News06 Mar 1999

6m victory for Galfione as Szabo looks for more Maebashi gold and Fredricks finds his


6m victory for Galfione as Szabo looks for more Maebashi gold and Fredricks finds his
Ed Gordon in Maebashi for IAAF

6 March 1999 - Controversy struck the 7th World Indoor Championships on the second day, as Olympic pole vault champion Jean Galfione came away with a win which will be discussed for many months or more.

The handsome French model became only the fourth vaulter in indoor history to scale the six-meter barrier with a second-attempt clearance of 6.00. His jump appeared to snatch victory from Jeff Hartwig of the US, who had taken the lead with 5.95.

However, after Galfione’s jump had been ruled successful by one judge, the international technical official observing the event opined that the jump should not be allowed because Galfione appeared to steady the bar with his left hand as he fell downward toward the pit, in violation of pole vaulting rules.

The judges assigned to the event huddled for a brief discussion but did not agree with that advice. They awarded the jump—plus a gold medal and $50,000--to Galfione. A protest by the US delegation was turned down by the jury of appeals.

"Yes, I touched the bar, but I didn’t replace it as the rule prohibits," admitted Galfione. "I gave everything I had on that jump. It was the single jump I needed to win. I’ve never used such a stiff pole in my life, and it paid off."

Hartwig was diplomatic about the decision, even in losing $30,000 and what would have been the first US pole vault title ever in world championship competition.

"I hate the new pole vault rule [prohibiting hand steadying] as much as anyone. I didn’t get involved with the discussion, though. I was still in the competition at that moment and I wanted to stay focused. I had just made one of the best jumps of my career [at 5.95], and when the competition was held up for ten minutes, it killed the atmosphere. I was ready to jump, but I couldn’t because of the controversy."

Almost lost in the smoke was the bronze medal performance of 5.85 by 21-year-old Danny Ecker of Germany.

Both one-lap races were decided on Saturday. In the women’s 200 metres, Ionela Tirlea of Romania continued her fine indoor season by winning in the year’s fastest time of 22.39, bringing her equal with Marita Koch of the former East Germany as the fifth-fastest of all time. It was a stunning achievement for the current European champion in the 400 hurdles.

Running in lane five with her only real challenger—Svetlana Goncharenko—on her outside, the 23-year-old Tirlea moved to an insurmountable lead over the first 100 meters and powered onward for her win.

Said Tirlea, "I came here undecided whether to run 200 or 400. I decided on the 200 for no other reason than the fact it was a shorter race. Yes, I really consider myself a hurdler, but I really love the flat running."

Frank Fredericks was one of the "untouchables" who arrived in Maebashi, but even he was not able to walk away easily with a win. Obadele Thompson of Barbados drew lane five just to the Namibian’s inside, and the pair ran an even race up through the first 100 metres.

Coming off the final turn, Thompson continued to press Fredericks all the way to the wire, the result being a 20.10, the second-fastest time ever recorded in the event and a world indoor championship record. For the silver medal, Thompson (20.26) held off the defending world champion, Kevin Little of the US (20.48), the latter claiming his third world indoor bronze medal.

Fredericks was quite direct about his two-day work week here in Japan. "I got what I came here for, the gold medal. I want to add as many world titles to my list as possible."

Gabriela Szabo of Romania took a big step towards her intended double win in the women’s 1500 and 3000 by winning the shorter race with a world-leading time of 4:03.23.

Olga Komyagina of Russia led the nine finalists through most of the race before Szabo and Violeta Szekely sprinted away at the bell. The Romanian pair then staged a heated duel down the backstretch with Szekely giving up little if any ground to her more highly celebrated countrywoman. Only off the final turn was Szabo able to assert her superiority and, with a final 100 metres of 14.0, secure the win.

"I had no pre-race plan," said Szabo. "I’m a runner of instinct. This is what perhaps gives me an edge because I’m a natural runner."

The men’s 1500 was at the semifinal stage on Day Two. If Haile Gebrselassie thought he would have an easy day on Saturday, Portugal’s Rui Silva and Laban Rotich of Kenya were ready to make certain that he put in a honest day’s work. After losing the lead with 100 metres remaining, the Ethiopian came back to win in 3:41.22, the faster of the two semifinal races.

In the other semifinal, Ali Hakimi of Tunisia played spectator, running at the back of the pack for much of the race. Slowly he crept through the crowd of runners to take the lead off the penultimate turn. His final sprint produced a 3:42.46, ahead of current world junior champion Adil El Kaouch of Morocco (3:42.53).

Titles were also awarded today in two other technical events. In the women’s shot put, Vita Pavlysh recorded a series of six throws of over 20 metres enroute to a best of 21.43, the top indoor mark of the season. In successfully defending her title, the Ukrainian said, "The conditions were perfect, even if my best throw was not technically perfect. There is a lot in reserve," she ended, perhaps sending a warning for what may lay ahead this summer.

