The eagerly anticipated women’s 400m final did not disappoint tonight’s spectators. With the two American runners a class above the rest of the field the question was who of Monique Henderson – the eldest – or Sanya Richards – two years younger – would take gold?
It certainly wasn’t an easy question to answer, the two Americans running in lane 4 and 6 being level till they entered the home straight. Then it was Richards who had the smallest of advances. But Henderson whose stride seemed smoother pushed harder and crossed the line first in 51.10.
Richards, who had run in the 200m heats just hours before the 400m final, eventually clocked 51.49 to take silver.
“Before the race I was very confident; Sanya had broke my American record earlier this year and that motivated me. Our personal bests are very close, we both are very good runners and I knew the competition would be great,” said Henderson .
Henderson admitted that being part of the US Olympic team in Sydney – she was a member of the 4x400m relay squad but did not run – was a great experience to her. And she clearly used that experienced today when leading a perfect tactical race.
“When I reached the 200m mark, I was waiting for her to close the gap on me. I kept focus and I only felt somebody coming when entering the final straight. To be honest with you I didn’t know who it was, I assumed it was Sanya but I was so focused in my race that I couldn’t tell for sure who it actually was.”
A hard worker in her training, which comprises a lot of 300s and 350s, Monique is a girl who knows the meaning of the word sacrifice.
“When you compete at this level, you have to make a lot of compromises and sacrifices. I know my race was pretty tonight but I gave it all I had, really everything I had left in my legs.”
With her whole family in the first row of the stands watching, Monique felt she could not fail this time.
“Yes, the fact that my parents and my sister are here helped me. They flew all the way to watch me race and I didn’t want to disappoint them. The best athletes in the world take part in this competition and I wanted to take the challenge. Especially after the terrible NCAA championships I had – she finished 7th – I was looking for redemption.”
Henderson was physically stronger tonight but her mental preparation and experience have also made the difference.
“Mentally, I felt very strong today. I’ve had excellent workouts recently and my warmup was reassuring. I warmed up by myself and tried to stay focused all the way through.”
Henderson, who tecounted that the only words she exchanged with Richards before the race were ‘let’s make it a one and two’, will also take part in the 4x400m relay where the potential of the American quartets has led to speculation about a possible world record.
“We need to rest now. I think Sanya was a bit cramped up tonight. She ran a very fast 200m in her heats and yes, this might have affected her tonight.”
Henderson will now have plenty of time to celebrate and study the video of her World Championships’ winning race that her family preciously recorded.
“I am very proud of my daughter, she ran the perfect race,” said her father.