Saturday 24 March 2018

In guts they trust

Eamonn Sweeney

As they came into the home straight, it was between the two of them. Soon the gap was just a couple of feet and they raced for the line stride for stride. And it was almost unbearable to watch because you waited for someone to crack but Amantle Montsho wasn't cracking and Allyson Felix wasn't cracking and the line was drawing closer.

There have been few races more compelling than the women's 400m final at the World Championships. Montsho had ruled the Grand Prix circuit this year, and Felix, three times world 200m champion, was going for the first leg of an historic double.

Montsho had led at the three-quarter mark but Felix closed the gap and seemed to be, down the whole length of that straight, about to move clear. If she just edged ahead of Montsho, the race could be hers but the African woman maintained that tiny gap.

You knew they were both suffering. There's no way of running the event without suffering because the human body can go flat out for 300m and that's it. No matter how fit you are, there's no running a quarter mile at top speed all the way. So generally you pelt it out for the first three and trust guts to get you home.

The two women must have been running on empty. Neither wilted. And then, five yards from the end, Montsho seemed to waver and Felix drew closer still so that they crossed the line together. But Montsho had held on, by three hundredths of a second, and both women had run faster than ever before.

Those three hundredths of a second meant a first World Championship gold for Botswana, the little African nation which Montsho flies a lone flag for at international level. Felix, exhausted by her exertions down that home straight, went on to be a well beaten third in the 200m.

There had been something primal about the race, sport boiled down to its most basic essence, two people racing each other to a finish line, tactics and training forgotten, everything depending sheer force of will.

It was flat-out glorious.

Sunday Indo Sport

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