Favourite Lavillenie grabs pole vault gold on night of surprises in Olympic Stadium
Saturday, 11 August 2012
August 10 - On a night of shock results, Renaud Lavillenie lived gloriously up to his billing as favourite in the pole vault as an Olympic record of 5.97 metres enabled him to become the third Frenchman to secure this title.
But elsewhere there was a distinct sense of surprise.
Jamaica's women, including individual Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, lost their 4x100 metressprint final despite running a national record as Carmelita Jeter brought the United States quartet home in only the second athletics world record of these Games, 40.82sec.
The US men lost their first Olympic 4x400m final since 1952 – beaten by a Bahamas quartet inspired by Chris Brown to their first ever men's Olympic track and field gold medal.
Tirunesh Dibaba was denied the victory that would have enabled her to complete a double Olympic double in the 5,000m and 10,000m as she took bronze in the shorter distance behind fellow Ethiopian Meseret Defar, the Athens 2004 champion, and silver medallist Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya.
And while Turkey's gold medallist in a slow and tactical 1500m final, Asli Cakir, was not unheralded given her world indoor bronze medal earlier this year, it was quite something to see silver go to her team-mate Gamze Bulut ahead of Bahrain's two-times world champion, Maryam Jamal.
Lavillenie had to draw upon all his reserves to hold off the German challenge of Björn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe, who both cleared 5.91m to earn silver and bronze respectively, and in so doing he brought to mind the epic contest these three had undergone at the recent European Championships in Helsinki, where the order and indeed the winning vault were identical.
"It was the best fight I have ever done, so to win was just a dream and I am so happy," said Lavillenie after emulating the Olympic victories of the late Pierre Quinon in 1984 and Jean Galfione in 1996.
"It was very important to me to show to the world that the French has a great tradition in pole vaulting – although I can't explain why there are so many French who are good in the event."
A botched baton exchange in the final had frustrated any hopes the Jamaican women had of winning the sprint relay at the 2008 Beijing Games despite having a team full consisting of the 100m gold and joint silver medallists and the 200m champion – and this after the US had dropped the baton in the heats.
Four years on, however, the Jamaican chances seemed strong – until the US quartet of Tianna Madison, 200m champion Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and 100m silver medallist Jeter put together a blitz of a performance which took a huge chunk out of the record of 41.37 which had stood to East Germany since 1985.
"Crazy!" was the reaction of Felix to the time, which probably expressed it as well as anything.
The US men in the 400m could point to the fact that they had a relatively inexperienced team, although in anchor runner Angelo Taylor, who was overtaken on the final leg by Ramon Miller, they had a double Olympic champion at 400m hurdles.
The Bahamas quartet – Brown, Demetrius Pinder, Michael Mathieu and Miller – clocked a national record of 2min 56.72sec, with the US recording 2:57.05 and Trinidad & Tobago holding off the British quartet for bronze in a national record time of 2:59.40.
There was no historic Olympic medal in the end for Oscar Pistorius, who was handed the baton in last position and could not alter the order as he brought it home in 3:03.46 to give South Africa eighth place; he will now start his preparations for the 100m and 4x100m at the Paralympics.
The women's 5,000m was, like the 1500m, a relatively cagey affair, but when Dibaba took the lead at the bell it seemed as if a familiar story was about to be retold.
As the defending champion came into the straight, however, she was passed in lane two by her compatriot and predecessor as Olympic gold medallist, who won in 15min 04.25sec.
Cheruiyot, Kenya's double world champion of last year, also moved past her on the outside to claim silver in 15:04.73 with Dibaba clocking 15:05.15 for bronze.
After her 1500 victory in 4:10.23, Cakir, a former 3,000m steeplechaser who served a two-year doping ban in 2004, commented: "We came here to take the gold and silver medals in this competition.
"We wanted two medals and we got them – this is the Turkish power."
Bulut, who took silver in 4:10.40 ahead of Jamal's 4:10.74, commented: "I was not the favourite before this competition but I did run a 4:06 in qualification and a 4:01 in the semi-final.
"We take home two medals and I would like to say, again, this is the Turkish power."
Britain's former world medallist Lisa Dobriskey, who defied doctor's orders to give up running when she was diagnosed with a blood clot on the lung six months ago, was not happy after finishing 10th in 4:13.02.
She said she had "not been running on a level playing field".
Morgan Uceny of the US, who tripped and fell in last year's World Championships, was left beating the track in frustration after taking another tumble early on the last lap, remaining in a foetal crouch of despair as the rest of the field rounded the track and finished.
After winning three golds within an hour on the first day of the athletics, the home nation were always likely to struggle to maintain their level of performance.
But after another possible medal went west today as the sprint relay team were disqualified from their heat after a faulty changeover between Danny Talbot and 18-year-old individual finalist Adam Gemili, who ran out of his designated area, the prospects for the UKA's head coach, Charles van Commenee, reaching his stated target of eight athletics medals has effectively vanished.
With two more medal shots tomorrow – the best of which is Mo Farah, the 10,000m champion, in the 5,000m final, Britain's possible total can only be seven.
How three golds plays in terms of the overall impact of their performance remains to be seen.
What is not debateable is the lamentable state of Britain's recent sprint relay performances.
At this year's European Championships the men did not finish and the women were disqualified, thus foregoing their chance of an Olympic appearance.
At the recent World Junior Championships, the men were disqualified and the women did not finish.
Something seems awry.
The women's hammer gold went to Russia's Tatyana Lysenko in an Olympic record of 78.18m, with silver being earned by a 77.60 effort from Poland's Anita Wlodarczyk.
But there was controversy over the bronze, where China's Wenxiu Zhang thought she had the medal only to learn that it had gone to Germany's Betty Heidler, whose fifth round effort was remeasured and given as 77.12m.
A Chinese appeal was turned down after a three-hour judgement.