1996 and third four years ago.
“Any of the girls out there tonight could have won it. I was lucky enough to hang on and win the gold. It is a dream come true.”
Holmes’s late surge for gold saw her clock 1:56.38, beating Hasna Benhassi of Morocco’s 1:56.43, the same time given to bronze medallist Jolanda Ceplak, from Slovenia.
Holmes decided to compete in the 800m a week ago, having originally planned only to run the 1500m. Her change of mind ultimately delivered Britain’s first Olympic gold medal at this event since Anne Packer in 1964. “I knew I just had to use my head to win,” Holmes said, “but it was my heart that got me to the line first.”
Greece’s first athletics gold medal of these Games came from the unanticipated source of Athanasia Tsoumeleka in the women’s 20km Walk this morning.
The 22-year-old Tsoumeleka made a burst with just 2km left, and resisted the desperate counter-attacks from Russia’s Olimpiada Ivanova and Jane Saville, of Australia, to finish four seconds ahead of the Russian in 1:29:12, with Saville a further nine seconds back in 1:29:25.
Area record for Mbango
Greece soon added to their medal tally, in the women’s Triple Jump, although Hrysopiyi Devetzi was no match on the night for Francoise Mbango.
Apart from her fouled first attempt, Mbango produced five jumps of more than 15 metres, and twice - in rounds two and six - she managed an African record 15.30 for Cameroon’s first Olympic athletics medal of any kind.
World champion Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia this time finished third with 15.14, as Devetzi delighted the vast Greek crowd when she jumped 15.25.
Olympic record for Fazekas **see note below**
In the men’s Discus final, Olympic records in the first two rounds, surpassing Lars Riedel’s 69.40m from 1996, seemed to set up a tremendous duel between the defending champion, Virgilijus Alekna, and Hungary’s Robert Fazekas. But once Fazekas had responded to the Lithuanian’s 69.89m opener with 70.93, the competition was as good as over. Hungary also took the bronze through Zoltan Kovago (67.04).
Fazekas explained his strategy: “I've studied Alekna a lot and I know that he usually has his longest throw on his first attempt. I, on the other hand, always start with a safety throw.
“After my second round throw, I knew for sure he would not be able to catch me.”
Wariner follows Johnson's model
The night’s other two finals, the men’s 400m and the women’s 5000m, were won by exciting new talents, Jeremy Wariner and Meseret Defar.
Wariner, a 20-year-old student at Baylor University in Texas, ran a lifetime best 44.00 to succeed Michael Johnson as Olympic 400m champion - not a bad achievement for Clyde Hart, coach to both men.
Wariner led in an American cleansweep, with Otis Harris (44.16, also a personal best) and Derrick Brew (44.42) taking the other medals, the first Olympic 1-2-3 in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. “We made history today, just as we had planned,” Wariner said.
“That was the best I’ve felt after a race. But I guess I have the chance of one or two more Olympics, so there might be even better races.”
Defar outsprints Ochichi
In the women’s 5000m, after a snail-like opening 600 metres, when the race caught fire, it proved to be a hard-run affair.
World record-holder Elvan Abeylegesse was soon pushing on at the front. Yet with a kilometre to race, the young Turk cracked, leaving Isabella Ochichi and 20-year-old Defar to battle for gold.
The Ethiopian possessed by far the best sprint finish, to deny Kenya their first gold of the Games, as Defar finished in 14:45.65 to Ochichi’s 14:48.19, with bronze going to Tirunesh Dibaba, the World champion, in 14:51.83.
“We were really motivated to beat the Turkish girl because she said before the race that she would beat us,” Defar said.
Karpov leads in Decathlon
After the first day of the Decathlon, Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Karpov leads with 4,689pts, as 281pts separate the first six men. The Czech holder of the World record, Roman Sebrle, is poised menacingly in second on 4,594 and with the two Americans, Bryan Clay and Tom Pappas, in third and fifth.
It will be a fascinating day for the Decathlon on Tuesday, as it will be for Kelly Holmes, Olympic champion, when she returns to the arena for the opening round of her “best” event, the 1500 metres.
Steven Downes for the IAAF
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NOTE. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on 24 August that Robert Fazekas, 29, refused to provide a complete urine sample after the men's Discus Final where he placed first, and accordingly is not awarded a gold medal or diploma.
Accordingly, Alekna takes the gold medal, Kovago, the silver, and Estonia's Aleksander Tammert (66.66m - Estonia), the bronze.
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