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Halkia win sends Athens crowd wild

Fani Halkia sends the Athens crowd wild after victory in the women's 400m hurdles final
• Olympics 2004: Special report 

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek sensation Fani Halkia blitzed to gold in the Olympic women's 400 meters hurdles on Wednesday to send the home crowd wild.

Halkia raced home in 52.82 seconds to thrash Romania's Ionela Tirlea-Manolache (53.38) and Ukraine's Tetiana Tereshchuk-Antipova (53.44).

World champion Jana Pittman of Australia, running after a brave battle against injury, finished fifth and world record holder Yuliya Pechenkina of Russia was last after a wretched run.

The 25-year-old winner, who came from nowhere to run the sixth fastest time in history during the semi-finals, knelt on the ground to kiss the track after her triumph as the crowd cheered.

"I felt I would win when I came into the stadium," Halkia said, wearing a blue and white national flag around her shoulders. "The Greek soul is enough by itself. We don't need anything else. We were born winners."

It was the biggest margin of victory in the event for the past five Games.

"She did an awesome job," Pittman said. "It's a beautiful story for her to win in front of her home crowd."

When Halkia, wearing yellow shades and sporting blond-tinted hair, was presented at the packed Olympic stadium the roars of "Hellas! Hellas!" were so loud that the names of her rivals could not be heard.

Last to settle in her blocks after being drawn in lane four, she drew level with Pittman outside her at halfway before leading down the last 100 meters and pulling further away after clearing the final hurdle.

None of the pre-Games favourites had seen Halkia coming.

Kept out of the international spotlight by her coaching team this season, the former high jumper was putting together an incredible series of performances, improving her personal best by almost three-and-a-half seconds in 12 months.

A year ago she was a no-hoper, with a best of 56.40 -- a time which would have left her outside the first eight in any Olympic final stretching back to 1988.

By Thursday, however, following her extraordinary run in the semi-finals when she clocked 52.77, she was the favorite with a personal best good enough to have won at any preceding Olympic Games since the event made its debut in 1984.

That time would also have won any preceding world championships apart from 1995 in Gothenburg.

Pittman tore a knee cartilage and underwent surgery less than three weeks ago before ignoring medical advice and undertaking a nine-hour-a-day rehabilitation programme in an attempt to run in Athens.

She was given a one percent chance of running by the first specialist she consulted but refused to accept his opinion.

Johnson crashes out

World high hurdles champion Allen Johnson literally crashed out of the Olympic Games, when he fell at the ninth flight in the second semi-final.

The 1996 Olympic champion tripped on the ninth hurdle and flew headlong into the 10th. He lay sprawled on the track watching helplessly as his opponents crossed the line.

"It's unfortunate. It happens to the best of us, you just have to move on. It's just one of those breaks," the American said.

"You always have disappointments, Sydney showed that. I just have to take this one and keep going."

Johnson finished fourth at the 2000 Sydney Games.

On Wednesday he knocked over the fourth hurdle but quickly recovered after losing his balance.

He recovered to draw level with the leaders but then fell over the ninth and ended his Olympics face down on the track.

"At first I was a little nervous but I felt I could get myself in there. I thought I was ahead until the last one I hit but it was over," he said.

Jones makes low-key return

Triple champion Marion Jones made a low-key return to Olympic competition by successfully qualifying for Friday's women's long jump final.

Jones, who won three gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, has qualified for the long jump only at Athens although she may run one or both relays.

Her partner Tim Montgomery, the world 100 meters record holder, failed to qualify for the Games and has received a letter from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) alleging serious doping violations.

Jones is also being investigated by USADA, although neither athlete has ever failed a dope test.

Jones fouled her first attempt after waiting for an official to move a plastic cone from the runway. With her second, the American leaped 6.70 meters, comfortably over the automatic qualifying distance of 6.65m.

Jones won the 100 and 200 in Sydney and also got a gold medal in the 4x400 relay.

She finished third in the long jump and took another bronze in the 4x100 relay to complete a record haul for a track and field athlete at a single Games.

Bekele and El Guerrouj both through

Kenenisa Bekele, the new Olympic 10,000 meters champion, and Hicham El Guerrouj, the 1,500 meters winner, went head-to-head before both easing through to the 5,000m final.

Bekele, seeking the first Olympic 5000-10,000 double since fellow-Ethiopian Miruts Yifter in 1980, won the heat in 13 minutes 21.16 seconds.

Morocco's Guerrouj, hoping for only the second 1,500-5,000m double in Games history after Finn Paavo Nurmi's 1924 success, jogged in third, timing 13:21.87.

El Guerrouj, who won the 1,500 late on Tuesday, shadowed Bekele for most of the heat and looked ready for a fight with about 200 to go as he drew up close on Bekele's inside.

But Bekele surged, as if to make clear he was ready for a fight, and El Guerrouj avoided a confrontation by slowing in the final straight.

"It was tough but I tried to run easy," El Guerrouj said. "I have blisters from my shoes and I didn't sleep because of the joy I felt. I have not celebrated yet."

Bekele's team mate Gebre Egziabher Gebremariam was second in 13:21.20.

Algerian Ali Saidi Sief won the second heat, in 13:18.94, just ahead of Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya in 13:19.01.

Bekele's world record, set in May, stands at 12:37.35.

Campbell powers to gold

Jamaican speedster Veronica Campbell earned the Caribbean nation their first gold medal of the 2004 Games when she won the 200 meters in a searing time of 22.05 seconds.

Campbell, who won bronze in the women's 100m on Saturday, clocked a personal best to finish well clear of United States teenager Allyson Felix who took silver in 22.18, a world junior record.

Debbie Ferguson of the Bahamas picked up bronze in 22.30 seconds.

Campbell became only the second Jamaican woman track athlete to win Olympic gold. Deon Hemmings won the 400 meters hurdles in 1996.

The race showcased a new generation of women's sprinters with a host of big names missing.

Olympic champion Marion Jones failed to qualify for the event at the United States trials, although she did compete in Athens on Wednesday, qualifying for the final of the long jump.

The first three across the line at last year's world championships -- Americans Kelli White and Torri Edwards and Russian Anastasia Kapachinskaya -- are all serving drugs bans.

France's Christine Arron, a pre-Games medal contender, failed to reach the final, as she did in the 100m.

The 22-year-old Campbell was the fastest qualifier for Wednesday's final and imposed herself on the race from the start.

She roared off the bend with a meter lead and the 18-year-old Felix could not haul her in despite clocking a fantastic time herself.

Felix has been faster than 20.18 once before, running 20.11 at altitude in 2003, but the time was not ratified as no dope test was taken.

Campbell looked a little nonplussed by her win but eventually set off on a lap of honor with team mate Aleen Bailey, who finished fourth.

Ferguson, who anchored the Bahamas to the Olympic 4x100 relay gold in 2000, clocked a season's best in third, although she never threatened the leading pair.

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