Bob Ramsak, of the highly regarded newsletter Track Profile.com digs deeper into the stories of Tuesday night, August 19, 2008.
TRACK PROFILE Report #811
UPSETS, VINDICATION, HIGHLIGHT DAY FIVE IN BEIJING
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2008 TRACK PROFILE Report, all rights reserved
BEIJING -- Upsets, hard luck and vindication were the order of the evening on Day five competition on the track in Bejing. Nearly across the board, pre-Olympic momentum, conjecture and conventional wisdom took a back seat to the action on the field.
On another night when the National Stadium was filled to capacity, two events in particular stood out: Christine Ohuruogu’s sensational victory in the 400m, and Dawn Harper’s unlikely triumph in the 100m hurdles.
A year ago, Ohuruogu won the world title in Osaka, but without the event’s undisputed No. 1 American Sanya Richards in the race, the victory seemed to lack some luster. But her triumph in Beijing will go a long way to assuage any doubts about the Briton’s ability to come through when it matters most. And with Richard finishing a well-beaten third, the American may finally lose the oft-cited “favorite” superlative.
Richards went out fast –-in hindsight perhaps too fast-- and paid for it when she slowed to a crawl with about 60 meters remaining. Ohuruogu has said that the final 50 meters is her best portion of the race. That clearly showed when she stormed by in lane four to nab the gold in 49.62.
“I’m still feeling numb,” she said some 50 minutes later.
With a strong late race charge of her own, Jamaican Shericka Williams nearly came through to steal the win, but came up just a bit short, stopping the clock in 49.69. Richards held on to take the bronze in 49.93.
“My right hamstring grabbed on me, and I just couldn't move it anymore,” said Richards, a co-winner of last year’s $1 million Golden League Jackpot. “I tried to hold them off, and I just couldn't.”
Ohuruogu returned from a one-year suspension for missing three doping tests to win the world title last year. While her return has attracted some critics, Richards can’t be counted as one. Always supportive of the Briton, Richards reiterated last Thursday that Ohuruogu’s case was an exception, and that the Londoner is indeed “clean”.
HARPER SHOCKER IN WOMEN’S 100m HURDLES
Less than 20 minutes later, the upsets continued in the women’s 100m hurdles. Why the term is often used to describe obstacles we encounter in everyday life has already been sufficiently addressed in Beijing over the past few days. After Liu Xiang, two-time silver medallist Terrence Trammell, and European champion Susana Kallur, World leader and pre-meet favorite Lolo Jones provided yet another example.
With a clear lead heading towards hurdle nine, the U.S. champion hit the barrier hard. While she stayed on her feet, her late race mishap swiftly knocked her out of contention for a medal of any color.
That opened the door for Dawn Harper, whose late race charge had already guaranteed her a medal. That it would be gold caught the entire world by surprise.
“I knew I needed to react to the gun, just focus on me and be quick and attack each hurdle," said Harper, whose 12.54 victory, a career best, will be one of the most memorable of the Games.
With Jones out, the battle for second was nearly too close to call. After a nerve-racking pause to read the photo, the bronze went to 21-year-old Australian Sally McLellan who edged Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. Bother were credited with 12.64, with American Damu Cherry and Jamiacan Delloreen Ennis-London just a tick behind in fourth and fifth, both clocking 12.65.
Said Jones, "You hit a hurdle about twice a year where it affects your race. It's just a shame that it happened on the biggest race of my life.”
While Harper’s victory will go into the record books as a surprise, it wasn’t to the former U.S. junior champion. “I felt I was always capable if I focused on myself,” said Harper, whose previous best was 12.58.
McLellan’s post race assessment: I can’t believe this is even happening.”
RAMZI BECOMING ‘MAN OF CHAMPIONSHIPS’
When he emerged as a middle distance power at the world championships in Helsinki three years ago, Rashid Ramzi said his childhood idol was Hicham El Guerrouj. On Tuesday, the 28-year-old succeeded the all-time great as the Olympic 1500m champion.
Biding his time in the middle of the pack for more than half the race, the enigmatic Bahraini wormed his way through the pack to join the leaders at the bell before making his break with 200 metres to go to. The gap of some two meters he carried through the final bend proved to be decisive as he crossed the line in 3:32.94.
But he wasn’t alone when he unleashed his fearsome trademark kick. Kenyan teenager Asbel Kiprop, who shared the early race pacing chores with his teammate Augustine Choge, matched Ramzi’s move, and although he wasn’t able to catch him, he didn’t allow the gap to grow either. The 19-year-old finished just a step behind in 3:33.11 to take the silver, the eighth medal overall in the event for Kenya in Olympic competition.
“I’m not disappointed,” said Kiprop, who was fourth at the World championships last year. “Not at all.”
In the fast and furious charge over the final 150 metres, New Zealander Nick Willis produced the race of his life. Sixth entering the homestretch, the 25-year-old national record holder forged on to claim the bronze in 3:34.16, holding off Frenchman Mehdi Baala, who was running on the inside, by just 0.05 seconds.
“I wasn’t able to get the gold,” said Willis, “but to get a bronze means just as much.”
Just over half a second separated finishers four through seven, with Spaniard Juan Carlos Higuero taking fifth (3:34.44) to give Europe two top-five finishers for the second straight Games.
Kiprop said that he and Choge made the decision last night to assume the pacing chores. A brisk pace from the outset, they reasoned, would be the only way to work the kick out of Ramzi’s legs. But that game plan quite come to pass.
Kiprop assumed the immediate lead, bringing the tightly-knit pack through the first lap in 56.48, but Choge then slowed the tempo significantly, reaching the 800m in 1:56.06. The next lap was quicker, but the 2:53 split at 1200m wasn’t quite according to plan either.
“We were hoping for 2:50,” Kiprop confirmed. Choge later wasn’t a factor in the homestretch battle, fading to 10th in 3:35.50.
On Wednesday, Ramzi said, he’ll decide whether to emulate his idol’s Athens Olympic achievement, and contest the 5000m as well.
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