The hurdles events are synonymous with heroism as much as heartbreak, and we had both on Saturday evening in the Kasarani Stadium as South Africa’s Zeney van der Walt snatched victory in the dying yards from Jamaica’s Sanique Walker, 58.23 to 58.27.
It was the closest 400m hurdles final in history at the IAAF World U18 Championships, but it was the manner in which it unfolded that will make it truly unforgettable.
Walker, the pre-race favourite and by far the fastest in the field, stamped her authority on the race over the first five barriers, entering the final turn with a five-metre advantage over her nearest pursuer: Van der Walt.
It appeared certain, at that point, that the lead was unassailable, that only a mishap or grievous mistake could stop Walker’s path to gold.
And then it happened. Wracked by fatigue as she approached the final barrier, Walker clobbered it with her lead leg, knocking it to the floor. “My start was good but I lost concentration along the way,” said Walker. “It was worse when I hit the hurdle – that impacted on me.”
It was a mistake that drained all her momentum, though by the time she had recovered she still had a two-metre lead over the fast-finishing Van der Walt.
It wasn’t enough, the South African eating into the advantage with every step and getting by in the dying metres, the photo finish handing her the verdict by just 0.04 in 58.23. “I just kept pushing until the end because I had energy,” said Van der Walt. “I didn’t expect to win, so I’m very happy.”
Back in third, Germany’s Gisele Wender came through strongly to set a PB of 59.17 to earn her a place on the podium, while Lithuania’s Gabija Galvydyte had to settle for fourth with 59.49. “I’m lucky to win the bronze medal,” said Wender. “This is a major achievement for me.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF