Home favourite Ana Guevara produced an emphatic victory in the women's 300 metres, in front of a near capacity paying crowd of over 50,000 exuberant spectators at the GP Banamex meeting in the 1968 Olympic stadium this evening.
Guevara’s time of 35.30 was an unofficial world best for the rarely run 300m distance, dramatically improving on the 35.46 time that Britain’s Kathy Cook had set back in 1984. The Mexican 2002 IAAF World Cup 400m champion, who also shared in the Golden League Jackpot last season, and is the current IAAF World Rankings leader for 400m, was never troubled tonight and was already up on the starting stagger of the women in the four lanes inside her, as the half way point was reached in the race.
Australia's Olympic 400m champion Cathy Freeman, who was one of those women inside Guevara (lane 4 to Guevara’s lane 5) was never in the battle for the win, and struggled to take third place with 36.42, as Romania’s Ionela Tirlea took the honours behind Guevara in 36.20.
“I’m a competitor and when you’ve run before there is always a part of you which is a bit sad and disappointed, but I have to be realistic as it’s been 3 years,” said Freeman.
“My overall feeling is relief. I’m really happy for Anna and Mexico because I understand how it can affect people being the best in the world. Personally I know I have to be really patient. I think my career has a long way to go. It’s not easy going out knowing you are going to be beaten. I go out remembering that I am Olympic champion but most of all I still love racing," concluded Freeman.
“An unforgettable night for me and the whole of Mexico, the emotion tonight was unbelievable, I didn’t think so many people would respond,” said Guevara. “When I came out for the opening ceremony I was amazed to see so many people in the stands. It was a dream but we decided why not, and it’s a dream which came true.”
Guevara’s triumph in the last race of a two hour programme of competition was, of course what the home crowd had come to see but there was much else to keep them entertained in humid, and overcast conditions in Mexico City’s Olympic stadium.
This stadium which is one of the hallowed arenas in Athletics history having celebrated the Olympic sprinting brilliance of the likes of Jim Hines, Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, Wyomia Tyus, Irena Szewinska and Colette Besson, and of course the 8.90 metres legendary winning leap of long jumper Bob Beamon, had not welcomed a world class international track and field event since the CAC Games of 1990. The Pan-Am Games had also been celebrated here in 1975, but other than these two regional festivals, this stadium had been largely silent to the cheers of an Athletics crowd since the 1968 Olympics.
Situated at an altitude of 7200 feet, Mexico City provided advantageous conditions for the sprint and power events in 1968, and certainly for one surprising winner tonight it seemed to be the key to a new personal best, as the World 100m recorder Tim Montgomery was scalped by the relatively unknown Canadian Nicholas Macrozonaris, whose 10.19 personal best prior to this evening dated back to 2000.
After one false start, the men’s 100m got away properly but Montgomery had a dreadfully slow reaction, with fellow American Jon Drummond out of the blocks best. Yet while eyes were on the central lanes of the two Americans, Macrozonaris had stolen a surprising early advantage on the field, which despite a marvellous last 30 metres from the World record holder, he was never to lose. The result, a 10.03 personal best win (nil wind reading) to the Canadian, with Montgomery in second in 10.04, and Drummond in third, 10.07.
“It wasn’t acceptable, there was a lot of commotion at the start (after the false start). I’m the champion, I should have won but I’m pleased to get my first (individual) race out of the way after all the recent pressure,” said Montgomery.
By contrast Macrozonaris was in Mexican heaven. “It was awesome, the dream I have lived so many times, and now it’s come true. We were making jokes that if I won we would drink tequilla. It was my first big meet and I only needed one big chance. I won’t have any problems now getting races this season,” said the Canadian winner.
Minutes before Montgomery’s surprising defeat, the first sprint of the evening, the women’s 100m had seen USA’s Christie Gaines storm to a good win (11.02) over Commonwealth champion and joint world season’s leader Debbie Ferguson of the Bahamas (11.13). Gaines time of 11.02 was just short of East German Marlies Gohr’s stadium record (11.00, 1979).
The women’s 200m brought a World Junior 200m record from 17 year-old American sensation Allyson Felix, with a 22.11 clocking (-0.5m/s wind) that broke the former mark of Russia’s Natalya Bochina (22.19), which had stood since 30 July 1980. Felix had been in remarkable form already this year, having run at the senior World Indoor Championships in March, and having set an Area 200m junior record of 22.51 on the 19 April at the Mt SAC Relays.
“I was a little surprised myself at the time,” said Felix “but I knew something big would happen, with the altitude, the crowd, and the way I was progressing, and how things were going in training.”
The men’s 200m ended with a win for Coby Miller (20.13) but in his wake there was tragedy for World Indoor 60m champion Justin Gatlin, who was carried off the track after pulling up injured as he entered the straight.
World 110m Hurdles champion Allen Johnson was not going to let his grasp slip as Montgomery had done in the sprint flat, and managed to take a narrow win (13.42) over Duane Ross (13.43) in the sprint hurdles. Ron Brammlet (USA) was third, 13.47.
The men’s 400m left two World champions defeated by USA’s Derrick Brew (44.83). World 400m champion Avard Moncur of the Bahamas was third in 45.00, with the World champion over the one lap barriers Felix Sanchez, who occasionally dabbles with the flat 400m, in fourth (45.22). Second was USA’s Corey Nelson.
The thin air of Mexico City’s altitude put paid to many star hopes in the distance events in 1968, most notably those of the multiple World record holder Ron Clarke, and tonight it took it's toll again.
