Maryam Yusuf Jamal delivered her adopted country of Bahrain's first ever women's championship medal, as she overtook the early leader, Russia's Yelena Soboleva, with just over 200m to run and clocked 3min 58.75sec, the second fastest time of the year.
That Soboleva holds the fastest performance of 2007 was no consolation to the Russian champion, who missed out on gold by 0.24sec. Iryna Lishchynska, of the Ukraine, chased the front two home for the bronze in 4:00.69, while behind the medallists, Mariem Alaoui Selsouli (MAR) and Viola Kibiwot (KEN) set PBs in 5th and 6th (4:01.52 and 4:02.10), while 8th placed Agnes Samaria, Namibia's first World finalist since Frank Fredericks, set a national record 4:07.61.
All these achievements were due to the diligent and earnest pacemaking offered by Soboleva. The World No1 coming into the championships, the 25-year-old graduate of Bryansk Institute of Technology, had looked anxious before the start, clearly dry-mouthed, concerned at the weight of expectation on her, in the absence of Tatyana Tomashova, the 2003 and 2005 winner, to continue the Russian dominance of this event.
The opening lap was respectable enough, with Soboleva and Jamal shoulder to shoulder at the front, and Alaoui Selsouli tucked in behind them handily enough. But this was still not good enough for the Russian, who around the second bend forced the pace a little more: 65.82 at 400m, and the race was already down to the top six, Kibiwot, Dabiela Yordanova (BUL) and Lishchynska chasing after Soboleva, with a gaping 10m hole back to the rest of the already strung-out field.
Jamal sat and bided her time. Two years ago in Helsinki, she felt she was robbed of her medal chance when baulked by another competitor who was subsequently disqualified. This season, the former Ethiopian (then known as Zenebach Tola) had had a formidable build-up to these championships. Apart from a bad race in Paris, she has strung together an impressive series of results, including wins over a mile in Geneva, and at 1500m in Oslo, Lausanne and Monaco. Soboleva knew she had to run her off her legs.
Thus 800m was passed in 2:09.57, the bell reached in 2:57.37. With 300 to go (3:12.66), the race was down to the last three, and Jamal kicked along the back straight to force herself to the front for the first time. Surely Soboleva could not have the strength to come back at her?
But she did. Into the home straight, the front two had now opened up a six-metre gap on the chasing Lishchynska.
Jamal looked to be fading, her strength exhausted, and Soboleva summoned up one last big effort. Yet she, too, was at the end of her resources, and try as she might, she did not have enough to overhaul her younger rival.
And rivals they will be for some time to come, starting with races in Zurich on Friday and then over one mile at the Brussels Golden League meeting, where Soboleva is threatening to attack the world record of her compatriot, and former World champion, Svetlana Masterkova.
She did not reproach herself for giving her all in pursuit of glory. "She was better today," Soboleva conceded, adding that she felt that her semi-final may have taken more out of her than Jamal's less demanding qualifying race.
But, she added, "I would not change anything in my tactics if I was to race this final again. It was a very tough race."
Jamal, who lives and trains at altitude in the Swiss Alps at St Moritz, was enjoying a different sort of high after her victory. "This makes up for Helsinki," she said. "This race was perfect for me."
Osaka 2007 News Team/sd