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IAAF chief heralds emergence of smaller nations at worlds

by Ed Odeven

OSAKA — Speaking at the final daily news briefing of the 2007 IAAF World Athletics Championships on Sunday at Nagai Stadium, IAAF President Lamine Diack summarized the feelings of thousands of people here.

In short, Diack eloquently celebrated the spirit of athleticism, international camaraderie and competition.

“I am very proud that we gathered together in Osaka, 200 countries from every corner of the world; 1,978 athletes, 928 women and 1,050 men shared a common goal of becoming the best, and the level of performances we have seen has been simply phenomenal,” said Diack. “Best of all, I believe that we have had so much excellent competition and close finishes, that TV viewers all over the world have been able to taste the drama and excitement of top class athletics.

“The continued progress made by our sport on the road to universality, can also be judged by the spread of medals. After Japan’s bronze medal this morning in the women’s marathon, we now have 42 countries who have won medals here in Osaka with (more than) 60 countries placing in the finals.”

Officially, 64 countries placed by the end of Sunday’s final event. The overall winner, the United States, had an impressive medal count, nabbing 26 medals (14 gold, four silver and eight bronze). Kenya was No. 2 in winning events with five. The East African nation added three silver and five third-place awards to its trophy case. Russia had four golds and 16 medals overall, including nine silver.

Ethiopia had three golds, while Germany, the Czech Republic and Australia each earned two apiece. Jamaica had the fourth-most medals with 10, with six silver, three bronze and a gold.

“The domination of nations with powerful resources is still significant, (but) the beauty of our sport means that a talented athlete can emerge from anywhere,” Diack said. “Here in Osaka, I am delighted that smaller nations like Panama, Tunisia, Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Slovenia have climbed onto the podium alongside athletes from the ‘great powers’ like the USA and Russia, and that Kenya was able to end up second on the medal table.”

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ENJOYING THE COMPETITION: Croatian Blanka Vlasic, the 23-year-old champion in the women’s high jump, has made winning a routine occurrence.

It’s what she does: 12 victories in her last 13 competitions.

“In every competition, I actually have a different dance,” she said Sunday after her feel-good celebration. “It gives positive energy to people in the crowd. You need to spice it up.”

And now Vlasic can relax.

“I am so relieved,” she admitted. “I was the favorite and I had to deal with a lot of pressure. But it is not easy to beat a strong field.”

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SCANNING THE HEADLINES: These are among the stories making headlines on the Internet:

“Gay has become the main man in track and field,” writes the Los Angeles Times.

Writer Philip Hersh noted that Tyson Gay, the men’s gold medalist in the 100- and 200-meter races and a member of Team USA’s victorious 4×100 unit, now faces a new challenge.

“I don’t really like to be the center of attention,” Gay told the Times. “But I’m learning how to take care of it, and sometimes it’s fun.”

Such as? He enjoyed signing autographs for Japanese children.

“It was great,” Gay told the paper. “I don’t get that at home.”

Elsewhere, “China achieves best results on track and field,” proclaims China Daily.

China earned one gold, one silver and one bronze at worlds, its top showing since the 1993 World Championships.

But there are greater expectations for the host nation at 2008 Summer Games.

“I believe the Chinese athletes can do better in the Olympics because they compete at home,” Diack was quoted as saying. “(Hurdler) Liu Xiang will 100 percent have the chance to win again and I think China can make breakthroughs in other events.”

Others agree.

“Today we saw our weak points,” Chinese coach Feng Shuyong told the newspaper. “It will surely do good (for) our preparations for the Olympic Games.”

Zhou Chunxiu received China’s first medal in a marathon event at worlds, claiming the silver on Sunday behind Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba.

The China Daily story detailed the problems the nation’s race walkers had, noting three men were disqualified from the 50-km field.

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BACK IN ACTION: The IAAF Golden League resumes competition on Friday in Zurich. Tyson Gay and Bernard Lagat, who won the 1,500 and 5,000 double, are among the stars making this long trek from Osaka to Europe for the meet.

Lagat will race in the 3,000 in the Swiss city, going up against the 2-3-4 finishers from Sunday’s 5-km race in Osaka: Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, Moses Ndiema Kipsiro of Uganda and Team USA’s Matthew Tegenkamp.

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RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal, winner of the women’s 1,500 on Sunday, had an upbringing that planted the seeds for athletic success later in life.

She is originally from the same village in Ethiopia as legendary runner Haile Gebrselassie.

“Like all boys and girls from Arsi, I wanted to emulate him,” Jamal says now.