The women’s 1500m which begun the international section of the track programme at 7.30pm local time, boasted the reigning Olympic champion Nouria Merah-Benida of Algeria, and USA’s Regina Jacobs, whose World Indoor record of 3:59.98 was the surprise of last winter’s season. However, the pre-race billing seemed to stand for nothing with just 200 metres of the race remaining.
The race at that point was led by local athlete Maria Dulce Rodriguez, with the Olympic champion 50 metres adrift in second, and Jacobs languishing way off the pace. The thin air had certainly done its trick with the American’s hopes, and even a Mexican victory looked in the bag until Merah-Benida (4:26.59) caught Rodriguez (4:26.63) on the line, after a blistering last 100 metres. Jacobs was fifth (4:38.04).
The men’s ‘metric’mile was not as dramatic, though it was won by Kenya’s Enock Koech (3:44.98) from his compatriot, the Olympic champion Noah Ngeny (3:44.99) in a narrow finish line dip. The 3000m also produced a Kenyan victory with a 8:04.21 clocking for Shadrock Kosgei.
Jackie Edwards of the Bahamas won the women’s Long Jump with a 6.49m leap, and World Champion Hestrie Cloete won the High Jump with a clearance of 1.96m.
USA's Miquel Pate took a classy men's Long Jump, winning with 8.46m (no wind reading) on the very runway that Bob Beamon exploded to his legendary 8.90m World record win at the 1968 Olympics. Second was Kareem Streete-Thompson 8.15m and Savante Stringfellow was third in 8.10m. Pate's mark ties the current world season's lead of Stringfellow.
100: N Macrozonaris (Canada) 10.03, 2, T Montgomery (US) 10.04, 3, J Drummond (US) 10.07, 4, C Miller (US) 10.07, 5, U Emedolu (Nig) 10.19, 6, D Campbell (GB) 10.24, T Douglas (Holland)10.47.
200: C Miller (US) 20.13, 2, U Emedolu (Nig) 20.40, 3, D Campbell (GB) 20.50, 4, T Douglas (Holland) 20.72, 5, B. Williams (US) 20.87, 6, J Baulch (GB) 20.95.
400: D Brew (US) 44.83, 2, C Nelson (US) 45.00, 3, A Moncur (Bahamas) 45.00, 4, F Sanchez (Dom Rep) 45.22, 5, Z Szeglet (Hungary) 45.67, 6, M Elias (GB) 46.03, 7, A Cardenas (Mex) 46.34, 8, O Juanz (Mex) 47.13.
1500: E Koech (Ken) 3:44.98, 2, N Ngeny (Ken) 3:44.99, 3, M Too (Ken) 3:47.80, 4, J Higuero (Spain) 3:48.79, 5, D Lelei (Ken) 3:49.57, 6, J Barrios (Mex) 3:53.40.
3000: S Kosgei (Ken) 8:04.21, 2, T Vega (Mex) 8:06.47, 3, E Ketter (Ken) 8:06.62
110H: A Johnson (US) 13.42, 2, D Ross (US) 13.43, 3, R Bramlett (US) 13.47, 4, S Bownes (S Afr) 13.64, 5, D Dorival (Haiti) 13.68, 6, J Nsenga (Belgium) 13.68, 7, T Reese (US) 14.33.
LJ: M Pate (US) 8.46, K Streete-Thompson (US) 8.15, 3, S Stringfellow (US) 8.10, 4, I Gaisah (Ghana) 8.08, 5, B Tudor (Romania) 7.51, 6, T Dias (Brazil)
100: C Gaines(US) 11.02, 2, D Ferguson (Bahamas) 11.13, 3, L Jenkins (US) 11.21, 4, I Miller (US) 11.30, 5, E Ojokolo (Nig) 11.43, 6, J Campbell (Jam) 11.54, 7, I Tirlea (Rom) 11.58, 8, M Nku (Nig) 11.59.
200: A Felix (US) 22.11 (World jun record), 2, L Jenkins (US) 22.31, 3, K White (US) 22.33, 4, D Washington (US) 22.89, 5, M Nku (Nig) 23.42, 6, E Ojokolo (Nig) 23.79.
300: A Guevara (Mex) 35.30 (World best perf), 2, I Tirlea (Rom) 36.20, 3, C Freeman (Aus) 36.42, 4, M Hennagan (US) 36.79, 5, B Petrahn (Hungary) 37.43, 6, C Murphy (GB) 37.72, 7, T Bass (US) 38.41, 8, M Gonzalez (Mex) 39.16.
1500: N Merah-Benida (Alg) 4:26.59, 2, D Rodriguez (Mex) 4:26.63, 3, M Hyman (Jam) 4:29.33, 4, S Schwald (US) 4:32.29; 5, R Jacobs (US) 4:38.04, 6, M Perez (Mex) 4:38.20.
High Jump: H Cloete (S Afr) 1.96, 2, D Rath (Ger) 1.93, 3eq, I Jones (US)/G Wentland(US) 1.90, 5, N Forrester (Can) 1.90, 6, M Iagar (Rom) 1.85, 7, E Herzenberg (Ger) 1.80, 8, R Rifka (Mex) 1.80.
Long Jump: J Edwards (Bahamas) 6.49, 2, Y Bustamante (Mex) 6.32, 3, A Sawyer (US) 6.29, 4, B Glenn (US) 6.18, 5, S Walker (US) 6.14, 6, L Pruteanu (Rom) 6.09.