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Australia's Golden Girls make their name in Bydgoszcz

Phil Minshull in Bydgoszcz for the IAAF

17 July 1999 - In the 1960s Ron Clarke burned up the tracks around the world setting many distance running world records. Now another Australian runner to bear the family name has emerged - Georgie Clarke.

"Ron's a distant relation - I don't know quite how - but he showed me a family tree recently and we have the same roots somewhere  along the line," Clarke commented after winning the women's 800 title in 2:05.90 at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz on Saturday.

The 15-year old - who will be one of the few champions from these inaugural championships eligible to defend her title in two years time - lead from gun-to-tape to get Australia's first gold medal. Drawn in the first lane, Clarke lead as the stagger unwound and sped through 200 in 28.63. She kept her lead as the bell rung, covering the first lap in a blistering 59.50.

Cuba's Saray Barverde came up on her shoulder with 250 metres to go but Clarke showed her inner strength and repelled the challenge. As Clarke sped away and headed for the line, behind her the other medals were decided in dramatic fashion.

Coming into the final bend in second place Barverde stumbled and fell to the ground, almost taking the Ukraine's Tetyana Petlyuk with her. Petlyuk recovered her poise after being shunted out to the third land and got back in front of Spain's Esther Desviat as they entered the home straight. Twenty metres from the line, and clear in the bronze medal position, Desviat's legs gave way beneath her and she had the tragic vision of the rest of the finishers passing her before she could get back on her feet.

Clarke was aware of what was happening behind her, checking the position of the challengers of the stadium's screen, but the bodies crashing to the floor did not distract her from her task.

"It was my plan from the outset to go through a fast first lap. In Australia during my races in January, February and March I was going through the first laps in around 59.6," she added.

Petlyuk, the silver medallist in 2:06.97, was a colourful addition to the medal podium. Before the race she had dyed her hair the blue and yellow nationals colours of the Ukraine and painted Ukrainian flags on her face - surely the first ever athletics world championship medallist to be so adorned.

Clarke confessed that she had been finding it difficult to rediscover the form she had in Australia, where she ran a world leading 2:02.49 for the under-18 age group, due to the fact that the championship are taking place in what would be her country's winter.

"It's been a little bit difficult. After the season finished in March I had a long break - five weeks - I have been struggling a little bit."

Helping her readjust has been her relative Ron. She recently stayed for two weeks on his holiday resort of Couran Cove. 

Minutes after Clarke struck gold, Australia got its second of the championships when Jana Pittman won the 400 hurdles in 57.87. With the problems Australians face racing in Europe at this time of year, it was a remarkable effort, only ever so slightly down her personal best of 57.70.

The Australians endured a 30-hour journey to get to Bydgoszcz and China's Mei Hong (Hong is the family name entries are usually done in reverse to European convention) had an almost equally harrowing journey.

She hails form Jiang Su province, almost 1,500 kilometres from Beijing and had to get to the Chinese capital before she could embark for Poland.

"I've had four plane journeys, I'm very tired," the weary but elated Hong said after winning the women's shot put. She launched the 4kg implement out to 15.57, the same distance as silver medallist Belarus's Natalya Kharaneko, but won by virtual of having a better second throw.

"I'm a little disappointed with the distance. I threw 16.36 in the Chinese Youth Championships and 16.76 in another small meeting but it's night in Beijing now and my body is telling me I should be asleep," she joked.

Hong said that as a child she was inspired by seeing and hearing about the exploits of Meisu Li, the shot putter who was China's first female Olympic medallist in 1988, in newspapers and on television.

Now hopefully Li will have the chance to hear about Hong and how she won China's first world ever youth title.