breaks World 400m Record
Roundup of day 6 of the 7th IAAF World Championships in Athletics
Nick Davies for IAAF
In one spectacular circuit of the Stadio Olimpico, Michael Johnson confirmed his status as the greatest 400m runner in history by breaking the 11 year-old world record of Butch Reynolds with 43.18. For the first 200 metres, it seemed as if Johnson was contenting himself with a win, simply matching the speed of those running outside him, but on the final turn he accelerated hard and by the time he entered the straight, his rivals were in another race.
As he neared the finish, Johnson pumped his arms hard but stayed relaxed, his concentration breaking only when he crossed the line, glanced at the clock, and realised his achievement. Reynolds now holds the 200m and 400m world marks - the first man to achieve this since Tommie Smith over 30 years-ago.
"This has been a long time in coming," said Johnson. "But this was the perfect setting. I wanted the gold but I also knew that I would not have many more occasions to break the world record. I think the difference is that here in Seville I have really been at peace with myself. I have learned to accept the bad and the good.
"I tried to follow the instructions of my coach - to go through 100m in 10.9 and 200m in 21.0 and once I had done that, I just tried to bring it home for the last half of the race. I still think I can run 42 seconds. This is a step in that direction.
"I have already achieved such a lot that whatever happens now is gravy. This is the first time that I actually said I was going to break the world record, unlike some athletes who do it all the time. I was confident because I knew I was in shape."i
Speaking after the race, IAAF President Dr Primo Nebiolo commented:"Michael Johnson's exploit at this World Championships is something that will long remain in the memories of all those who witnessed it first hand or on their television screens around the world..
The World Record in the 400m is a fitting prize for an athlete who practises our sport with passion and professionality. This result will play a great part in the promotion of athletics to all those youngsters around the world who will try one day to emulate the performance of Michael Johnson.
"This World Championships is drawing massive television audiences around the world; further proof of the attraction of our sport for fans on all the continents."
As well as the $60,000 award for first place, Johnson will receive a $100,000 bonus offered by TDK as part of the IAAF World Record Programme.
The fight for minor medals was hard-fought, with Brazil's Sanderlei Claro Parrela winning silver in 44.29 (an Area record) and Alejandro Cardenas of Mexico bronze with a personal best 44.32. So representatives of North, Central and South America will be present on the medal podium.
Cathy Freeman, became the first woman to win two consecutive titles at 400m here in Seville. The Australian seized the initiative, going off hard from the gun and hanging on to clock 49.67 despite a strong challenge from Anja Rucker in the home straight. Her German team-mate Grit Breuer was expected to pose more of a challenge but ran poorly, finishing 7th. Rucker set a personal best of 49.74 to win silver with bronze going to Lorraine Graham of Jamaica in 49.92, also a personal best, in her appearance at the World Championships.
"I was so relieved to cross that finish line," said Freeman. "Yes I was aware that someone was closing fast on my right but I thought it would be Breuer. Now I'm going out to celebrate. It has been a long path back from injury."
The women's 10,000m was a thrilling contest, as Britain's Paula Radcliffe and Kenya's Tegla Loruope tried, in vain, to drop the Ethiopian Gete Wami.
Radcliffe led from the gun, initially shadowed by defending world champion Fernanda Ribeiro. But in difficult conditions (29 degrees and 29% humidity) the field soon began to break up. At halfway - (1km was reached in 3:11.45, 2km in 6:16.44, 3km in 9:20.09 , 4km in 12:22.73 and 5km in 15:25.24) - only the two Africans Wami and Loroupe were still with the Briton. By the 6km point, the leaders had over 100 metres lead on their nearest rivals and began lapping some world class performers with Ribeiro, Annemarie Sandell and Leah Malot eventually dropping out of the race.
Although Loroupe shared the pace making at times - leading through 6km in 18:24.28 and 9km in 27:30.40 - Wami, the world cross country champion in 1996 and 1999, refused to help out. At the bell, Radcliffe, grimacing with the effort, began a sprint for gold. Loroupe had already been dropped but Wami stayed right on Radcliffe's shoulder and, reminiscent of her countryman Gebrselassie, made a spectacular acceleration that took her into the lead with 220 metres to go. There was no catching the Ethiopian who finished strongly in 30:24.56, a championship record. Radcliffe finished in 30:27.13 (a commonwealth record) to win silver with Loroupe setting a national record of 30:32.03 to gain the bronze. It was the fastest race in depth in the history of these championships.
"I felt comfortable during the race, although the conditions weren't easy," said Wami. "I knew that I had a better finish than my rivals so I just had to stay with them."
1992 Olympic champion Maksim Tarasov closed one glorious chapter in athletics history tonight when he took the pole vault title that has belonged to Sergey Bubka since 1983. Tarasov, who had been nominated by Bubka as his worthiest successor, won gold in style by clearing 6.02 - a championship record. His greatest challenger proved to be the former Belarus star Dmitriy Markov, now competing for Australia. Both men cleared first time at 5.70, passed at 5.80, then first time again at 5.90. By this point, only Aleksandr Averbukh, Michael Stolle and Igor Potapovich also remained in the competition. But none could clear that height with Averbukh taking the bronze (a first for his adopted country Israel) for being the only one to have succeeded at 5.80.
As the bar was raised to 5.96, Markov elected to pass, while Tarasov failed twice, and looked like going out. But with his third attempt, he soared over the bar and into the gold medal position. The bar then went up to 6.02 with Markov failing once, then electing to save his two remaining vaults. All eyes were now on Tarasov and although he brushed the bar with his chest, the bar stayed on and the crowd hailed a new Czar. Markov, a former European Indoor champion for Belarus, could not match his Russian rival but had the satisfaction of winning his first medal for Australia with the Sydney Olympics just a year away.
Jean Galfione, the reigning Olympic and World Indoor Champion, had been the first major casualty. Entering the competition at 5.70, Galfione's technique deserted him and he was unable to clear the bar. He also no-heighted at the last World Championships in Athens.
For the first time at the World Championships, special events were held for blind sprinters - two 100m races for women and two 200m events for men. The Seville public showed their appreciation for these impressive athletes, who show great running technique despite being attached by the wrist to a guide. The best times came from two Spaniards, Julio Requena (24.09) and Purificacion Santamarta (12.55).