Sat, Aug 12, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Obikwelu crowned Europe's sprint king

ATHLETICS The Olympic 100m silver medalist Francis Obikwelu chalked up the first sprint double in Europe since Italy's Pietro Mennea achieved the feat in 1978

AFP , GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN

Portugal's Francis Obikwelu wins the men's 200m during the European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Portugal's Francis Obikwelu was crowned European sprint king on Thursday after winning the 200m to add to his 100m title.

It was the first sprint double in 28 years, and there was no doubt over who was going to win after the Nigerian-born sprinter rounded the home bend 2m clear.

Obikwelu, who has held Portuguese nationality since 2001, steamed home in 20.01 seconds, with surprise package Johan Wissman of Sweden taking silver 0.37 seconds off the pace. Briton Marlon Devonish claimed bronze in 20.54 seconds.

For once, Obikwelu -- who won the 200m silver medal four years ago -- had a decent start, and left his rivals for dead over the opening 40m.

"I didn't have a single doubt that I was going to be today's winner," Obikwelu said.

"I have been waiting for this gold medal for four years and now I am double European champion -- I don't know how to express my feelings," the Olympic 100m silver medalist said in reference to the first sprint double since Italy's Pietro Mennea achieved the feat in 1978.

Aside from Obikwelu's heroics, the fourth day of the week-long competition saw Russia consolidate their position at the top of the medals table, netting two gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

On the track, Periklis Iakovakis won Greece's first gold, dominating the field in the men's 400m hurdles to win in 48.46 seconds.

"I came here as the favorite. I was the best and as I proved today I am the best," the Greek airforce officer said.

Poland's Marek Plawgo took silver while a lunge at the line saw Rhys Williams of Britain nip into bronze ahead of Naman Keita of France.

The biggest surprise of the day came from the unheralded Yohan Diniz of France when he won the men's 50km walk in 3 hours, 41.39 minutes, almost four minutes faster than his personal best.

Diniz took the lead with 5km of the course remaining, cruising past long-time leader Trond Nymark of Norway.

The Frenchman, who changed his walking style after being disqualified at last year's world championships in Helsinki, maintained his pace and surged ahead of a tiring field competing in torrential rain.

Russian Yuriy Andronov made a late charge for bronze, overtaking Nymark but just falling short of catching Spaniard Jesus Angel Garcia, who took silver 1:09 minutes behind Diniz.

"Before the race, nobody really had me on the radar screen, I surprised everyone," Diniz said. "Today I will enjoy a good wine!"

Bulgaria had Vanya Stambolova to thank for its first medal at the championships, the 22-year-old winning the women's 400m in 49.85 seconds.

Stambolova held her pace until the home stretch, roaring past pacesetter Olga Zaytseva, who herself was caught on the line by Russian compatriot Tatyana Veshkurova, who claimed silver.

There was an equally exciting finish to the women's 800m, Olga Kotlyarova of Russia producing an amazing burst of speed to track down compatriot Svetlana Klyuka 50m from the line and win in 1min 57.38 seconds.

European decathlon champion Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic edged closer to defending his title with three disciplines left on the second day of the gruelling event yesterday.

The Olympic silver medalist stretched his overnight lead to a massive 190 points after finishing third-fastest in the 110m hurdles in 14.27 seconds. But that lead was cut to 154 points after he could only manage 45.47m in the discus, more than 5m off the winning throw.

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