Nineteen-year-old Grenadian Kirani James won the Olympic men’s 400m title on Monday and 34-year-old Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic rolled back the years, but not the tears, to win a second 400m hurdles gold eight years after his first.
On a wet and windy London night, Yelena Isinbayeva’s bid for a third successive Olympic pole vault gold slipped away as Jennifer Suhr of the US took the honors.
Russia’s Yuliya Zaripova produced a dominant run to win the women’s 3,000m steeplechase and Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus finally emerged from the shadow of New Zealander Valerie Adams to claim the women’s shot.
There was drama off the track, too, when Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi’s was thrown out of the Games for “not trying” after he dropped out from an 800m heat the day before he was to run in the 1,500m final — only to be reinstated when he remembered he had been injured.
The men’s 400m is an event that has been owned at the Olympics by the US, but for the first time the final took place without an American athlete in the field.
James has been tearing up trees through the age groups and he won last year’s world championship when he was 18.
On Monday, though, he ran like a hardened professional, pacing his first 250m, then driving round the bend and charging home way clear to break 44 seconds for the first time with 43.94 seconds to win his country’s first Olympic medal.
The Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos, another 19-year-old, and Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago took silver and bronze.
While James was favorite for his race, Sanchez was a surprise winner as he held off Michael Tinsley of the US and Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson.
The real drama came after the race, though, as he dropped to the floor and pulled out a picture of his grandmother, who died during the Beijing Games in 2008.
Sanchez, who turns 35 in three weeks, then sobbed uncontrollably on the podium, raising a huge cheer from the 80,000 crowd, whose traditional British reserve has been eroded by a week of tear-stained home victories.
“I just wanted to make her proud, so I’ve got her name on my spikes,” Sanchez said. “With the rain it felt like my grandmother was crying tears of joy, so that’s why I cried.”
Angelo Taylor of the US, bidding for a third 400m hurdles gold after triumphs in Sydney and Beijing, finished fifth.
Three also proved a step too far for 30-year-old Isinbayeva in a pole vault competition that at one stage looked as if it might be over inside an hour.
Many competitors struggled with their opening heights in slippery conditions and Suhr, second behind the all-conquering Russian in Beijing, took gold on a countback from Cuban Yarisley Silva after both cleared 4.75m.
Isinbayeva, who spent most of the competition curled up under a huge towel, took bronze having cleared 4.70m with one of only two successful vaults.
Ostapchuk, who has won seven world championship silver medals indoors and out, was another to get one over her event’s dominate force when her throw of 21.36m was enough to beat her nemesis and 2008 champion Adams into second.
The women’s 3,000m steeplechase made its debut in Beijing and world champion Zaripova ensured it was two out of two for Russia after leading from gun to tape to win in a personal best 9 minutes, 6.72 seconds.
Monday was a day Makhloufi will never forget.