Silver anti-climax hurts for Idowu
Thursday 21 August 2008
There were joyful, flag-trailing laps of honour after the highest quality triple jump the world has ever seen.
But for the silver medallist, Britain's Phillips Idowu, celebration was inappropriate. Thrown a Union Jack after finishing a competition in which he had jumped almost to his best only to see the Portuguese world champion recover the lead twice, Idowu merely trailed it around a bit in the air where he stood, looking infinitely sad. Wearing 1809, the same vest number in which Kelly Holmes won double gold at the Athens Games, had not proved a lucky omen. He finished just five centimetres away from what he wanted.
"It's not what I wanted, but I'll take it," Phillips said. "It was a tough competition, really close. But it hurts - and I'm upset. I came here to achieve a lot more.
"I don't believe I'm standing here having won an Olympic medal and I'm really upset. It shows I've come a long way in the last year. But I don't suppose I should complain because a lot of athletes in the world would dream of being in this position."
In truth, it was an enormous anti-climax for an athlete who arrived in Beijing as Britain's only obvious gold medal favourite in track and field after an unbeaten succession of 10 competitions which included the World Indoor Championships in Valencia.
On that occasion, Idowu produced a leap of 17.75m, his furthest ever, to reduce a field which included Evora to immediate also-rans. His opening effort of 17.51m here briefly suggested he might do something similar here as it gave him a clear first round lead.
But Evora, a less powerful but more fluid jumper than Idowu, showed in the next round that the Briton would not have such an easy night of it, taking the lead with 17.56 on a runway still gleaming from heavy earlier rain.
This was where Idowu might have faltered, given his domination this season. But after consulting calmly with his coach, Aston Moore, who formerly guided Ashia Hansen to a world indoor title and world record, the 29-year-old from Hackney showed his competitive mettle with a third round jump of 17.62m, his best of the year and just six centimetres off the best he has ever managed outdoors.
It seemed that Idowu, after all, was going to go home to his beloved dog Angel with a gold medal - although Angel's wish list probably extends no further than having her master back to take her on a walk, throw her sticks and feed her.
But when Evora struck again with a fourth round effort of 17.67, the Briton was unable to respond with anything better and the gold - Portugal's first in a field event - belonged to the athlete who was resting his head on his coach's shoulder as tears flowed.
There were no tears from Idowu, although his normally cheerful manner had been replaced by a wide-eyed, almost dazed demeanour which contrasted oddly with the facial piercings, dyed red hair and natty ruby ear-studs.
"I always thought I had a chance of regaining the lead again, but it would have taken an outdoor personal best from me to win," said Idowu. His hair colour - officially 'Fire Red' - had seen him through all 10 previous victorious competitions, but he insisted he would not be changing it.
Idowu, who was fifth when Jonathan Edwards won the title at the 2000 Sydney Games, but failed to register a mark in the Athens 2004 final, had acquitted himself with honour without managing to find that access to previously unknown capacity which so often marks out Olympic champions.
He also insisted that he would be at the London 2012 Olympics, by which time he will be 33. "I'll go on," he said.
Sands claimed the bronze medal with a leap of 17.59m in a competition where four men bettered 17.50 - an unprecedented depth of performance.
Britain's other qualifier, the 1998 Commonwealth champion Larry Achike, finished seventh with a best of 17.17.
Idowu's frustration was matched by that of Goldie Sayers, who missed out on a medal in a javelin event that finished up taking place in a downpour despite throwing a new British record of 65.75metres in the first round.
As the 26-year-old from Newmarket clenched her fist in the air she looked ready to become the first Briton to reach the Olympic podium in the women's event since Fatima Whitbread's silver 20 years ago.
But Christina Obergfoll produced the throw that would ultimately earn bronze in the same round, beating the Briton's distance by just 38 centimetres.
Sayers, who suffered a bout of food poisoning at the team's training camp in Macau before arriving in Beijing, said: "To be beaten by two people who have thrown 70m, I can't do any more. But fourth is a difficult place to finish.
"You could see it was going to be a big championship and I think it was one of the greatest finals ever and I feel very proud to have been part of it."
Gold was claimed in dramatic fashion by Barbora Spotakova, who overhauled the 70.78 registered by Russia's Maria Abakumova with an personal best of 71.42m with her last throw that provoked a look of incredulity on her own face and crazy celebration from supporters including the three-times male champion Jan Zelezny.
"It's a very special day for the Czech Republic," said Spotakova. "It's the 40th anniversary of the Russian invasion in 1968." She is likely to be a very popular girl back home...
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