Athens, GreeceDespite acknowledging in our event preview that this would perhaps be one of the most wide open competitions in Olympic Javelin history, it still came as a surprise that World Junior record holder Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway should win tonight.
The Norwegian took the victory thanks to a 86.50 release, a new personal best. This was the lowest distance which has been required for gold with the new spear since the implements first Olympic outing in 1988, when the winning throw was 84.28.
The silver tonight went to Vadims Vasilevskis of Latvia (84.95) and World champion Sergey Makarov of Russia was third (84.84).
The 22 year-old in disbelief described his victory as “completely insane”.
Throwing first of the twelve finalists Thorkildsen who had won the World Junior silver in 2000, launched his spear to 84.82, which at the end of those first attempts ranked him third. Vasilevskis was first (84.95) and Makarov (84.84) third at that stage. Ultimately, the podium occupants though not their final positions had been decided.
Thorkildsen’s winning throw which came in the second round was also a personal best, improving on the 85.72 he produced in June of last year, and was way ahead of his best season’s performance (84.14).
Particularly impressive at these Olympics was the silver medallist Vadims Vasilevskis of Latvia who started the year with a personal best of 81.92 (2000), came to these Games having improved to 82.44, advanced to 84.43 in the qualification round, and goes away with the Olympic silver and a new personal best of 84.95.
Makarov’s best might have come in the first round but he also produced another fine throw with his last but 84.32 just didn’t come near the silver, let alone the gold medal grade this evening.
There is little else to describe about the final because as a competition there was very little movement in places once the top-8 were decided after the first three rounds.
In an average year for world javelin throwing in terms of distance, the 22 year-old was simply above the average. Possessing a cool championship temperament, and a straightforward technique, Britain's Steve Backley tonight described Thorkildsen as a very dangerous competitor, as there was very little that could go wrong for him in a pressured championship situation. The four-time European champion and twice Olympic silver medallist should know because he has trained for two winters (2002 and 2003) in South Africa with the newly crowned Olympic champion.
Backley, 35, had a marvellous competition and confirmed that, “I will never again pick up a Javelin in his life, well at least not in competition. You never know I might coach a bit.”
There was a touch of irony that at the time of Backley's retirement that the three time Olympic medallist (he also got the bronze in 1992) for the first time in an Olympics got the better of his arch-rival, the defending three-time champion Jan Zelezny. Unlike Backley who made the final three throws cut in eighth place, the Czech was one place further back with a best of 80.59.
"I'm not feeling too bad about it," said Zelezny. "Technically, I threw badly but it's my fault. I can handle it."
Also missing the cut were two of the Finnish trio, and USA’s Breaux Greer, who with 87.25m, had led the qualifying round.
Backley, throwing last for the first three throws, produced an 84.13 season’s best to rocket from eighth position to fourth in round three. “The final round was crucial and I just did not make it count,” confirmed the Briton.
Behind the first four places there were a cluster of four 83m throws which secured 5th to 8th positions. Round one, produced competition bests for Alexandr Ivanov 83.31 (5th) and Andrus Varnik 83.25 (6th), and round two best for Latvia's Eriks Rags, and the youngest competitor in the final Finland's Tero Pitkämäki, 83.14 (7th) and 83.01 (8th) respectively.
”If you had said the words ‘Olympic champion’ to me yesterday, I wouldn’t have believed you,” confirmed Thorkildsen. “But now it sounds great…, I thought I had a chance of getting into the top six but to throw a PB and win the gold medal is incredible. I’ve got the gold medal at 22 years of age. I’ve got to be happy with that.”