Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Felix Sanchez lived one of his happiest ever days on Wednesday (6 August) when delivering the first gold to the Dominican Republic in the Pan American Games, as four other records fell during the second day of athletics in Juan Pablo Duarte Stadium.
Sanchez strode to victory In front of a packed crowd of 30,000 euphoric spectators, which he later admitted added to his nervousness when his compatriots shouted “Felix, Felix”, waving Dominican flags and displaying large 'Super Felix' and 'Super Sanchez' signs everywhere.
However, the 2001 Edmonton World 400m Hurdles champion looked calmin lane four and was even smiling when his names was announced.
When the gun sounded he took off fast as usual and held a comfortable lead until the eighth hurdle. USA’s Eric Thomas surged and closed the gap, but the local idol accelerated in the last 40 metres to win in 48.19 seconds.
The New York-born 25-year old athlete erased Brazil’s Eronildes de Araujo’s Games record of 48.23 from 1999, and defeated Thomas (48.74) and Jamaica’s Dean Griffiths (49.35). Three-time winner Araujo finished seventh in a modest 51.19.
“When I was warming up I heard a buzzy crowd and it was very emotional. I was ready to race in front of a packed stadium and I knew they were supporting me tremendously, but I felt nervous and although I tried to calm down before the start, I started too fast and it was too risky”, he commented.
He admitted he felt tired after the sixth barrier, “I had to focus on technique as I really felt fatigue in the last two hurdles”.
He basically thought of his grandmother Lilian Gomes. "She definitely wanted to be here, but had to stay in San Diego due to a heart surgery. I mostly thought of her”, he added.
Immediately after crossing the finished line, Sanchez kissed the track and covered his body with a Dominican flag. Surrounded by some 30 security people, he greeted the crowd, signed some autographs and handed out dozens of postcards. The other competitions were stopped for over 15 minutes, as the public applauded him and shouted his name continuously. He was then was carried out of the stadium and the rest of the programme resumed.
The Dominican Republic had only won three gold medals in the history of the Games and Sanchez won the first title in athletics. Four years ago, he first represented his country internationally with a fourth-place finnish in the 1999 Games in Winnipeg, Canada.
“The World Champs in Paris and the Olympic Games in Athens are my next priorities. After an Olympic medal, I will try to break the World record in 2005 or 2006”, he concluded after being awarded the gold by Dominican President Hipolito Mejia and Pan American Sports Organization President Mario Vazquez Raña.
In two hard-fought duels with his compatriots, Cuba’s long jumper Ivan Pedroso and javelin thrower Emeterio Gonzalez claimed their third consecutive Pan American crowns.
World and Olympic champion Pedroso opened with 8.00, but his training partner Luis Felipe Meliz replied with 8.01. He then increased the challenge with a 8.20 leap in the second round, but Pedroso regained the lead with a 8.23 third effort and that was enough to grant him the gold medal.
Venezuela’s Victor Castillo clinched the last place on the podium with 7.98, ahead of Cayman Islands’ Kareem Streete-Thompson (7.96), who was second in Winnipeg. The best American was Kevin Dilworth, fifth in 7.86.
The javelin competition was even more dramatic. Left-handed Olympic finalist Gonzalez improved his own Games standard to 80.27 in the first round, and maintained the lead ahead his countryman Isbel Luaces’ 79.11.
Luaces threw a season best of 80.95 in the fifth attempt, but Gonzalez saved the best for last, taking the javelin to 81.72 in the last round. USA champion Breaux Greer(79.21) completed the podium places.
In the first final on the track, Letitia Vriesde’s expertise prevailed and the Surinamese held off Cuba’s Adriana Muñoz in the home straight to win the women's 800m in 2:02.92, only 0.04 seconds faster than the young Cuban. The fist half was covered in a slow 1:01.92. Guyana Marian Burnett finished third in 2:03.58.
At 38, the 2001 Edmonton World Championships bronze medallist defended her title successfully and gave the first medal to her country, as she did in Havana (1991), Mar del Plata (1995) and Winnipeg (1999).
In the men’s 800m, Morrocan-born Canadian Achraf Tadili ran a very quick finish to win in a record time of 1:45.05, faster than the 1:45.38 set by USA’s Johnny Gray in 1999. Brazil’s Osmar Dos Santos (1:45.64) could not respond to his rival’s late surge and finished second, ahead of his compatriot Fabiano Petanha (1:46.39).
USA’s Lauryn Williams and Mickey Grimes clinched the women's and men's sprint titles with 11.12 and 10.10 seconds, respectively.
