OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: Akabusi bows to Young world

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The Independent Online
IN THE aftermath of one of the finest 400 metres hurdle races ever run, Kriss Akabusi lingered on the Montjuic stadium track with hands on hips to watch a re-run on the giant television screen. As Kevin Young, of the United States, strode through to the gold medal in a new world record time of 46.79sec, Akabusi simply smiled and shook his head disbelievingly.

His part in the final had been honourable indeed - a British record time of 47.82 which brought him a bronze medal behind Winthrop Graham of Jamaica - and there was pride in his face as he turned towards the tunnel. The Barcelona Games, he subsequently revealed, were his last major championships. It was a fine way to go.

'I was pleased to get the bronze,' he said. 'Last night I had hopes of getting a gold medal. I thought with no Ed Moses around that we were all pretty equal.

'I was running fast but Kevin came flying - and I mean flying - past me. I thought: 'This guy means business.' I knew I was in shape - I thought 47.6 would be good enough to win. But I was proud to stand on the podium after a race like that.

'It's a great way to end a career. This is the Olympic Games. I can't finish anywhere better. I've finished at the top. At the last three major championships I have stood on three medal podiums.

'Next year I will be running around meets in Britain and Europe to say goodbye to all the people who have helped me achieve so much, but there will be no more major championships.'

Akabusi started well enough in his last hurrah - having distractedly put his running vest on the wrong way round - but Young, in the inside lane, soon made him appear to be moving backwards.

The huge-striding 6ft 4in American, the winner of the US trials, was clear of the field as he came into the finishing straight, and managed to expunge the record of 47.02 which Moses set in 1983 despite smacking over the last hurdle with his lead leg, and then giving a wave of triumph as he slowed before the line. 46.78 seconds. It is a respectable 400 metres flat time.

Young's performance was better than even he had dared to hope for. On the wall of his room in the Olympic village, which he shares with the 400m champion Quincy Watts, he had inscribed the figure '46.89'.

According to his and Watts's coach, John Smith, the former 440 yards world record holder and an Olympian in 1972, he 'looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it.' And, finally, surpassed it.

Young is a phenomenon following in the stride of that other phenomenon, Moses. In his first attempt at the event, he ran 51 seconds flat. His long legs allow him to take only 13 strides between hurdles, although that pattern is flexible according to circumstances. 'I told him, whatever comes up, take it,' Smith said. 'The secret of the event is to decrease your air time. When you are in the air you can't do anything. Kevin has manual dexterity in his feet.

'Edwin took the event to another level. It took someone of the same size to come along and do what Edwin did.' A jubilant Young was not about to forget his heritage, however. 'Mr Moses,' he said, 'you will always be one of my heroes.'

Young will be pretty big himself in the States from now on; but no athlete is likely to be greeted upon their return from the Games with the fervour of Paraskevi Patoulidou, who won the 100m hurdles in 12.64sec after a calamitous fall over the final hurdle by the leader, Gail Devers. Patoulidou, who has had no international success before, thus became the first Greek woman to win a medal, never mind a gold, in an Olympic Games track event.

Devers, winner of the 100 metres earlier in the week, was clear of the field before catching the last hurdle and staggering towards the line before rolling over it. In those breath-catching moments, the rest of the field caught and passed her, with Patoulidou leading the wave. Devers thus had an opportunity to demonstrate the truth of her contention that the life-threatening thyroid complaint she suffered two years ago had given her a truer perspective on life. She did so graciously, clapping the winner, who hared off in her jubilation like a runaway colt, much in the berserk fashion that Akabusi had behaved in Split when he realised he had broken the 48-second barrier in winning the European title.

'I won] I won] I can't believe it,' Patoulidou exclaimed. For Mike Powell, it was a case of 'I lost, I lost, I can't believe it' as his final jump - taken after a lengthy period of prayer - fell just three centimetres short of the winning distance of 8.67m by his rival Carl Lewis, who thus won his third consecutive Olympic title in the event.

In the women's 200 metres final, Gwen Torrence, who had been so disappointed at finishing fourth in the 100m, made up for it with victory in 21.81sec, ahead of the two Jamaican runners, Juliet Cuthbert and Merlene Ottey, who has now sought an individual gold medal in vain at three Olympics. 'At least I got a medal, although not the right colour, but I'll take it,' she said. 'I gave it all I had.'

Matthew Yates, not fully recovered after a viral infection, could say the same after failing to get through his 1,500m semi-final, having led from the start until the last back-straight, when he went from first to last in 150 metres. Kevin McKay also failed to qualify.

'I had a go,' Yates said. 'It's easy to do what the rest of the field did, and it's hard to do what I did. Maybe I shouldn't have come to these Games, but it seemed worth the risk,' he said, before adding ruefully: 'I might get a job as a pacemaker.'

The dollars 25m ( pounds 14.7m) publicity campaign mounted in the United States to stir interest in the decathlon rivalry of Dan O'Brien, who subsequently failed to reach Barcelona, and Dave Johnson appeared even more misguided after yesterday's result here. Johnson was third behind the winner, Robert Zmelik of Czechoslovakia, who scored 8,611 points, and the home competitor, Antonio Penalver.

Gunnell's challenge. . .28

The US mean machine. . .28

The rise of Rosset. . . .29

Results, timetable. . . .29

(Photograph omitted)