Russian pole vaulter sets world record

Updated: August 25, 2004, 7:52 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Hicham El Guerrouj kissed the track that had finally yielded a gold medal. Joanna Hayes covered her mouth in shock. Roman Sebrle pulled off his shoes and collapsed to the track, chest heaving.

And Yelena Isinbayeva soared where no woman had gone before, screaming in midair as she easily broke her own pole vault world record Tuesday to win a classic duel with a Russian compatriot.

After heartbreaking losses in the previous two Olympics, El Guerrouj won gold in the 1,500 meters by holding off Kenya's Bernard Lagat in a dramatic test of wills on the homestretch. Four years ago El Guerrouj was edged by another Kenyan, and in 1996 he fell on the last lap.

El Guerrouj defeated Lagat by .12 seconds, then kneeled as other runners came over to hug and caress the sobbing Moroccan. On his victory lap, the flag-draped El Guerrouj did an impromptu dance to Greek music playing over the loudspeakers.

Hayes and Sebrle both won gold medals and set Olympic records -- Hayes in the 100-meter hurdles and Sebrle in the grueling decathlon. But while Sebrle's victory was a coronation, Hayes' came as a surprise.

Hurdles world champion Perdita Felicien caused a violent crash just steps into the race when she stepped on the first hurdle and tumbled into the runner one lane over. Both were knocked out of the race, making way for Hayes to win in 12.37 seconds.

The old Olympic record of 12.38 was set by Bulgaria's Yordanka Donkova at the 1988 Seoul Games. U.S. teammate Melissa Morrison finished third for the bronze.

Felicien, a Canadian who was an NCAA champion at Illinois, hit the first hurdle and stumbled into Russia's Irina Shevchenko.

The Russian Olympic Federation protested the result of the hurdles race.

Sebrle finished with 8,893 points, breaking by 46 points the Olympic record set 20 years ago by Daley Thompson. He walked slowly around the track to celebrate, barefoot and wrapped in a Czech flag. The silver medal went to American Bryan Clay.

Clay finished just 71 points off the American record, totaling 8,820. The bronze medal went to Dmitriy Karpov of Kazakhstan with 8,725.

The world champion, American Tom Pappas, withdrew during the pole vault portion of the event Tuesday afternoon because of a left foot injury. He was in fifth place at that point, with little chance of getting a medal.

Isinbayeva, who cleared 16 feet, 1 1/4 inches (4.91 meters) with room to spare, had only smiles. She ran into the stands and then pranced around the track. She has set four world records in the last two months.

Second in the pole vault was her countrywoman, Svetlana Feofanova. Anna Rogowska of Poland got the bronze. All broke the Olympic record in an event that debuted four years ago.

Other winners Tuesday were Tonique Williams-Darling of the Bahamas in the 400 and Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Williams-Darling won the 400 in 49.41, edging past Ana Guevara of Mexico in the closing meters. Natalya Nazarova of Russia won the bronze medal. Americans finished fourth, fifth and sixth.

In the steeplechase, Kenyans swept the medals -- Kemboi winning in 8 minutes, 5.81 seconds, followed by Brimin Kipruto and Paul Koech. The three danced together after crossing the finish line.

Allyson Felix won her semifinal heat in 22.36 in the women's 200, and was joined by U.S. teammate Muna Lee (22.69) in Wednesday's final. Merlene Ottey, 44, in her seventh Olympic Games, pulled up midway through what almost certainly was her last Olympic race.

In Tuesday's earlier preliminary heats, Shawn Crawford was all business, speeding into the semifinals of the 200 meters in 19.95 seconds despite slowing significantly in the last 20 meters of the race.

As opposed to his antics in the early rounds of the 100 -- when he wore a baseball cap backward, pretended to spike a football after winning a heat and high-stepped the final few meters of the semifinals -- Crawford focused only on running in Tuesday's two rounds.

Crawford's time was the fastest of the second round and the third fastest in the world this year.

"I just wanted to take first place, take the lead and hold it and give myself a nice lane for the semis and I accomplished that,'' he said. "I'm trying to be conservative. Usually I'm out there trying to be a superman and prove that I'm a true athlete by going hard every round while everybody conserves. But I'm going to play this game with these fellas and conserve.''

Crawford, who finished fourth in the 100 after dominating the early rounds, was joined in the semis by U.S. teammates Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin, the 100-meter gold medalist.

Williams won his heat in 20.40, while Gatlin was first in his heat in 20.03. Also advancing to Wednesday night's semifinals were 100 silver medalist Francis Obikwelu of Portugal and two-time silver medalist Frank Fredericks of Namibia.

Usain Bolt, the 17-year-old Jamaican who is the only person other than Crawford to break 20 seconds this year, failed to make it through the opening round.

Absent was defending champion Kostas Kenteris, who withdrew from the Athens Games after missing a drug test. His attempt to win 200 gold in his homeland had been expected to be one of the highlights for Greek fans.

In the 400-meter hurdles, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic had the best time of 47.93 in the semifinals. He has not lost in more than three years. Americans James Carter and Bennie Brazell also reached the final, but teammate Angelo Taylor -- the defending Olympic champion -- was eliminated.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press