An arena for true champions to revel in

An arena for true champions to revel in

Yelena Isinbayeva is on shaky ground heading off to the Worlds

The 12th World Championships in athletics are touching distance away, but the excitement has not yet gripped the Anju George household in Bangalore. The awareness is very much there, but it isn’t quite the same as in previous years. Understandably so, because, for the first time in four World Championships, the ace long jumper will not be there to spearhead India’s challenge on the global stage.

 Anju forged a strong link between India and international athletics, becoming the country’s first medal winner at the World Championships with a bronze in 2003 at Paris. Over the next four years, she maintained that link with competitive performances at Helsinki and Osaka, reaching the final but failing to strike another medal.
 As the latest edition of the Worlds approaches, Anju is at home, her mind not yet fully focused on a return to competition after an ankle injury ruined her Olympic dreams in Beijing. Paris, Helsinki and Osaka trigger memories aplenty in Anju, some sweet, some bitter and a few of them downright funny. She delved into those to pick out a few for Deccan Herald, and also marked out a clutch of events to focus on at Berlin, five days from now.

Eunice Barber vs Carolina Kluft, Paris, 2003:  It was my first competition at the global level and I enjoyed every minute of it. Carolina Kluft too was making her World Championship debut and she was up against home favourite Eunice Barber in heptathlon.

The two were a study in contrast – the bubbly, charismatic Kluft and the serious Barber. The entire Stade de France was behind Barber and every event was closely fought.
Kluft was a notch better and it showed in the final scoreline as she crossed 7000 points, reaching 7001 to Barber’s 6755. But Barber’s meet wasn’t over -- she turned her attention to long jump, on the penultimate day of the championships.

 I was in lead after the first round but Tatyana Kotova and Barber then moved up and the fight for the gold was between those two as I slipped to third. France did not have a gold till then and going into her final jump, Barber was in silver medal position. As she walked to the top of the runway, we were almost knocked back by the roar of the crowd. The noise was deafening as she sprinted down, I haven’t heard anything like that before or since. Certainly, that was the force that propelled her through the air to a new distance – 6.99 metres for the gold!

Jon Drummond episode, Paris 2003: It was the most bizarre thing I ever witnessed on the international stage. The 100M quarterfinal was about to take place and Jon Drummond was disqualified for a false start. He refused to leave the track and lay down there, refusing to accept that he had made a mistake. Whatever the officials said made no impact on the American and the entire race was delayed as he was finally persuaded to leave. The crowd, already agitated, then took over, after watching the replays on the big screen and probably feeling that Drummond was right. Drummond wasn’t done yet. He headed to the warm-up track and dived into the water jump, splashing about and creating a scene. The race finally took off after a delay of almost an hour.

Kluft vs Barber, Helsinki 2005: At Helsinki, we (Anju and husband/coach Robert George) were the first to check in to the athletes’ village. Close to the meet, I was at the warm-up track when I noticed Kluft doing the hurdles. As we looked on, she cleared the last hurdle and took a tumble, hurting her ankle. It was quite clear that the injury was pretty bad, but the competitor that she is, Kluft decided to continue. Her main rival was Barber again and the Frenchwoman looked fit and ready for the gold.

It was truly inspirational to watch Kluft brave the pain and go through the grind, her ankle tightly strapped. Barber led by two points going into the second day, which was also closely fought. It all boiled down to the 800M, and Kluft pipped Barber at the post – 6887 to 6824 points.

In the long jump pit, as I battled rain and winds, I drew inspiration from Kluft to fight the odds. I might have finished fifth, but I fought really hard that day, harder than ever before.

Watch out for
Men’s 100M: This should be the contest of the championships. Bolt is the favourite but Gay too has been running well, despite not being fully fit. Bolt is an awesome talent and was phenomenal in Beijing. He was almost walking after 60 metres in the 100M final. He should win again in Berlin.
Women’s pole vault:  Yelena Isinbayeva looks a bit shaky going to Berlin. She has had a long reign, beginning with Paris in 2003, but it could come under threat this time.
She has already lost once this season (to Anna Rogowska at London) and a slip-up is quite possible.

Men’s long jump: Dwight Phillips and Irving Saladino can serve up a good contest here. Phillips wanted to leave the sport but after touching 8.74 metres this season, he is in the mood to bag another title. Saladino, the defending champion, too is in good form. It should be an interesting match-up.

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