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Minutes before the biggest race of his life on Sunday Justin Gatlin paced the track. It was as if he wanted to memorise it, take everything in, just in case he never got back to another Olympic 100m final.
The 22-year-old from Brooklyn obviously saw something that his seven rivals had missed as he powered home in 9.85 seconds to take a gold that many thought was destined for his training partner Shawn Crawford, Jamaica's Asafa Powell or even defending champion Maurice Greene.
Crawford, fastest in both the heats and the semi-final earlier in the evening, could only finish fourth, a lethargic-looking Powell fifth while Greene had to console himself with bronze. The Americans were separated by Portugal's Nigerian-born Francis Obikwelu, who took silver in 9.86, in a race that saw four men go under 9.90 for the first time.
A more relaxed collection of sprinters you are unlikely to see as they were made to wait what must have seemed an eternity but was actually closer to 20 minutes at the start line. Greene was prowling sticking his tongue out and slapping his thighs; world champion Kim Collins dancing; Gatlin and Crawford joking; only Powell seemed detached - stretched out on his back, sweating, and looking heavenwards.
The second fastest qualifier, the barrel-chested Gatlin got away fast in lane three and was ahead by the time the field hit 30 metres (with the exception of Aziz Zakari who pulled up injured). Gatlin then held off Crawford and Obikwelu, while Greene sneaked in to claim third from the unfavourable lane seven, leaving his younger compatriot Crawford to concentrate on the 200m later this week.
“I had a great start and I had the ability to hold on from there when I crossed the line I knew for sure I was the winner,” said Gatlin. “This is what I was born for, this is why I started running and this is why I live.”
In a more humble moment Gatlin said that the worst bit was the lap of honour; “I didn't know what to do”.
No such problems for the British pair of Mark Lewis-Francis and Jason Gardener who failed to make the final on a night that might foreshadow Britain's athletics performance at these Games. Triple jumper Phillips Idowu had three no jumps failing to make the final cut; Lee McConnell and Christine Ohuruogu got no further than the semi-finals of the 400m as most attention was paid to Paula Radcliffe's collapse in the marathon.
It was a different story for the Greek Olympic authorities. After the trauma surrounding their own sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katarina Thanou, their spirits were raised by Fani Halkia who broke the Olympic record to qualify for the final of Wednesday's 400m hurdles in 52.77 seconds. Although she won the 2004 European Cup and was already the Greek record holder her performance on Sunday night was still very surprising as she took more than a second off her personal best of 53.99 set this season. She topped a field that included Australia's Jana Pittman and Sheena Johnson who had the best time this year of 52.95.
Elsewhere Christian Olsson added the Olympic title to his World and European crowns last to take Jonathan Edwards' triple jump title with a jump of 17.79metres. Olsson, who had displayed some vulnerability losing in Stockholm four weeks ago for the first time in almost two years, won with his second jump, a change from recent competitions where he has left it much later. His conqueror in Stockholm, Romania's Marian Oprea, took silver with 17.55m while Russia's Danila Burkenya claimed bronze with 17.48 metres.
But for former Olympic 100m champion Gail Devers the Olympics could be over. She did not make it out of the heats for the 110m hurdles. In fact she didn't even make it to the first hurdle as she appeared to pull a calf muscle coming out of the blocks.
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