As soon as she arrived in Helsinki, Yuliya Pechonkina had just one thing on her mind.
“Gold, only gold,” she said. “Nothing else!”
That single-minded concentration paid off for the 27-year-old Russian after her commanding win by nearly three one-hundredths of a second in the 400 metre Hurdles. For Pechonkina, it was a victory worth savouring.
“I have been waiting for this Gold medal for two years now,” she said. “I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet but at last I managed to hit peak form when it mattered.”
Illness and injury still haunts her
Plagued by ill-timed illness or injury over the past several seasons, Pechonkina knows quite a bit about the inability to not hit key form when it mattered most.
After lowering the World record to 52.34 two years ago, just three weeks before the World championships in Paris, Pechonkina arrived in the French capital as a strong favourite, only to leave with a bronze medal. In Athens last year, Pechonkina met with worse disappointment, finishing eighth.
In both cases, it was either illness or the indication of injury that slowed her. Mimicking her prior big competition experiences, Pechonkina was fighting off a cold, fever and allergies prior to her final here.
“I had injections recently for allergies and it affected me badly,” she said, adding that she’s had a headache and slight fever throughout the day as well. “As you saw at the end, I was finding it very hard to keep going.”
Pechonkina’s road to victory here began when she took up athletics at age 12, coached by her father Sergey Nosov. At 18 she competed at the World Junior Championships, and a year later was sixth at the European Junior championships. In 2001, at just 23, she won her first Russian championship and the European Cup title before storming to a surprise runner-up finish in Edmonton beginning her streak of podium appearances at the world championships.
In 2002, she was undefeated in five races, won the World Cup title, and lowered her personal best to 53.10. Yet since lowered Kim Batten’s world record two years ago, Pechonkina hasn’t ventured into sub-53 territory. Until tonight. Her 52.90, a world-leading effort, was the 14th fastest performance ever. Only Sally Gunnell (52.74, 1993) and Batten (52.61, 1995) - both World records - and Daimi Pernia’s 52.89 in 1999 produced faster winning performances in a World championship.
“No,” she said, “I wasn’t surprised with the time. My tactic was to start easy and finish strong. I didn’t run a perfect race. There were some technical aspects I could have done better and I feel like I’ve got some more left. At the same time, I ran my best time for the season just at the right moment, which is good to know, especially when not feeling well.”
Looking back to her numerous near-misses, Pechonkina sighed, looked up at the cloudless skies and smiled.
“I don’t have any regrets,” she said. “I did what I had to do for the last two or three years to win tonight.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF