Mariano Garcia wins the men's 800m at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 (© Getty Images)
In a final that began at a lightning pace, it was the man who bided his time, sitting quietly in eighth and last place after the opening lap, who eventually reigned supreme.
Mariano Garcia might not have won the Spanish indoor title last month, but on Saturday night at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22, he conquered the world in a thrilling 800m final, the 24-year-old timing his run to perfection and spending his energy with maximum efficiency to win in 1:46.20.
Kenya’s Noah Kibet powered to silver in 1:46.35, with USA’s Bryce Hoppel taking bronze in 1:46.51.
The story of the race was defined by the tactics of Canada’s Marco Arop, who wound up eighth in 1:47.58, but who first took his rivals to a place of deep distress over the first three laps. Arop ripped through the opening 200m in 23.97, hit 400m in 50.34 and, at that point, Sweden’s Andreas Kramer was closely following behind, with Garcia in turn moving on to his shoulder, having spent the previous lap circling the field.
“I kept my weapons safe to use them in the end,” said Garcia.
At 600m, passed in a blazing 1:17.83, Arop still led but at the end of the back straight Garcia surged to the lead, the Canadian then slipping back through the field like a stone through water. The battle was not yet won for Garcia, with Kibet surging up to his shoulder off the final turn, and all the athletes at this stage doing a staggering skeleton dance to the finish.
“I thought he was going to pass me, but I was saying, ‘come on, come on, come on,’” said Garcia.
It was the Spaniard who got there first, Garcia claiming his first major championships medal and uttering an expletive when interviewed by the stadium announcer shortly after, such was his unbridled joy.
“Finally, I have success,” he said. “We had a very good preparation and I felt in training that I can show something great. I just tried to keep with the group and in the last lap I tried to attack the front and told myself to run fast until the end - till I die. I was ready to leave everything on the track.
“I want to send many greetings to my village and my father because today is Father’s Day in Spain. Now, I will have 10 days to relax, no training and then back to work.”
In second, Kibet became the youngest ever track medallist in the championships’ history when winning silver at the age of 17.
“I was under the pressure and that is why I'm so satisfied with the silver medal,” said Kibet. “It wasn't an easy race. At the beginning I had problem being in the box and I have been looking for any way to get out. I had to run on lanes two or three, but it's great experience for me. I'm still learning from all events.”
Hoppel was not overjoyed, if far from distraught, with his bronze medal, feeling he could have won better if prepared for such a fast race.
“I should have known with Marco in the race, he’s a great front racer and I don’t know how that slipped by me,” he said. “I guess I wasn’t mentally prepared for that but I found myself far back and I was just working my way up. I can’t be mad with a bronze, I was just hoping for more.
“For the first time I didn’t race it as a smart racer, I got myself stuck in a tough spot tactically, and it’s tough to get around those corners. Down that last straight I just went for it and it’d be different if we had 100 metres’ worth of straight, that’s where I come on strong. But we’ll take the bronze medal, it’s a good place to start and luckily we have a world outdoors coming up soon.”
Spain’s Alvaro de Arriba just missed the medals in fourth with 1:45.58 while Sweden’s Andreas Kramer took fifth with 1:46.76.
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics
|MEN'S 800m MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Mariano Garcia 🇪🇸 ESP||1:46.20|
|🥈||Noah Kibet 🇰🇪 KEN||1:46.35|
|🥉||Bryce Hoppel 🇺🇸 USA||1:46.51|