easily wins a multifaceted grudge match
Ed Gordon for the IAAF
8 August 2001 – Edmonton - The icy relationship between Gabriela Szabo and Violeta Szekely temporarily turned Commonwealth Stadium into a sporting venue more resembling Skyreach Centre, the home of the Edmonton Oilers hockey club.
As the pixie-like Szabo sprinted away to an easy 1500-metre victory Tuesday evening, the favoured Szekely laboured to the silver medal, her five difficult Golden League wins in the last six weeks showing in each of her heavy steps in the final straightaway.
Szabo had never before competed in a 1500 at the World Championships. Indeed, she had not even run the event since her bronze-medal performance in Sydney.
So why did she choose the shorter event? Was it to extract a measure of revenge against Szekely, who has a pending defamation suit against Szabo currently before the Romanian court? Or was it to have a backstop event, conveniently served up with a gold medal, should she decide to follow through with a threatened boycott of the 5000 in light of the lifting of Russian distance runner Olga Yegorova’s drug suspension?
The real answers to these questions are known only to Szabo, as she made guarded, often circumlocutive, statements in the post-competition interview.
“After Sydney, I felt I had something still to prove in the 1500,” Szabo said. “I wanted to show that I still have a strong finish.”
But the line of questioning centered more on her off-track activities, and the media wasn’t going to let her escape easily.
Concerning her on-going feud with Szekely, she said tersely, “I don’t talk to her [Szekely], and she doesn’t speak with me. But life goes on.”
Certainly this provides fuel for tabloids, but can it be a healthy situation if it lingers much longer?
Deflecting queries about her decision regarding the 5000 metres which begins competition on Thursday, Szabo begged off with a wish to “sleep tonight in the hotel and speak with my husband [and coach, Zsolt Gyongyossy] before I decide tomorrow morning what I will do about the 5000. I am so happy [with my win], I don’t want to make this decision now.”
Szekely admitted that she had gone through a “pretty bad day”, and that merely being on the awards podium was a success.
“I’m not at all disappointed with my silver medal. It’s still a good performance for me.”
But her stoic countenance indicated an inner turmoil. Szekely was competing in her fourth World Championship final dating back to the Tokyo race in 1991. And although the silver medal here was a step up from the bronze she won in Stuttgart in 1993, she certainly must feel that her recent credentials deserve higher billing than they received here in Edmonton.
Bronze medallist Natalya Gorelova of Russia, running in “my first big [outdoor] competition” despite her 28 years, appeared to offer herself as a “sacrificial lamb” to the rest of the field, as she took the lead after the first 400 and continued to control the race until the Romanian duo chased her down in the final 80 metres.
“I hoped a fast pace would tire out Szabo and Szekely and negate their fast sprint, but my plans didn’t work out,” she admitted. “Still, I felt strong in the final lap and knew I could preserve the bronze.”
Throughout the spring, after her bronze medal in Lisbon at the World Indoor Championships, Gorelova felt growing confidence that she could win a medal here. That she could preserve such an award while spending so much time at the front of the field was a testimony to her finishing strength.
“My tactic of running at the front worked out very well,” she admitted.
Staying glued to the frontrunning trio and always posing a threat was the “elder statesman” of the competition, the 1997 champion, Carla Sacramento of Portugal, who at age 29 was seeing an unprecedented fifth World Championship final.
It wasn’t until the final 200 that her position in fourth became a permanent one, as the other three frontrunners sprinted away.
Despite the stereotype of Eastern European runners as formidable competitors in the middle distances, Tuesday’s competition was the first sweep of the medals by that region since 1987.