By Ian Chadband
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Murielle Ahoure produced one of the great 60 metres runs to lead home compatriot Marie-Josee Ta Lou and make it a landmark night for the Ivory Coast at the world indoor championships in Birmingham on Friday.
Ahoure, already a 30-year-old trailblazer for Ivorian athletics, produced a dazzling start before powering away from the field to win in 6.97 seconds, the equal sixth fastest time in history and the best by anyone for eight years.
Ta Lou, the 29-year-old who has been pursuing and even overhauling Ahoure, won the desperate dip for second, clocking 7.05 seconds, the same as Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji, who was eventually ruled to have lost out on the silver by five-thousandths of a second.
“It’s amazing. Ivory Coast is on top, we’re so happy,” said Ahoure, who had previously won four silvers in global competition without hitting the top spot but who could now celebrate her nation’s first-ever world indoor gold.
“We’re looking for a third girl and then we can take over the whole podium.”
Ahoure’s coronation may have been the highlight of the second day but the finest contest proved a magnificent men’s long jump, which saw the lead keep swapping before 19-year-old Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria proved a surprise but deserved champion.
With a fine sequence headed by his fifth-round lifetime best of 8.46 metres, the unheralded youngster could hardly believe his breakthrough, not to mention the hug and medal he received on the podium from Cuban track great Alberto Juantorena.
Echevarria eventually edged out South Africa’s world champion Luvo Manyonga by just two centimetres and Marquis Dendy, the U.S. reigning champion by four, in the see-saw competition.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who has garnered the reputation of being an under-achiever at the highest level, put all the doubts behind her by winning the pentathlon for the hosts’ first gold of the championships.
The talented Liverpool all-rounder won the five-event, one-day slog by being the best in three disciplines, the high jump, long jump and, finally, the 800 metres when, as competition leader, she took control over the final 300 metres to run away from her two nearest contenders.
Austrian Ivona Dadic, third in the four-lap race, finished 50 points adrift and Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez, second in the 800, ended with bronze 113 points behind Johnson-Thompson.
“It’s been a long time coming,” smiled the woman known in British athletics as ‘KJT’ as she admitted to feeling particular satisfaction after feeling under the weather during the week.
Anita Marton, a serial winner in Hungary at 29, unleashed the two longest shot puts of the year, 19.48 metres and a final round 19.62m, to provide her country with its first gold in the history of the championships — and in dominant fashion, too.
Earlier, a bizarre episode in the morning session had seen every runner in one 400 metres heat, including the world’s fastest man this year, disqualified in a race that made athletics history.
Bralon Taplin was among the casualties after appearing to win the third heat comfortably in 46.37 seconds but the Grenadian ran out of his lane, along with the other three finishers, Jamaica’s Steven Gayle, Latvia’s Austris Karpinskis and Alonzo Russell, from the Bahamas.
Qatar’s 2017 world outdoor bronze medallist Abdalelah Haroun, was earlier red carded for false starting in the same heat.
It was the first time every athlete has been disqualified from a heat at a major championships, according to statistician Mark Butler.
In the evening’s semi-finals, Czech Pavel Maslak won his heat to earn a crack at becoming the first three-time champion at the two-lap event.
In the heptathlon, Kevin Mayer enters the last three events on Saturday holding a slender 45-point lead over Canada’s Damian Warner as the Frenchman seeks to consolidate his position as the natural heir to the retired all-round great Ashton Eaton.
Saturday will also see the great Genzebe Dibaba, already the 3,000 metres champion, launch an assault on her second gold of the week after winning her 1500m semi-final.
(Writing by Ian Chadband; Editing by Toby Davis)