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General News Maebashi, Japan

Close finish to longest day

Steven Downes reports for the IAAF

7 March 1998, Maebashi. The longest-lasting event of the seventh IAAF World Indoor Championships nonetheless provided one of the closest and most exciting of finishes.

Poland's Sebastian Chmara emerged as winner of the two-day, seven-discipline men's heptathlon, only after winning a sprint for the line at the finish of an exhausting 1,000 metres race against his closest rival for gold, Erki Nool of Estonia. The sight of the two giants battling their way around five laps of the Maebashi Green Dome's track had the crowd on their feet; the supreme effort given by the athletes resulted in both men having to be helped away from the arena.

A different athlete had headed the points standings after each of the previous six events. Going into the final discipline, Chmara led Nool by one of the slimmest of margins, four points, 5,489 to 5,485, the equivalent of less than one second in the 1,000-metre event to come.

Nool ran the race of his life, as a the bell, the race was down to the two principles. but Chmara produced a desperate kick in the final straight. Both men shaved about two seconds off their personal bests.

"I had to battle here," Chmara said. "The 1,000-metres race was so fast."

Chmara finished with 6,386 points to Nool's 6,374. Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic took the bronze with 6,319 points while his team mate Tomas Dvorak, the decathlon world champion in Athens two years ago, was fourth with 6,309.

Earlier on second day, Nool pole vaulted his way back into medal contention, as he cleared an indoor best 5.50 metres, moving him up from seventh to second place in the standings and putting him just four points behind six-event leader Chmara to set up the thrilling finale, where just 74 points separated the top five athletes.

There might have been a sixth athlete in contention, too, had one of the earlier heptathlon leaders, Chris Huffins, of the United States, not suffered a knee injury after Sunday morning's 60m hurdles that forced his withdrawal.

After a disappointing first day, Nool's heroics in the pole vault delighted the 16 members of his fa club, all dressed in yellow t-shirts and beating the drum (literally) for their hero, after travelling halfway around the globe to cheer on Estonia's most famous athlete. The club members, whose roars echoed through the Maebashi Green Dome, made the front page of the local newspaper on Sunday.

"Nool is the second most popular person in Estonia after the president," club president Juri Tiitus said.

Gold medallist Chmara disagreed: "In Estonia, Nool is the most popular person and the president is second."