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WORLD INDOOR DAY 2 - DEFAR DOMINATES, HESHKO SURPRISES
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2006 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
March 11, 2006
MOSCOW (11-Mar) -- Meseret Defar defended her world indoor 3000 meter title while Ivan Heshko won his first in the 1500m on the second day of the 11th IAAF World Indoor Championships here in the Russian capital.
With her finely tuned tactical talents, Defar handily beat back the challenge of Russians Liliya Shobukhova, the recently-minted world record holder in the event, and Olesya Syreva, history's second fastest, and clocked a solid 8:38.80 performance to become only the second woman to twice win the title in this event.
Hoping to remove Defar's kick from her race day arsenal, the Russian pair took immediate control of the race, a tactic that ended up serving Defar perfectly.
Syreva pushed the pace for the first three-and-a-half minutes, before Shobukhova moved up to take over the lead. But it was Defar, never more than a step or two behind them, who maintained firm command. When compatriot Sentayehu Ejigu tried to up the tempo four minutes into the race, Defar signaled to her, asking her to remain patient. Ejigu complied.
With six laps to go, the quartet, along with Lidia Chojecka of Poland and Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco, created a significant gap on the rest of the field, but it was Defar, who also finished third in 2003, who was merely biding her time.
One lap later, Defar moved into second, and with two laps remaining, she took the lead for good. While the Russians tried desperately to hold on to Defar's deadly sustained kick, Chojecka moved into third, ahead of Ejigu and Syreva.
"I trained hard for that," said Defar, who pumped her fist high into the air as she crossed the line. "My performance was good. I like running indoors very much."
Shobukova hung on for second, reaching the line in 8:42.18. Chojecka took the bronze in 8:42.59, a season's best for the 29-year-old Pole.
"I am very glad to have a medal," said Shobukhova, who had lowered the global standard to 8:27.86 last month. "Certainly I was worried, it is the World Championships."
"It's a big surprise for me," said Chojecka, the European indoor champion in the event who underwent surgery on her foot last June and missed four months of training. "I think I had good tactics. I must admit I was a little scared before the race as all the girls had very fast times." Chojecka, a finalist at 1500 metres at the previous two Olympics, said she will stick with her event next summer.
Ejigu faded slightly but still clocked a personal best 8:43.38 for fourth, with Syreva (8:44.10) in fifth.
The men's 1500 produced the first major upset of the championships when Ukranian star Ivan Heshko blitzed past the heavily favored Daniel Kipchirchir Komen of Kenya with 100 meters to go. Runner-up in 2004, Heshko bounced back from an early season foot injury to win in 3:42.08, well ahead of Komen's 3:42.55.
The young Kenyan, this year's world indoor leader, took control of the race at the outset, with compatriot Elkanah Angwenyi at his side. After a sluggish 2:06.69 at 800 meters, the Kenyans picked up the pace, with Heshko lurking closely behind. The Ukrainian moved up to second at the bell before bursting to the lead with 100 meters to go to cross the line unchallenged.
"I saw on the last lap that he was fading," said Heshko, the reigning European indoor champion, through a translator. "My preparation was slowed by injury this year. So without total preparation, I was able to win, which is a great sign before the summer."
"I was expecting the gold, but it's still better than my failure at the World Championships in Helsinki last year," Kipchirchir Komen said, adding that a leg injury slowed his training over the past month.
Angwenyi, who was third in 3:42.98, said that despite appearances, the Kenyan duo hadn't planned any tactics.
Akkas Halil of Turkey was fourth in 3:43.61, just ahead of Spaniard Sergio Gallardo (3:43.77). James Nolan of Ireland was next in 3:43.98.
Just one major casualty emerged from the semi-finals in the men's and women's 800 meters: Russian Natalya Tsyganova, who was expected to be in the medal chase with compatriot Olga Kotlyarova. Maria Mutola, Jamaican Kenia Sinclair, and Hasna Benhassi, the World and Olympic silver medallist, all advanced. Sinclair, who has been running the event seriously only since last year, lowered the Jamaican record to 2:00.06.
Tomorrow's men's final will feature the full slate of favorites: Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia, defending champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa, and Wilfred Bungei of Kenya.
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