This was a story of three throwers, the Olympic new comer Aksana Miankova of Belarus, who had previously failed to pass beyond the qualification round at either world or continental championship level in her career, and two ‘old’ Olympic stagers from this young event, 2000 fourth placer and 2004 silver medallist Yipsi Moreno of Cuba, and home girl Wenxiu Zhang who was 7th in Athens.
Throwing fourth of the twelfth finalists, the Belarussian, the world season leader with a mighty 77.32 national record, opened with 74.40, and so immediately we knew a serious battle awaited us.
Moreno, Cuba’s two-time World champion (2001 / 2003), tried to counter large but lost control and the hammer clanged heavily on to the gate of the throwing cage.
With credible hopes for a Chinese victory at these Games thinning by the day, Wenxiu Zhang, the World championships bronze medallist, showed the seriousness of her intent with a season’s best heave of 74.00m which caused the crowd to break out of their usual chant of “China, China, China…” and roar with approval.
Ding, ding, that was end of round one, in boxing parlance! Belarus led China, with Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk making a very brief appearance in the medal frame in third with 69.39. She was to improve to 71.56 in round three but by that time the battle for medals was into a different territory altogether.
With Miankova fouling on her second, Moreno confirmed her quality with a 73.95 release to put herself in the top three, and that ultimately was the medallists confirmed though a positional change among these three was to occur in the fifth round.
Wenxiu Zhang, on her second, set the stadium vibrating, her spin in the circle brought thunderous applause. Had the Asian record holder gone into the lead? No, with 74.32 she was agonisingly eight centimetres short of her goal.
This was always going to be a great competition for distances, considering the high powered season this discipline has enjoyed this summer. 70m has largely now been replaced by 74m as the bench mark of top throwing in this young and fast developing event which celebrated its first Olympic presence in Sydney 2000.
Hindsight is very useful, as of course at the time everything was still to play for especially with World champion Betty Heidler in the ring. However, the German was never on tune today and after fouling twice she progressed to 70.06, which left her in ninth and out of contention. Poland’s 2000 Olympic champion Kamila Skolimowska was having an even worse time, never managing to register a mark!
The Chinese continued to compile a superbly balanced series with 73.40 and 73.50 in the third and fourth rounds but all serious thoughts of the gold for the host nation evaporated in the penultimate round. First Moreno’s hammer descended 30 centimetres beyond Miankova's best, and after the Chinese had thrown 70.75 – again accompanied by a huge roar – Miankova regained her lead with a 76.34 hit which ended the round.
The distance at which Miankova’s effort impacted the turf beyond the last marked sector line was impressive enough to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm even before the mark was registered on the scoreboard.
Only eight women including the Belarussian had ever thrown as far in history and it was an Olympic record improving that of 75.02 (Olga Kuzenkova, 2004).
Moreno, whose Area record is only 2 centimetres better (76.36 – 2007) was not overawed and did her very best to continue her challenge for the Olympic gold that had eluded her four years before, with 75.20 her response in the final round.
So Miankova was the winner, an impressive reversal of championship fortunes for the Belarussian, whose lifetime best of 77.32 is the third longest thrower of all-time, and the two women in front of her, both Russian, are currently involved in doping controversy.
It was a good night for Belarussia, as Darya Pchelnik finished in fourth with her last round 73.65 adding a note of quality to her already secure position.
Chris Turner for the IAAF