Kluft no Joke for Rivals
Doug Gillon for the IAAF
11 August 2002 – Munich, Germany - When she lined up for the final event of the heptathlon in Munich, yesterday, Carolina Kluft smiled, pulled goofy faces at the camera, placed her thumbs against her temples, and waggled her fingers. For all the world she was like a child being mischievous to an elderly and rather stuffy relative.
As she grinned and cavorted on the 800-metres start-line, with her bright green and gold headband containing her blond hair, this most un-Swedish lady enjoyed a 27-point cushion over Sabine Braun. She knew she could afford to lose by some two seconds, and still win the European title.
The 37-year-old Braun, chasing a third European gold in her final heptathlon, was roared on by a 46,000 home crowd, but could not get within five seconds of the teenager.
Just 19, Kluft is no joke to her older rivals. She won with a world junior record of 6542, 108 ahead of the former world indoor and outdoor champion Braun, whose best of 6985 took bronze at the Barcelona Olympics. All this little over a fortnight after having won her second world junior title in Jamaica.
The defending champion and Olympic gold medallist, Denise Lewis, who has vowed to come back after the birth of her first child earlier this year, will find a new and dangerous rival waiting to challenge her if she does return to the championship arena.
If the British woman is not yet a proud statistic of the event's past, then Kluft is certainly the clue to its future. At the same age Lewis had a best of 5484. The Swede's total would have won world silver in Edmonton last year, is greater than Braun achieved to capture her second European title, and is only 17 less than that which won Lewis European gold four years ago in Budapest.
Kluft set personal heptathlon bests in two events: a fifth of a second inside her previous hurdles mark, and had a 0.28 improvement in the 200m.
Two of her events were better than those posted by Jackie Joyner-Kersee in setting the current world record, which has stood since 1988.
She wrapped herself in the blue and gold of her national flag, and locked herself in a lengthy embrace with her fiancé, Patrik Kristiansson, weeping on his shoulder. Kristiansson had just lost pole vault bronze on countback.
She is atypically
Swedish, not at all self-conscious or restrained, and the crowd loved her for
it. They were right behind her, despite the obvious threat she posed to their
She admits to being "a bit goofy, and the championships' biggest clown". She is refreshingly naive, turning down lucrative showpiece multi event appearances: "I just want to have fun," she says.
She is one of four sisters, all of who have at one time been into track and field. Her mum was a 6.09 long-jumper, and father, Johnny, played football with one of the leading Swedish clubs, Östei.
There was no celebration last night. She went back with her parents and fiancé, and played Yatzu, but she has says she will let her hair down and dance tonight.
It was an outstanding day for Britain as Colin Jackson brought down the curtain on his outdoor championship career with his fourth successive 110m hurdles title, equalling the run of compatriot Steve Backley in the javelin, while Ashia Hansen showed rumours of her demise to be premature when she snatched the triple jump gold with a 15-metre final attempt. There were just five minutes between the two victories, and Jackson, on meeting Hansen, planted a resounding kiss on her cheek.
The Welsh world record holder clocked 13.11 seconds, his fastest of the season, to deny the Latvian, Stanislavs Olijars (13.22). It was jackson's 25th major championship medal, butnot, he hopes, his last. he plans to make his farewell at the World indoor event in Birmingham, England, next year.
Jackson had forfeited Commonwealth gold on his most recent championship appearance when he clattered the opening flight, having got out too fast.
"In Manchester I went against orders," he said. "Here, I did what I was told."
The Finn, Heli Koivula, whose previous best had been 14.36 metres, helicoptered, arms whirling, to 14.83m with her opening effort in the Triple Jump. "She put a lot of pressure on eveyone with that," said Hansen, who took until her final attempt, and the penultimate jump of the event, before reaching 15.00, her best outdoors since 1997. This completed a European title double this year.
To cap an emotional day, Alex Averbukh, the former Russian decathlete, won pole vault gold for Israel, with 5.85 metres. It was his country's first medal of any colour in these championships, and the first time an Israeli team had competed at a championship in Munich since the massacre of 11 members of their 1972 Olympic team.
Averbukh, who immigrated to Israel in 1999, said: "Of course I remember the events of 1972, but I think it is better to think of the future. I dedicate this medal to his my father, who died eight months ago. He was my trainer. My brother, father, and mother, were all masters of sport, but I was the only one who was able to fulfill the dream."
Yesterday Averbukh was with a large group of his team-mates and relatives of the 1972 massacre victims at a special memorial service.