Athletics: Sotherton the hero to avoid British zero

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The Independent Online

It was a battle of Britons, fought out on a Japanese track. As the gripping drama of the World Championship heptathlon reached its denouement here yesterday, Jessica Ennis was out in front in the last of the seven events, chased down the home straight by Kelly Sotherton. At stake was the bronze medal, and Sotherton claimed it, despite crossing the line in Ennis' wake.

With seven days still remaining, the doomsday scenario of a first global championship without a medal for Britain had been averted. It was just a pity there were not two. Of the contenders in the two-day competition without the blemish of a doping conviction on their track and field CVs, Sotherton was second best and Ennis third. As the peerless Carolina Kluft took the gold medal and the European record, winning by a distance with 7,032 points, Lyudmila Blonska claimed silver with 6,832 points.

Back in 2003 the Ukrainian tested positive for stanozolol, the anabaolic steroid that powered Ben Johnson to his 100m world record at the Olympic Games in 1988. She was given a two-year suspension.

"For sure, I had a problem with a doping test," Blonska said, when asked whether, with the International Association of Athletics Federations considering the imposition of four-year bans, she ought to have been competing in Japan.

"I was unhappy. That is why I had maternity leave and had a baby." In fact, having begun her suspension in June of 2003, even under the proposed new rules, Blonska would have been cleared to return from her – ahem – "maternity leave" in time for these World Championships.

Still, at the end of it all yesterday, as Kluft led her fellow competitors on a lap of honour, jumping over one of the barriers set out on the track for the men's 400m hurdles, there was reason to celebrate for both Britons. For Sotherton, there was another global medal to go alongside the Olympic bronze she won in Athens in 2004 and confirmation, at the age of 30, that her best days are not yet behind her. "I've proved to myself that I can win medals at this level," she said.

For Ennis, at 21, there was the consolation of a lifetime best score – 6,469 points, just 37 short of Sotherton's tally – plus the satisfaction of having beaten her team-mate in five of the seven events. "This is my first World Championship and to come fourth is fantastic," she said. " It's been an amazing experience."

It was special even for Kluft. In taking her unbeaten heptathlon streak to six years and 19 competitions, the 24-year-old Swede eclipsed both her personal best score (7,001) and Larisa Nikitina's 18-year-old European record (7,007) with a points tally of 7,032 that puts her behind only Jackie Joyner-Kersee and her 1988 world record (7,291) in the all-time ranking list.

Lying third overnight, with the Russian prodigy Tatyana Chernova out of contention and withdrawing herself from the field because of a knee injury, Sotherton maintained her momentum in the opening event yesterday, equalling her personal best with 6.68m in the long jump.

That gave her enough of a cushion to ride the inevitable concession of points in the javelin (though 31.72m was an improvement on recent performances that might have been more suited to the oche at The Lakeside in Frimley Green) and line up for the 800m with the bronze within reach. Almost.

At the Athens Olympics three years ago she allowed the silver to slip through her fingers by failing to put four seconds between herself and Austra Skujyte. Yesterday, having dropped into fourth position after the penultimate event, the native Isle of Wighter needed to beat the Lithuanian by three seconds to get the bronze.

"I wasn't going to let it happen again," she said. And indeed she did not, finishing 12 seconds clear of the labouring Skujyte in 2min 11.58sec. Ennis, having long jumped 6.33m and thrown a personal best in the javelin, 37.65m, finished with a flourish, winning the 800m in 2min 11.39sec.

"Jess pushed me all the way," Sotherton said. "She's not far off taking Kluft's mantle in the next few years. She's the future, so everyone had better watch out."

Ennis said: "It's amazing. I'm really pleased. I knew I had to run hard in the 800 and it got me a personal best which is great. It's been an amazing season."

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