The winning shotput performance by Pavlysh (21.43) was the second-longest throw of the DECADE and the 19th-best performance of ALL-TIME. Only a 21.60 by Valentina Fedyushina (also of UKR) on 28 December 1991 in Simferopol which was not contested in front of spectators was longer. (It is perhaps useful to note that Fedyushina has never had another indoor performance farther than 20.80.)

In the long jump, Tatyana Kotova of Russia won her first major title with a leap of 6.86 on her second attempt. It erased an erstwhile lead taken by Shana Williams of the US, who had opened the competition with a personal-best 6.82.

Qualification rounds continued in numerous other running events. Maria Mutola proved to be an intimidating force in the women’s 800, as she led her semifinal from start to finish. The other five runners appeared afraid to overtake her for the lead, and for all but Austria’s Steffi Graf, who finished second, it spelt an early exit from the event, as the US-based Mozambique star jogged to a 2:02.18 win.

That section was in stark contrast to the first semifinal, won by Ludmila Formanova of the Czech Republic in a peppy 1:59.52. Behind her came all of the other qualifiers for Sunday’s final.

With three semifinal races, the men’s 800 had no time qualifiers as did the women, so the finish place was all that mattered.

The major casualty was Cuba’s Norberto Tellez, who was suddenly passed on the inside by Ireland’s James Nolan at the 500-metre mark of the first semifinal and then inexplicably dropped out of the competition. Nolan stayed in hot pursuit of leader Nico Motchebon over the last one and a half laps, as both moved ahead to the final.

It was a rare defeat for defending champion Wilson Kipketer of Denmark as he was outkicked over the final 15 metres by South Africa’s Johan Botha in the second semifinal, as both moved forward to the final.

"I wasn’t trying to get an upper hand," said Botha. "I just wanted to keep the same smooth rhythm going at the end."

The third semifinal was won by Balazs Koranyi of Hungary, who powered off the final turn to win (1:48.74) but with only the 11th-best time, as Savieri Ngidhi was just 0.11 behind to take the final slot for tomorrow.

"I knew I had a good kick, and I felt fresh. Off the last turn, I knew I was going to win," said the 24-year-old Koranyi.

Both of the 400-meter races selected their final sextet for Sunday.

In the women’s event, Jearl Miles-Clark led all qualifiers with a world-leading time of 50.83 in her semifinal, with Ana Guevara of Mexico just behind in a national-record 50.94. Just before Clark’s run, Grit Breuer of Germany had logged the season’s best time with 50.88. Others who will appear in the final are Fali Ogunkoya of Nigeria, and the Jamaican pair of Deon Hemmings and Sandie Richards.

The leading mark among the men’s finalists came from Britain’s Jamie Baulch (46.14). All of the other final competitors hail from the western hemisphere, with Milton Campbell of the US (46.23), Troy McIntosh of the Bahamas (46.32) and Roxbert Martin of Jamaica (46.34) leading the list.

Contrasting with Friday’s opening-day schedule which stretched to almost eleven hours, Saturday’s compact program consumed only slightly more than six hours.

The first two and one-half hours of the day were consisted exclusively of the men’s heptathlon, which, with its field of only eight select competitors, could be contested throughout as a single group.

Not surprisingly, Chris Huffins of the US was the class of the sprint event, covering the 60 meters in 6.68 for the lead after the first event. His score of 1003 yielded a 59-point lead over European outdoor decathlon champion Erki Nool of Estonia, who clocked 6.83 as the next best multieventer.

"The sprint track wasn’t that fast," Huffins commented, "so I’m satisfied with the time."

Huffins time on top was short-lived, however, as the event that proved to be his nemesis in Paris two years ago—the long jump—again produced a sour taste, as he finished only sixth among the octet at 7.43.

Nool had the best jump of the day at 7.80 and, with a two-event total of 1954, moved to a 33-point lead over Huffins’ 1921. Finishing just behind Nool in the long jump was Roman Sebrle at 7.76, which was sufficient to move the 24-year-old Czech into third place with 1904 overall.

The competitors appeared to find the long jump runway just as sluggish as they had the sprint apron, as most attempts were made from behind the jumping board.

The multievent tightened up considerably after the shotput, as only 46 points separated the top five entrants after three events.

Reigning outdoor world champion Tomas Dvorak led the field with a personal-best 16.70, which was enough to catapult him into the lead with 2756 overall.

Meanwhile, Huffins came within two centimeters of his indoor personal best to throw 15.53, keeping him in second place with 2743. Despite nearly reaching his indoor best with a toss of 14.87, Nool slipped back to third with an aggregate 2736.

The placings really became scrambled after the high jump, which ended the first day’s competition.

Sebrle and Sebastian Chmara of Poland had the best performances with 2.11, and for the Czech, it left him atop the first-day point totals with 3616. His countryman Dvorak, despite a lacklustre 1.99, moved down only one place into second at 3550. And Chmara held down third with 3548, just two points ahead of Jon Arnar Magnusson of Iceland.