Athletics: Holmes falls to earth and the tears flow

World Indoor Championships: Lebedeva the triple jump diva disheartens Aldama and Hansen

By Simon Turnbull
Sunday 07 March 2004 01:00
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The unsavoury whiff of another track and field drugs bust hung over the second day of the IAAF World Indoor Championships in the Budapest Sport-arena yesterday, but it was a good day for Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers and a British Telecom engineer - if not, for Kelly Holmes. While the Romanian Ioan Vieru was hastily withdrawn from the semi-final line-up for the men's 400m after the processing of a urine sample from a meeting in Athens two weeks ago which tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol, the silver medal won by Yamile Aldama in the women's triple jump reflected glory on her British coach and her British club. Sadly, though, for Holmes there was not even a silver lining to be salvaged from the wreckage of her broken dream in the women's 1500m final.

Holmes lined up with a golden chance of a first global title. It fell from her grasp when she crashed to the track after a clattering of legs towards the back of the nine-strong field with just over three laps of the 200m track remaining. To her credit, the one-time Army judo champion picked herself up off the floor and was back in sixth place within the completion of another circuit. Inevitably, though, the effort took its toll. Treading water on the final lap, Holmes faded to ninth and last, crossing the line in 4min 12.30sec, 5.9sec behind Kutre Dulecha, a clear winner in the green vest of Ethiopia.

In a painful echo of the outdoor World Championships in Athens in 1997, when she again started favourite but crashed out in the heats with a leg injury, the Briton spent the next 20 minutes in a tearful state in the athletes' changing area, her head bowed as first her American coach, Margo Jennings, then her Mozambiquan training partner Maria Mutola - whom she ironically though inadvertently tripped en route to a European 1000m record in Birmingham two weeks ago - attempted to console her.

When Holmes eventually emerged she was still struggling to come to terms with her disappointment. "There's really nothing to say," she remarked, with great reluctance. "I fell over. I didn't get a medal. I'm gutted." Jennings was more sanguine. "It's an occupational hazard of indoor racing," she said. "The sun will come up tomorrow and Kelly's chance will come up again. Of course she's angry with the situation. This was a perfect window of opportunity for her and she wanted to take her chance to get the gold. But, hey, it happens."

It also happens when you are not even there, as Ashia Hansen was no doubt lamenting last night. She forfeited the women's triple jump title when she decided to save herself for the Olympic outdoor season rather than accept her selection for the British team, and the Birchfield Harrier also lost her world indoor record in absentia. The Russian Tatyana Lebedeva equalled Hansen's six-year-old mark with a first-round effort of 15.16m, then shattered it with a mighty 15.25m in the second round and propelled her improbably elastic legs out to a distance of 15.36m with her sixth and final effort.

In the process, Lebedeva - twice the world champion outdoors - struck a mighty blow to the hearts of Hansen, Aldama and any other rivals with pretensions to Olympic gold in Athens this summer. "Ah, the outdoor season will be different altogether," Aldama demurred. She took the silver medal with 14.90m, but that also had to be logged as a loss for British athletics.

The Cuban-born athlete would have been in a British vest yesterday had her passport qualification date been fast-tracked by six months. Instead, she claimed the runners-up prize in the blue-and-white colours of Sudan - setting a new national record and African record. It was a major achievement for her adopted country of two months - their first of significance in track and field since Omer Khalifa, a Loughborough University training partner of Sebastian Coe, won the World Cup 1500m race in Canberra in 1985.

Aldama was already a world-class triple jumper when she moved from Havana to Limehouse in the East End of London in November 2001 - she finished second in the 1999 World Championships and fourth in the 2000 Olympics - but the 31-year-old credits the coaching expertise of Frank Attoh, a British Telecom engineer and former British international triple jumper, for her re-emergence from four years in international limbo as a major championship medal-winner.

Though Aldama became a Sudanese citizen on 26 January, she intends to continue living in Limehouse and training with Attoh at Copthall Stadium in Barnet. "I am also still a member of Shaftesbury Barnet," she said. "I will stay with them for good." It is just a pity for British athletics that the Home Office refused to advance Aldama's citizenship qualification from November this year to allow her to represent the country of her residence in Budapest and at the Olympic Games in Athens. Still, at least one jumper in a Great Britain vest was in record-breaking form yesterday, Chris Tomlinson setting a new national long jump mark of 8.17m in sixth place in his final. There was more than one world record to celebrate for the Russian team, though, Yelena Isinbayeva clearing 4.86m in the pole vault. It was the former gymnast's third world record in three weeks.

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