Williams, the 2002 World Junior champion, came from behind to defeat early leader Angela Williams (USA), who was second again as four years ago with 11.15. Cuban-born Mexican Liliana Allen outkicked Cuban Virgen Benavides in the last metres to claim her eighth Pan Am medal. She has now equalled Cuban Ana Fidelia Quirot as the two most decorated women in athletics in the history of the Games. Both Allen and Benavides were timed 11.28.
Grimes took off well and was never challenged. He even rose his hands in sign of victory when crossing the finish line. His 10.10 performance was only 0.04 off the Pan AM record of Cuban Leandro Peñalver, set in Caracas 1983. Jamaica’s Michael Frater (10.21) and USA’s Marcelle Scales (10.22 PB) accompanied him on the podium.
The USA added two more golds with Joanna Hayes and Stephen Moore, first in the 400-metres Hurdles and the Decathlon, respectively.
Hayes, the fastest in the semi-final, ran very consistently and clocked 54.77, ahead of Cuba’s 1999 World champion Daimi Pernia (55.10), still not fully recovered from an injury, and Barbados’ Andrea Blackett (55.24).
Moore, the only 8000-plus performer this season in the seven man Decathlon field waited until the 1500m to secure the gold with 7809 points, as he covered the distance 29 seconds faster than previous leader Luiggy Llanos (Puerto Rico), who bettered his own national record to 7704.
Mexico enjoyed a very fruitful day as Adriana Fernandez and Victoria Palacios dominated the 5.000 and the 20km walk, respectively.
Fernandez was initially challenged by her compatriot Nora Rocha, but made her move with five laps to go. The 32-year old mother improved her own record by 15 seconds to win her third consecutive Pan American title in 15:30.65, ahead of Rocha (15:40.98) and USA’s Nicole Jefferson (15:42.40).
“I enjoyed the race so much and I felt a great support so I wanted to run one more lap to greet the Dominicans. I just focused on winning and I would like to dedicate this victory to my son”, said the best Latin American marathoner ever.
In the first final of the day, Victoria Palacios and Rosario Sanchez kept Mexico’s winning tradition in race walking by claiming the top two spots in the 20 km race. Mexicans have never lost the gold since the event was introduced in the Pan American Games in 1987.
The duo reinstated their country’s supremacy in Race Walking, one day after Bernardo Segura and Alejandro Lopez lost to Ecuador’s Jefferson Perez in the men’s race.
Seven finals will be contested on Thursday (7 Aug): the men’s 10,000m, 3000m Steeplechase, Hammer and Pole Vault, as well as the women’s 1500, Shot Put, the first day of the Heptathlon and the Javelin which will feature Cuba’s World record holder and champion Osleidys Menendez.
The programme also includes the 200 heats and semi-finals and the 400 semi-finals, in which Mexico’s world leader Ana Gabriela Guevara will start the defence of her Pan American crown.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF
Here are all medallist on the second day of athletics:
100m (+0.7 m/s)
1. Mickey Grimes (USA) 10.10
2. Michael Frater (JAM) 10.21
3. Marcelle Scales (USA) 10.22
1. Achraf Tadili (CAN) 1:45.05 CR
2. Osmar dos Santos (BRA) 1:45.64
3. Fabiano Petanha (BRA) 1:46.39
1. Félix Sánchez (DOM) 48.19 CR
2. Eric Thomas (USA) 48.74
3. Dean Griffiths (JAM) 49.35
1. Iván Pedroso (CUB) 8.23
2. Luis F. Meliz (CUB) 8.20
3. Víctor Castillo (VEN) 7.98
1. Emeterio González (CUB) 81.72 CR
2. Isbel Luaces (CUB) 80.95
3. Breaux Greer (USA) 79.21
1. Stephen Moore (USA ) 7809
2. Luiggy Llanos (PUR) 7704
3. Yonelvis Aguila (CUB) 7593
100m (+1.2 m/s)
1. Lauryn Williams (USA) 11.12
2. Angela Williams (USA) 11.15
3. Liliana Allen (MEX) 11.28
1. Letitia Vriesde (SUR) 2:02.92
2. Adriana Muñoz (CUB) 2:02.96
3. Marian Burnett (GUY) 2:03.58
1. Adriana Fernández (MEX) 15:30.65 CR
2. Nora Rocha (MEX) 15:40.98
3. Nicole Jefferson (USA) 15:42.40
1. Joanna Hayles (USA) 54.77
2. Daimi Pernía (CUB) 55.10
3. Andrea Blackett (BAR) 55.24
1.Victoria Palacios (MEX) 1:35:16
2. Rosario Sánchez (MEX) 1:35:21
3. Joanne Dow (USA) 1:35:48
CR- Games Record