Simon stamina finally earns marathon glory

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The Independent Online

Romania's Lidia Simon, bronze medallist at the last two World Championships and silver medallist at the Sydney Olympics, yesterday secured her first global marathon title.

After overhauling her compatriot, Constantina Dita, who held a two-minute lead at the halfway mark, Simon finally broke away on the last descent to the Commonwealth Stadium, finishing five seconds clear of the silver medallist, Reiko Tosa, of Japan in 2hr 26.01sec. Russia's Svetlana Zahharova, who finished runner-up to Derartu Tulu in this year's London marathon, took the bronze medal in 2:26.18.

It was a long-awaited reward for the 27-year-old Romanian record holder, who earned her bronze at the last World Championships in Seville despite suffering stomach pains that subsequently required her to have her appendix removed. She lost the Olympic gold by a mere eight seconds and said yesterday: "The medal means everything to me. I was thinking all the time of Sydney."

Marion Jones collected her second gold of the Championships as she anchored the US sprint relay team to victory in 41.71sec, with Germany taking silver in 42.32 and the bronze going to France, who recorded 42.39. Britain's quartet of Marcia Richardson, Sarah Wilhelmy, Vernicha James, the European junior 200m champion, and Abi Oyepitan took a creditable sixth in an event where they have never traditionally prospered.

"With Marion Jones in the line-up, we had no chance," said Germany's Birgit Rockmeier. "When she is running, the USA is in front." By the time Jones, who lost her individual 100m title here to the Ukraine's Zhanna Pintusevich-Block, received the baton from Inger Miller, the main bulk of the work had been done. "My job was easy," Jones said. "I just had to bring it on in." The United States men's sprint relay team saw their chance of emulating the women disappear and then re-appear after a disqualification after their opening heat victory was annulled on appeal.

The protest, which initially put the Americans out of the running, was lodged by Britain, two races before its own sprint relay team exited the opening heats following the failure of Christian Malcolm and John Barbour to complete the final changeover.

The British had spotted that Jon Drummond, who staggered midway through his opening leg because of a muscle spasm that left him prone on the track once the baton was handed over, had stepped onto the line of the next lane.

"That's what you call adding insult to injury," Drummond had responded before learning that the Americans had been re-instated "in the interests of fair play", with the three-strong IAAF judging panel ruling that he had only stepped on the line because of an injury and had not impeded any other runner.

Britain's team leaders were left wondering what had gone wrong after the men's sprint relay team had put themselves out of contention in the opening round for the second year in succession.

At the Sydney Olympics, an experienced quartet had contrived not only to finish last in the opening heat, but to be disqualified for two illegal changeovers. Here just one obvious error turned what looked like an easy qualification into an ignominious failure.

Malcolm, who was bitterly disappointed at only finishing fifth in the 200m final, gave full vent to his frustration as he hurled the baton to the floor and then flung himself down after it.

Barbour, who had been given a run in order to allow Mark Lewis-Francis time to get over a tight hamstring, looked as if he wished Malcolm's gesture could had created a convenient hiding place in the track.

Although they were the relay team most expected to produce a medal, the men's sprinters proved the only British failures on the day as both the 4x400m quartets won places in today's finals. The women's team of Lee McConnell, Lesley Owusu, Catherine Murphy and Donna Fraser finished second behind Germany in their opening heat, while an inspired last leg from Mark Richardson lifted his team from fourth to second in the space of 80 metres in a heat won by the United States.

Savante Stringfellow had promised to slip into a phone booth before the long jump final and turn himself into the Superman, whose tattoos he carries on his leg and arm. The 22-year-old American, nicknamed Superman during his college days, has had success in the past by, in his own words, strutting around and staring at his fellow competitors. "It's something I borrowed from Mike Tyson," he said.

But the Superman's challenge met a medium-sized piece of Kryptonite in the 5ft 7in form of Cuba's Ivan Pedrosa, who despite poor form rose to the challenge of defending his title with an effort of 8.40m. Stringfellow settled for silver with 8.24m.

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