Britain's hopes of making an impact in the 400 metres here looked lame at best after an opening round of heats which saw Jamie Baulch, the former world indoor champion, eliminated and the two other representatives, Mark Richardson and Iwan Thomas, moving through to today's semi-finals under the status of walking wounded.
The worst news was the reaction of Richardson, who is competing here after having his doping ban lifted last month. Although he did everything right in his heat, finishing second in 45.66sec in the same time as the winner, Alleyne Francique of Grenada, he complained immediately afterwards of a recurring pain in his left Achilles tendon – a problem which caused him to miss six weeks of track work earlier this season after having to cut short warm weather training in California.
Thomas, who qualified for the championships on the equivalent of a wild card after gaining a suitably fast mark the day after the official deadline, was in an even sorrier state. Although the Commonwealth and European champion scraped through to the third qualifying place in his heat in a time of 45.92sec, he revealed afterwards that his preparations this week had been ruined by a bizarre accident.
"I tripped over my spikes while doing track work on Monday, and I haven't even been able to jog since then," he said. "I hurt my Achilles, and since then I have picked up a groin strain which has started to affect my left hamstring.
"I took a cortisone injection before the race, and I am getting the right treatment for the problem. But it was a silly thing that happened, and I could have done with a couple of days more rest."
After the roller coaster of emotions Thomas has gone through this season, having failed to qualify in time despite earning second place in the trials, and then getting a second chance after organising an impromptu race at Watford, the latest twist is almost too much to bear.
For Baulch, who went out of last year's Olympics at the same point and in the same sorry manner, the future looks even bleaker, although he tried to look on the bright side by pointing out that he had at least competed here, and run his best time of the season, 46.15sec. But for a runner who has won global titles, it is cold comfort indeed.
All three British 100m men – Dwain Chambers, Mark Lewis-Francis and Christian Malcolm – progressed through the opening rounds, but for Chambers, who is seeking to follow up the bronze he won in these championships two years ago, there was an unwanted distraction before he raced.
He had to borrow a pair of Thomas's spikes to run his time of 10.27sec after officials had ruled in the warm-up area that his spikes – supplied by adidas – did not conform to the rules. They were too wide. Chambers was not alone in his difficulty. Three other adidas athletes – Donovan Bailey, Ato Boldon and Matt Shervington – suffered a similar disruption.
The very first event of the championships provided of the quintessential sight in athletics – two runners, with the line in sight after a long journey, committing every straining sinew into reaching that haven first. And this was the sight which was greeted by the 45,000 souls present in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on Friday night as marathon came to its climax midway through an extended opening ceremony.
The two men, who had been tracked throughout on the enormous display screens at one end of the arena, entered the stadium to a deep roar of acclaim and a mighty shimmying of coloured ribbons on sticks. "The two leaders are approaching the stadium," the announcer exhorted, "and they are going to see the flashing of your shiny pompoms!"
At the end of 26 miles and 385 yards of effort Ethiopia's Gezahegne Abera had just a second to spare over Kenya's Simon Biwott as he added a second title to the Olympic gold he won in Sydney. Biwott had to settle for silver and an enduring connection with one of the most exhilarating conclusions ever produced in a championship marathon.
It was no surprise that these two men should have drawn clear in a tactical race, which the dual Flora London Marathon winner Abdelkader El Mouaziz of Morocco tried and failed to win with a midway breakaway. After all, Biwott had astonished spectators and organisers alike at the 2000 Berlin Marathon, – where he was engaged to pace the field up to the halfway point – by deciding that he felt good enough to continue and going on to win in 2hr 7min 42sec. Abera had also demonstrated his durability by winning his Olympic title, despite falling over at the 17-kilometre mark.
The little Ethiopian arrived on the track half a stride behind his loping opponent on Friday, but moved past him on the outside on the final bend, his face contorting into what might either have been a grimace or a grin, before finishing in 2hr 12min 42sec.
"When I reached the stadium, I was definite I would win the race because of my sprinting ability," he said afterwards. A grin, then.
Biwott, who made one final but fruitless effort with 50 metres to go, was gracious in defeat. "I tried to pull away from the Ethiopian, but he was sticking to my steps," he said. "I knew anything could happen. This time, he was very strong. I respect him."
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