In a night stamped by Usain Bolt’s unbelievable 19.30 200m World record, there would be more Jamaican celebration as 25-year-old Melaine Walker sped to an Olympic record 52.64 to win the country’s second Olympic title in the women’s 400m Hurdles.
A pre-event favourite after setting a world lead 53.48 in Monaco, Walker boldly announced before tonight’s race that she wanted to win and she wanted to do so in a new World record.
Walker wasn’t far off her predictions as she ran the fourth fastest of all-time behind Yuliya Pechonkina’s 52.34 World record, Kim Batten’s 52.61 (a mark which was also a World record at the time) and Tonya Bufford’s 52.62.
The women’s intermediate hurdlers came into an electrifying Olympic stadium just minutes after Bolt’s second World record of the Games, and certainly that must have had an impact on Walker who lined up as Jamaican flags were flying in the stands and reggae music was being played.
A semi finalist in Osaka last year, the Jamaican champion timed her kick to perfection not the least affected by Sheena Tosta’s devastating first half of the race.
Her hair up in Mohican style, Walker made her move going into the final curve, caught up with Tosta at hurdle 7 and moved into the lead by hurdle 8. She lost some of her hurdling technique going over the final barrier but she lost nothing of her speed building up something close to a ten metres lead.
“I want to say it’s heart, dedication, discipline and wanting,” said Walker. Well I was kind of expecting it. I’ve dreamed about it a million times. It’s fantastic to win.”
Tosta managed to hold on to silver in 53.70 after she had finished medalless in fourth in Athens 2004 while Tasha Danvers came from nowhere to claim a much unexpected bronze with a personal best run 53.84. It was a fantastic improvement for the Briton’s season’s best 54.31 which set in the previous rounds. She had come to Beijing with a best of 55.91!
Tosta said: “I raced hard for 350m. I can’t be mad with the silver medal. I went for gold and I gave it my all today. I’m just happy to get a medal. I don’t think I can even describe it. It’s been a long four years since Athens.”
For Danvers it was even more emotional: “It has easily been my worst season of my life and one of the best seasons of my life,” she commented. “I was out for half of the season but I kept telling myself that I was fit enough to win.”
Anastasiya Rabchenyuk also improved on her personal best to claim fourth at 53.96 while Osaka bronze medallist Anna Jesien of Poland had to be content with fifth this time around.
US champion Tiffany Ross Williams once again failed to make it to the podium. She was a disappointing seventh in Osaka and here she finished last in 57.55 after she had entered the final straight still in contention for a potential medal.
Curiously Walker won medals at three successive World Junior Championships between 1998 and 2002 but never a gold. She struck the finest price of all on the finest stage of all.
Not a bad place to start…
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF