With an astonishing comeback on the second day of competition, Switzerland’s Geraldine Ruckstuhl moved from sixth to first and set a championship record of 6037 to take gold in a thrilling finale to the girls’ heptathlon at the IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015 on Saturday night (18).
In the end, no one was more surprised with the result than Ruckstuhl herself.
“I don’t believe it,” she said after the 800m, wiping tears from her eyes. “Coming into this championship, third place was the best I could imagine. First: I can’t believe.”
The Swiss 17-year-old had every reason to be surprised.
Overnight, she trailed Cuban leader Adriana Rodriguez by 176 points and pre-event favourite Sarah Lagger of Austria by 35 points. Her task, if not quite impossible, certainly looked improbable.
In the long jump on Saturday morning, Lagger propelled herself up to second place overall with a personal best of 6.21m, which left her 188 points clear of Ruckstuhl, whose best jump was 5.71m.
However, the javelin is often where Ruckstuhl comes into her own, and so it proved in the early afternoon as she launched the spear a hefty 52.87m, moving her from sixth to first in one fell swoop.
Also re-entering the title hunt after the javelin was Ukraine’s Alina Shukh, the world youth best-holder in the girls’ heptathlon, who threw a personal best of 54.57m to move up to fourth.
Before the final event, the permutations for the title hunt were complex, with Ruckstuhl holding a 39-point lead on Austria’s Andrea Obetzhofer, who had moved up to second place after six events courtesy of personal bests in the long jump (5.79m) and javelin (46.46m) with Lagger 74 points further back.
If all the leading contenders matched their personal bests in the final event, then the title looked to be heading to either to Lagger or Shukh, on paper by far the best 800m runners in the field.
When the gun fired, Shukh took off like a scared rabbit, scampering through the first 400m in 64.02. Lagger wisely backed off the scorching pace, going through in about 67 seconds.
With 200m to run, and Shukh still holding a considerable lead, it looked like the Ukrainian was on course for a medal – and maybe even the gold – but when she entered the home straight, she began to pay the price for her early exuberance and slowed to a painful stagger.
Lagger, meanwhile, was holding her form magnificently and came powering past the Ukrainian with 50 metres to run, eventually coming home a clear winner in a personal best of 2:15.48. Shukh fell across the line exhausted shortly after in 2:17.09.
Immediately after Shukh, incredibly, came Ruckstuhl, whose previous best of 2:26.29 had been reduced by a stunning nine seconds, her final time of 2:17.58 giving her a crucial 857 points, which brought her total to 6037, the second-best girls’ tally ever with the current set of implements.
This feat gave her a 45-point winning margin over Lagger, who did remarkably well to recover from a disappointing day one – in which a mistake in the 100m hurdles cost her dearly – to win the silver with a total of 5992.
“I didn’t expect a medal was possible after the hurdles,” said Lagger, “so I’m more than happy with the silver. I knew perhaps the gold was possible going into the 800m, but I missed three things – the hurdles was not good, the shot put was not good and finally the javelin – but I am still on the podium, so I’m happy.”
Shukh’s brave bid for glory in the 800m was rewarded with a bronze medal, her tally of 5896 points some way off her world youth best 6039. “I ran as fast as I could,” said Shukh. “I feel I gave it all I had. I’m exhausted.”
The champion, meanwhile, could hardly contain her excitement afterwards, victory arriving with an overwhelming sense of disbelief.
“It was so amazing,” said Ruckstuhl. “To run 2:17 in the 800m and get over 6000 points, I just can’t believe it. I’m so happy.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF