Teenager Kirani James adds the Olympic 400m crown to his world title from Daegu, while Dai Greene finishes fourth in the 400m hurdles
At 19, Kirani James in now the Olympic 400m champion as well as the world champion. He won Grenada’s first Olympic medal of any description with a commanding one-lap victory to round off the fourth day of the athletics programme.
James’ form in the build-up to the Games wasn’t wholly convincing. His fastest time of the year in the run-in to London was a modest 44.72 and he also lost to Jonathan Borlée just before the Games in Monaco.
However, the world champion saved his best form for the big occasion. James ate up the track in the third segment of the race before pulling further clear of his rivals in the home straight.
His winning time was 43.94 and he became the tenth athlete to break the 44-second barrier. This performance was something of a landmark run as he also became the first non-American athlete to break this elusive barrier.
After gold for Felix Sanchez in the 400m hurdles, 18-year-old Luguelín Santos won the silver medal for Dominican Republic in a PB of 44.46 while Lalonde Gordon from Trinidad & Tobago concluded a Caribbean-themed podium. He hadn’t broken 45-seconds before the Games but he came away with bronze in a PB of 44.52.
For the first time ever in a non-boycotted Games, no American athletes contested the final. Reigning champion LaShawn Merritt pulled up injured in the heats but he would have needed to have been at his very best to beat James today.
At the age of 34, Felix Sanchez became the oldest ever 400m hurdles winner and regained the title he last won in 2004. What’s more, he matched his winning time from the Athens Games to the hundredth of a second with a world-leading 47.63. That was his fastest for eight years and his best since he won in Athens.
It was a great race as Sanchez fought out the gold medal with previous world leader and favourite Javier Culson, and defending champion Angelo Taylor over the first 300m. There was little in it but Sanchez had the greatest strength and he eased away to win over the final hurdle to win by a clear two metres.
Sanchez was fourth in Daegu, showing he was on the way back having only run 51.10 in his heat in Beijing. Now the last four 400m hurdles winners have been Taylor, Sanchez, Taylor, Sanchez, so is it Taylor’s turn in Rio?
Getting second was Michael Tinsley. The American, who came to London with a 48.33 season’s best and five-year-old PB of 48.02, bettered that with a 47.91 clocking on his debut at a major championships. Culson faded but held on for bronze by a metre with 48.10, to win Puerto Rico’s first ever athletics medal.
World champion Dai Greene said he felt his injury and late start affected his endurance but after being well back over the first half, he finished strongly for fourth to pip Taylor on the line to get fourth in a good 48.24, which was quicker than he ran to win gold in Daegu.
Jehue Gordon was way outside his semi final form, where he run 47.96 and he ran 48.86 for sixth, Leford Green (49.12) and Kerron Clement (49.15) also seemed to struggle in their third race of the Games. Former world champion Clement was almost a second down on his semi time of 48.12.
“It came right at the right time,” said Sanchez, who had a photo of his grandmother pinned to his vest. “I felt I could win and I was waiting for them to catch me and they never did. It’s unbelievable. I dominated for so long but with injuries or being out of shape I still made finals but I never quite did it. Now I’m back.”
Awkward wind conditions played havoc with the pole vaulters and gold went at a surprisingly low 4.75m as defending champion and the world’s greatest ever pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva had to settle for a bronze, failing in her attempt to win a third successive gold medal.
The winner was Jenn Suhr, who went one better than her silver from Beijing. The American crucially cleared 4.55m and 4.70m first time and then 4.75m at the second attempt. She failed 4.80m three times but didn’t need that height for her biggest win to date.
The surprise silver medallist was Cuban Yarisley Silva who equalled her PB with 4.75m. Silva crucially needed two jumps at 4.45m, a height Suhr passed, before clearances of 4.55m, 4.65m and 4.70m and, like Suhr one failure at 4.75m.
Isinbayeva, though some way short of her peak form of a few years ago, was still in the hunt for gold. She failed her opening jump at 4.55m, but cleared her first jumps at 4.65m and 4.70m and failed to go any higher.
Germany’s big hope Silke Spiegelburg, who has been in such sparkling form this year, struggled and could only clear 4.65m for fourth.
Britain’s Holly Bleasdale also struggled and only cleared her opening height of 4.45m at the third attempt. She bowed out at 4.55m, though her final attempt was close after two very poor initial attempts.
Bleasdale, who finished sixth equal said: “It was the same for everyone but I found it hard to cope with the conditions and quite enjoyed it out there and I’m pleased to make the top eight.”
Yulia Zaripova from Russia also added the Olympic title to her world title from last year and her European crown from 2010. Employing her trademark front-running tactics, Zaripova burned off a deep field which included a trio of sub-9:10 performers.
Zaripova boasts the best technique over the barriers and the 4:01 1500m performer displayed a nifty turn of pace over the final 200m to defeat Habiba Ghribi from Tunisia and Sofia Assefa from Ethiopia.
Her winning time of 9:06.72 was the fourth fastest time ever while Ghribi improved her national record to 9:08.37.
Reigning champion and world record-holder Gulnara Galkina has been short of form this year and dropped out at halfway.
Nadezhda Ostapchuk is renowned for producing monster throws in Belarus and underperforming outside of her homeland but the world-leader delivered a shot-putting masterclass tonight in handing reigning champion Valerie Adams a shock defeat. Prior to the Olympic final, Ostapchuk had never recorded a 21m-plus put in non-domestic competition but she achieved four in succession in the final.
After a solid 20.01m opener, Ostapchuk effectively sealed the competition with a 21.31m second-round effort. Nobody else had threw further this year and it was also in excess of Adams’ PB of 21.24m.
Ostapchuk, who took the bronze medal in 2008, improved to 21.36m in the third round before two more 21m-plus puts for good measure. She became the first Belarussian winner of this title since Yanina Pravalinskay-Karolchyk in 2000.
Adams, who is normally such a dependable championship performer, lacked the explosiveness she normally possesses in the circle and the New Zealander’s best effort of 20.70m didn’t threaten Ostapchuk on today’s form.
This was Adams’ first defeat at an outdoor championships since 2005 which also came at the hands of Ostapchuk at the World Championships.
Expectations were high after Perri Shakes-Drayton decimated a world-class field at Crystal Palace last month but the European bronze medallist ran a nervous race in the 400m hurdles semi-finals. She was third in her semi-final in 55.19 which was slower than her time in the heats and more than a second outside of her lifetime best.
It looked like Shakes-Drayton would sneak into the final after two disqualifications from the third semi-final but Denisa Rosolová and Hanna Titimets were briskly reinstated to shunt the Brit out of a qualifying place.
However, the most reputable athlete to miss out was reigning champion Melaine Walker, who never got into contention in the third semi-final. She finished an inauspicious sixth in 55.74 with Eilidh Child seventh in 56.03.
Sanya Richards-Ross didn’t exhibit any signs of fatigue in the heats of the 200m as she qualified fastest with 22.48.
Former Olympic finalist Abi Oyepitan was the fastest Brit at 22.92 while UK champion Margaret Adeoye set a PB of 22.94 to also qualify by right. Anyika Onuora missed out though with 23.23.