Gerd Kanter celebrates his Olympic discus victory (© Getty Images)
Tomasz Majewski’s victory in the Shot Put on the opening night of the Athletics competitions last Friday was something of a surprise, and when his Polish compatriot Piotr Malachowski, throwing in seventh position of the twelve Discus Throw finalists, opened with 66.45m, and improved in the next round to 67.82 to establish himself in the lead, we started to wonder was another surprise waiting in the Bird's Nest's wings?
After pounding the netting with his first release, Lithuania's two-time Olympic champion Virgilijus Alekna put himself into the reckoning with 65.77 on his second try (to move into third at end of round). The other pre-final favourite Gerd Kanter of Estonia, the reigning World champion, also made his presence felt in the second round with a 66.38 effort for second.
In the third series, Germany’s World silver medallist Robert Harting put out a 67.09 effort but ultimately that was going to be the end of his challenge for a podium position in Beijing. He ended by fouling twice and recording 66.51, to finish in fourth.
The offensives of the ‘big-two’ stalled in the third. Kanter’s throw landed at 62.75. Nearer the beginning of the round the 64.42 by Alekna saw the Lithuanian verbally upbraiding himself for the wasted opportunity. Alekna self chastisement was enough to propel his fourth fling within three centimetres of the Pole’s lead (67.79) to take second position.
However, the defending champion immediately fell back again as Kanter with the very next throw pounded out 68.82 to take the lead from Malachowski.
The Pole’s immediate counter had a very flat trajectory and so we were not surprised when the discus hit the turf below 65, in fact a long way below, 63.91.
That was the medals decided, and of the top three only Alekna kept up a spark of form in the final throws with a 67.18 release which sent the heart pumping for the Lithuanian but did not stir any movement up the rankings.
Outside the medal chase, Russia’s Bogdan Pischchalnikov set a PB of 65.88 in the fourth series which by the end of the final would be good enough for sixth place, as in the last round Spain’s Frank Casanas moved from seventh to fifth with 66.49.
Prior to Kanter’s win Estonia had won just one men’s Discus Throw medal at Olympic level, the bronze taken by Aleksander Tammert four years ago. This time Tammert finished twelfth and last (61.38).
The Osaka World gold last summer allowed Kanter for the first time to step out of the shadow of Alekna's brilliance, and help to raise his championship stature closer to the level of his personal best. Kanter’s 73.38m from 2006 stands him as number three on the world all-time list.
“The Olympic title is the top of my career but it’s not such a good result,” said Kanter, “…I’ve been training pretty hard and this result doesn’t really show my potential.”
“My best chance (for a big throw) was in the fifth round, but that was during the women’s 400m final so I had to take a break. I lost concentration.”
To be fair to Kanter, whose modesty does him credit, the final fitted in very well with the usual winning level at Olympics with late 60m distances being on the money for gold in the past. Aside Lars Reidel and Alekna’s titles (1996 - 69.40; 2000 - 69.30; 2004 - 69.89), Kanter’s 68.82m victory would have taken every previous gold medal in Olympic history.
Kanter certainly knows how to celebrate. With slightly less elan than Usain Bolt, he sprinted down the home straight of the Olympic stadium with the Estonian flag raised above his head, and when he crossed the line, he thumped his chest in a victory salute mimmick of the Jamaican sprint ace.
The 29-year-old business management graduate came of age tonight, and considering Alekna is 36-years-old, and discus throwers tend to improve as they get older, Kanter has plenty of opportunities left to augment his growing reputation.
Chris Turner for the IAAF
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