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Susanna's best race

Lennart Julin for the IAAF

20 October 2000 - "When I got the bronze medal in Annecy two years ago you can say that I was lucky. This time it was different. I was the world leader coming into Santiago and I was the fastest in both heats and semis. It was a different feeling going into to the final knowing that you could win."

And even realising that most people even expected you to win a world championships title should have been rather scary. The newly crowned World Junior Champion Susanna Kallur also readily admits to being very nervous before as well as during the 100m hurdles final.

"At the seventh hurdle I realised I was leading by a clear margin and I started thinking "Help me, I am leading! I must not fall, I must not fall".

Of course she did not fall. Rather her technique was just as immaculate in the latter stages of the race and the winning margin continued to grow to an amazing two full metres at the finish line. She "simply" managed to produce her best race ever when it really mattered!

The improvement of her national junior record and world leading time was a mere hundredth nominally, but if you take the strong headwind of almost two metres per second into account you realise that some even more prestigious records could have been threatened with a less unhelpful wind.

The road to the top position on the winner's podium in Santiago started only a little over four years ago when Susanna and her twin sister Jenny finally succumbed to the persuasive powers of a local club leader - who had spotted their talent in school meets in their hometown of Falun - and decided to give athletics a try. The key factor for them giving in probably was that the Swedish youth indoor championships that winter were to be held in the neighbouring town of Borlänge.

The name Kallur was however already well-known to the Swedish public as the father of the twins, Anders, had been a very successful professional icehockey player who won the Stanley Cup trophy in the National Hockey League no less than four times with his team New York Islanders. So it was natural for Susanna and Jenny to get involved in sports but their first love was not athletics but gymnastics.

I never thought anything else could be as fun as gymnastics, Susanna says to explain the rationale for their initial reluctance to try athletics.

But when they did try they immediately established themselves among the very best nationally in their age group. So after just one year athletics became their main sport although they still today love gymnastics and never misses a chance to play around with various somersaults and other tricks. They were thus really happy to find good gymnastics facilities at the Police Academy here in Santiago where the Swedish team is staying!

As athletes it was the sprinter Jenny who had most early success, e.g. winning the European Youth Olympics 100m title at age 16, while jumper Susanna tended to score medals of slightly less value. But when she - originally just to prepare for a combined event competition - tried the hurdles it didn't take long either for her to realise that she had found HER event or for the Swedish athletics community to spot that it had got a new hurdler with truly exciting potential.

Already the first year (1997) she set a national age-16-record over the 76.2 cm-hurdles and ran 14.11 over the senior 84.0 cm hurdles. And just one year later she was, as already mentioned, the bronze medallist at the World Juniors in Annecy.

One trait obvious right from the beginning of her athletics career was Susanna's exceptional competitiveness. Whenever she came off the last hurdle even with - or also slightly behind - the leader she in some almost magical way always managed to reach the finish line first.

Furthermore the best times tended to come at the major events, i.e. the championships and the international matches. She just seemed to thrive on tough competition and the focus of attention. In 1988 he set PB's at the national championships, then in Annecy and finally in her debut on the senior national team in the prestigious traditional match against Finland.

Further proof is given by this season: First a WJL of 13.10 in the European Cup First League, then a 13.09 wind-aided in the Nordic U21-match, a new WJL of 13.07 in the match against Finland and then finally two new WJL marks of 13.03 and 13.02 - both into significant headwinds - in Santiago.

And Susanna is definitely not intimidated by the fact that this was her last year as junior and that she from next year will be facing the best seniors:

"It is not frightening at all to compete against women who have run faster times. Rather it is something I am looking forward to. It will be really fun to face even tougher competition. I fully enjoyed the European Indoors in Gent this winter where I managed to reach the final competing against the best seniors in Europe."

Susanna is very much aware of the fact that she needs to improve further to establish herself also on the senior scene. She even may need that improvement to stay No 1 in the family as twin sister Jenny has been improving by leaps and bounds since making the hurdles also her main priority less than a year ago. Despite thus being somewhat of a novice Jenny was 6th here at the WJC just three hundredths from the bronze medal and her 13.18 in the heats was actually at time only bettered here in Santiago by Susanna!

Soft-spoken coach Bengt-Erik Blomqvist, who has guided Susanna and Jenny for the last three years, has identified several areas for future improvement both physically - especially the strength training has been quite conservative so far to avoid injuries - and technically.

And Bengt-Erik will continue to monitor the training of the world's leading twin hurdlers even when their plans of going to attend a university in the US - the country where they actually were born during the NHL tenure of their father - will be realised, which could happen already next year.

It is probably inevitable that Susanna's success raises questions concerning a possible link to the gold medals won in Atlanta 1996 and Athens 1997 by a another female Swedish hurdler, Ludmila Engquist. However, the answer is not that obvious. Yes, Ludmila did put the hurdles into the spotlight in Sweden, but no, it was not her gold medals that directed Susanna into the event.

But there is at least one common factor besides the most obvious like the event and the nationality. That factor is the extraordinary competitive drive and spirit that makes a winner.