After witnessing the confident force with which he claimed an overwhelming victory in the 200 metres last night, it’s easy to understand Francis Obikwelu’s post-race assessment.
“I didn’t have a single doubt that I was going to be today’s winner,” he said after his 20.01 dash, a performance well ahead of Swede Johann Wismann’s 20.38 national record for one of the largest victory margins ever at the European Championships. “It was a good time for me. But more than anything I just wanted to win.”
For someone whose vocation requires intense speed, Obikwelu has exhibited extreme patience in his career, a trait that has brought him several of the biggest awards available to him since entering the world’s elite nearly a decade ago.
“I have been waiting for this gold medal for four years,” Obikwelu said after a win that moved him up a step from the runner-up podium step four years ago. “And now I am even double European Champion. I don’t know how to express myself, how to express my feelings.”
His double was the first since Pietro Mennea’s in 1978, and only the third since the mid-1950s.
Despite his credentials as Olympic silver medallist in the 100, Obikwelu acknowledged that his victory over the longer dash meant even more than his 9.99 100 metre victory on Tuesday night.
“It’s been a very long time since I’ve run well in the 200,” he said. His 19.84 personal best dates back to the semi-finals of the1999 World Championships, where he claimed the bronze. “After I injured myself in Helsinki, I haven’t really been running the 200, so this one really means a lot.”
Despite appearances, Obikwelu said that the unexpectedly quick semi-final left his legs very tired prior to the final, and even with some intense work with physiotherapists, was still feeling a bit sluggish.
“Johann Wismann gave me a little bit of trouble,” he said. “I didn’t want to run so fast in the semi-final. I just wanted to take it easy. But he made me run 20.36. He pushed a little too much. I wanted to win that race to get a good spot in the final. So in the final I just took it easy because it was really tough for me after the semi. I was just so tired I didn’t know what to do.”
With his victory secure, he eased considerably as he approached the finish, relishing the win and playing it safe.
“I eased up because I didn’t want to push too hard and injure myself. It didn’t matter that I didn’t go sub-20. I only wanted the medal.”
Despite his season-long focus on his double ambition here, Obikwelu insisted that his preparation for Gothenburg was no different than for any other major competition.
“I wouldn’t say I’m in my best shape ever,” he said, “because I’m always in good shape. Unfortunately, last year in Helsinki I was injured the week before. I prepare specifically for the major championships. I don’t stress running good in all meets because I don’t want to put pressure on myself, or draw attention to myself. So that way nobody will really be looking at me. I don’t want that kind of pressure.”
Nor does he invite the pressure required for record attempts. He’ll gladly leave that to others.
“I don’t think about the World record, or European record, or any records. I’m just running to run. If it comes, it would be great, but I’ll still just keep running just to run.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF