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WORLD SPORT

Kluft denies Barber in heptathlon

story.kluft.afp.jpg
Kluft in typical pose after claiming heptathlon gold in Helsinki.

HELSINKI, Finland -- World heptathlon champion Carolina Kluft retained her title on Sunday after an epic two-day battle with France's Eunice Barber.

The 22-year-old Swede overhauled Barber in the finishing straight of the concluding 800 meters to clinch gold, having taken an 18-point advantage into the final event.

Ghana's Margaret Simpson took the bronze after a massive javelin throw lifted her into the medal positions.

By contrast, Britain's Kelly Sotherton performed disastrously in the javelin to slip back to fifth place and needed a strong performance in the 800 meters to claim the bronze.

She took up a stong early pace, tracked by Barber, who had to beat Kluft by 1.3 seconds to claim the gold.

Barber came onto Sotherton's shoulder in the final 200 meters but then weakened to be overtaken by Kluft who powered up the closing straight to claim global gold yet again after her triumph in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Sotherton's brave personal best was not enough to change the medal positions as Simpson clung on bravely for the bronze.

Kluft, unbeaten in the heptathlon and any multi-events competition for almost four years, finished with 6,887 points. Barber, as she did in Paris two years ago, took silver with 6,824.

Kluft had nursed an ankle injury throughout the competition and trailed Barber overnight by two points.

It's hard to rank competitions but I think this was the toughest heptathlon I've ever done," Kluft told a news conference.

"It was really tough for me to keep going, this was a great experience for me and I'm just happy I made it."

Kluft said the injury to her left ankle, which she twisted in falling awkwardly in training on Friday, had played on her mind but had also forced her to approach the competition in a different way.

"It was tough to get into it, the high jump (the second event) was very bad for me. I had to motivate myself to maintain a positive spirit. I learned not to get upset when things don't go my way."

Barber, who has returned to form this season after an injury-plagued 2004, was left to rue what might have been.

Leading overnight by two points, the 30-year old had her advantage wiped out in a controversial long jump after the French team unsuccessfully protested that Kluft had fouled on the take-off board in registering a 6.87 meter leap.

Both athletes saw it differently.

Kluft, renowned for her sportsmanship, said: "It was very very close but it (her foot) was not over."

Barber, however, believed the decision not to uphold the appeal had been "unfair". "She clearly fouled," she told reporters.

Barber blamed her defeat on her own mistakes though, saying over-enthusiasm got the better of her, particularly in the long jump and javelin.

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