Dafne Schippers smashed her personal best and edged Elaine Thompson as she won the 200m final on Friday night, the first outdoor world or Olympic sprint title for the Netherlands since Fanny Blankers-Koen won both sprints in dominating the London Olympic Games 67 years ago.
Schippers only decided to focus on the sprints rather than the heptathlon – in which she was a bronze medallist two years ago in Moscow – earlier this year. She competed in the combined events in Gotzis but failed to finish after stirring up knee problems in the high jump.
What an inspired decision it has turned out to be. After taking a silver medal behind Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 100m on Monday night, Schippers topped that with a gold in the 200m
Ironically, she needed all her combined-eventer’s strength to prevail over Jamaica’s Thompson, who led off the bend and most of the way up the straight. But the Dutchwoman dug deep and stride by stride edged up to and then past Thompson.
It was close – 21.63 seconds to 21.66. Veronica Campbell-Brown, two-time Olympic champion at 200m, dug deep into her storied history to find yet another sub-22 with 21.97 in third.
It was only the second time in history that three women have run under 22 seconds in the same race, following the 1988 Olympic final. More than that, Schippers broke the European record of 21.71 set by Marita Koch in 1979 and equalled by Heike Drechsler in 1986.
Schippers becomes the third-fastest woman of all time at the distance behind Florence Griffith-Joyner and Marion Jones. She ran the fastest time in the world for 17 years. Thompson moved to fifth on the world all-time list but missed Merlene Ottey’s Jamaican record by a mere two-hundredths of a second.
Campbell-Brown reached the final only by taking the second and last non-automatic qualifier’s place. She ran 22.47 then, but somehow mustered the strength of character and limb to improve half a second when the chips were down in the final.
The 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medallist and 2011 world champion has tended to produce her best on the bigger occasions. This bronze medal sub-22 was certainly against the run of play.
Behind the medallists, the high-quality running continued. Candyce McGrone of the USA, fastest of the finalists as they started, improved from 22.08 to 22.01, just missing a medal in fourth place.
Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith ran 22.07 in fifth place to finally remove Kathy Cook’s 22.10 from the record books and become the fastest teenager in history. Cook ran that time at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. At 19, and also the British record-holder at 100m, Asher-Smith has all the time in the world to take it to new levels.
This race always loomed as a close contest. Nothing in the rounds changed that perception. But it surprised everyone with its quality. With pre-event world leader Allyson Felix missing, along with defending champion Fraser-Pryce, the event seemed to lack at the sharp end.
Thanks heavens no one told Schippers, Thompson and Campbell-Brown.
Or maybe someone did.
Len Johnson for the IAAF