New sprint star emerges

Klüft is upstaged in Chemnitz - new sprint star emerges
Saturday 28 February 2004

Chemnitz, Germany - Carolina Klüft was to have been the big crowd attraction Friday night at the 9th Erdgas Meeting in Chemnitz, and although the World Heptathlon champion definitely held the spectators’ attention during the women’s Long Jump, tonight’s lingering memories came from a 19-year-old Nigerian sprinter.

Budapest contender

Until two weeks ago, Olusoji Fasuba had never competed indoors and his first-ever race under a roof - a 6.57 clocking in the Karlsruhe heats - did not command any extra-special attention.

Tonight, observers could not avoid being impressed as the young Lagos student zoomed to a 6.50 in the heats and finished the evening with a 6.53 in the finals to suddenly move into the medal picture for Budapest next week. Only Britain’s Jason Gardener has run faster this season.

Behind Fasuba in the final came his former training partner, Ghana’s Eric Nkansah, with 6.57, followed by Bernard Williams of the US, who twice clocked 6.61 while skipping his own national championships in Boston this weekend.

Prior to this winter, Fasuba’s only notable resumé line was his 10.15 win last October in the Afro-Asian Games in India but he had already attracted the eye of manager-coach Walter Abmayer, who brought the young sprinter to Germany last year as part of his African sprint group based in Heidelberg.

Tonight, Abmayer wasn’t surprised with his protegé’s giant step forward. “Olusoji just finished two excellent days of training,” Abmayer explained, “and I could see something different in his level of concentration, in his quickness. In fact, the time I had predicted for him tonight was 6.49, so my feelings were quite accurate.”

Back from injury

For Fasuba, the breakthrough represented the culmination of three years of slow recovery from a torn quadricep muscle. And upon leaving the track tonight after the final to meet with his coach, the articulate Nigerian expressed high praise for his newly-discovered form of athletics.

“I love [indoors],” he enthused in crisp, almost academic English. “I’ve always been good at 60-metre drills outdoors, so I expected I would have success on an indoor track.”

The weekend is only starting for Fasuba. After a barnstorming air journey via Dresden, Frankfurt, and Brussels, he will arrive on Saturday in Liévin for another go at the 60 metres on that famed sprinting apron. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll run 6.4,” he giggled, all the while being needled by his training friends from Heidelberg.

A second placed 6.62m for Kluft

It was a bit of good old-fashioned Schadenfreude for Carolina Klüft tonight. Her appearance at Chemnitz was itself somewhat of a last-minute surprise, some eleventh-hour shuffling being necessitated by miscommunication with another meeting. Although the Swedish media darling achieved her stated goal of honing her technique for the Budapest long jump competition, she was not able to come away with a victory, falling to Germany’s Bianca Kappler by a mere centimetre, 6.63 to 6.62.

Klüft started slowly, with 6.19-6.34-6.33 on her first three attempts and at one moment was sitting only fourth in the competition, as Kappler immediately took charge with 6.36-6.44-6.42.

Klüft’s trainer, Agne Bergvall, didn’t seem overly concerned at this point. “We would like to get something around 6.55 tonight,” he said at the halfway point.

Klüft must have been eavesdropping, for after a fourth-round 6.42, she muscled her way to a leading 6.53, and for the first time in the evening, the blonde showed her pleasure with a smile as she dusted off the sand.

Kappler was not so amused, and let sail with a PB 6.63 on the very next jump.

“Now, you’re going to see a long one,” muttered Bergvall. And with a last-gasp, final long leap, Klüft brought a cheer from the crowd - who obviously forgot that she was jumping against a German - but she came up a centimetre short of a win at 6.62.

There was no disappointment in the Klüft camp tonight, though. “My technique is working, and the ‘feeling’ is back,” she said, referring to her loss of competitive rhythm over the long fall and early-winter layoff.

“In the first four jumps, my run and my step were not aggressive, but things started to work after that,” she added.

Klüft hasn’t set any specific goals for her long jump participation in Budapest. “I just want to have fun but still do my best.”

World class 800m

With the late addition of Kenyans Joseph Mutua and Wilfred Bungei to already reasonably good men’s 800 Metres, the event suddenly assumed a world-class aura.

Marcel Lopuchovsky took the field through the opening 400 in 51.89, with Bungei clinging to the Slovak, followed by Michael Rotich and season-leader Mutua. Off the bell, Bungei increased his lead even more, powering to a 1:45.61 win, as Mutua (1:46.85) zipped past Rotich (1:47.13) in the final metres.

The intensity of Bungei’s finish gave every indication that there was something special for him in tonight’s race, and indeed there was. It marked the end of his season, as he will bypass Budapest next week to begin the long traditional preparations for his wedding in Kenya later this year. (Wearing the Kenyan colours in the Budapest 800, will be Mutua and William Yiampoy.)

Lotte Visschers of the Netherlands won the slow-paced women’s race in 2:02.99, more than a second ahead of compatriot Najila Jaber (2:04.79).

Brits and Pyrek take vault wins

Paris pole vault silver medallist Okkert Brits made his first indoor appearance of the season and came away with a 5.75 win over Rens Blom of Holland at the same height. The South African actually passed the 5.80 height at which Blom and two others exited, before himself bidding adieu at 5.85. Germans Tim Lobinger and Michael Stolle took the next two places at 5.70.

Monika Pyrek won the women’s Pole Vault at 4.60 before missing three times at a would-be Polish record 4.70. Countrywoman Anna Rogowska and Germany’s Carolin Hingst were second and third at 4.40.

Beckford sees off Lamela and Pedroso

Another Paris silver medallist registered a win tonight, as James Beckford delivered a late 8.09 long jump to overtake Germany’s Nils Winter, who nonetheless was pleased with his second-place 8.02, his first time over eight metres. Three-time world silver medallist Yago Lamela of Spain (7.95) and eight-time global champion Iván Pedroso of Cuba (7.94) were third and fourth.

In the women’s 60 metres, Vida Anim of Ghana dropped her PB from 7.27 to 7.18 in winning over Germany’s Gabi Rockmeier and Bettina Müller of Austria, both timed in 7.29.

The sprint straightaway also yielded a PB to Delloreen Ennis-London in the women’s 60 metres Hurdles as the Jamaican’s 7.92 defeated Germany’s top hurdler, Juliane Sprenger (7.97).

Shaun Bownes of South Africa was unchallenged in his 7.65 win in the men’s 60 metres Hurdles.

In the rarely-contested men’s 2000 metres, Jan Fitschen of Germany outraced Poland’s Leszek Zbelewski for the victory, 5:07.39 to 5:09.91.

Ruwen Faller sprinted past Bastian Swillims in the final stages of the men’s 400 metres and logged a PB 46.59 win, as Swillims clocked 46.80. Both will see duty with the German relay team in Budapest.

Holland’s Patrick van Balkom (21.41) was the fastest around the Sportforum in the men’s 200 metres, while Tatjana Tkalich of Ukraine took the women’s one-lap honours in 23.55.

Ed Gordon for the IAAF