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Lantosoa running to make history

Laura Arcoleo

21 October 2000 - Never had an athlete from Madagascar qualified for the final of a World Championships in Athetics, be it junior or senior, until Lantosoa Razafinjanahary won her 400m hurdles semi final here in Santiago.

Former Malagasy Nicole Ramalanaranirina reached this year’s Olympic final but competed with the blue vest of France after she changed allegiance in 1998.

Lantosoa, whose last name has created some difficulties to the stadium’s announcers, comes from the capital of the African island. And she certainly does not plan to switch to another country.

"I like my country and I do hope I will have the opportunity to stay there and keep competing for Madagascar even if some of my elder compatriots have chosen to represent France."

She has switched to the 400m hurdles two years ago, after competing in the 1000m in her early athletics years, following the advice of Prospere Rajaonarison who thought she would be perfect for the event. And indeed she looks to be. A perfect technique over the hurdles and a strong finish helped her win her semi final in a personal best of 57.29.

A high school student – "I still have one year to go," she complains – Lantosoa says the only thing she would like to do later is be a professional athletes.

"I like literature, I like reading but I can only think of myself as a track athlete."

The daughter of a former football player, Lantosoa has two sisters and two brothers to whom she would like to bring a souvenir from these championships.

"I haven’t had the chance to talk to anybody back home and I am not sure whether they know what I am doing here but I keep thinking of them."

The favourite for gold in the women’s 400m hurdles final is undoubtedly Jana Pittman of Australia, who has already secured one gold medal in the 400m final yesterday. But Lantosoa will be ready to take advantage of any sign of fatigue the Australian may show. "A medal? I don’t know," she smiles, "but I am sure one must feel good with a world championships medal around the neck."

Lantosoa has already experienced a similar feeling when winning the Indian Ocean Games this year. Santiago’s final will not be that easy but Lantosoa is ready to fight and to break the national junior record of 57.28 to step on the podium. She will certainly need to run even faster than the current national senior record which stands at a modest 57.20 and which she seems capable of beating.

Lantosoa might not know it yet but she is likely to enter the history books as the first world championships medallist for her country.