By Ian Chadband
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Poland's unheralded 4x400m relay men caused the biggest sensation of the entire world indoor championships in the final track event on Sunday -- and even astonished themselves when they set the event's only world record at the last gasp.
"It is a big shock and surprise for us. We were targeting the European record but really did not expect a result like this and never dreamed about the world record," said one of the Poles' astonished quartet, Rafal Omelko, with a bewildered smile.
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The quartet of Karol Zalewski, Omelko, Lukasz Krawczuk and Jakub Krzewina established a world indoor mark of three minutes 01.77 seconds, which was remarkable enough in itself.
Yet what truly amazed was the manner in which Krzewina, turning himself into an instant Polish hero, hunted down American anchor leg runner Vernon Norwood to pip what was supposed to be an unbeatable U.S. squad in the dying strides.
Norwood, the 2016 U.S. indoor champion who has a lifetime best indoors of 45.31 seconds compared to Krzewina's 46.15, should have made it a formality, as he took the baton for the final leg while leading by some five meters.
Yet the man who had anchored the Americans to victory two years ago in Portland ran a curiously distracted race out front, something he appeared to accept afterwards when he reflected gloomily: "The team did a great job but no comment on my last leg."
Everybody, though, was commenting on Krzewina's never-say-die effort to win from a seemingly impossible position. "I think the last lap with Jakub was the crucial one," said Omelko.
"He pushed it so hard and he is very, very strong this year. He helped us to win the most."
The 28-year-old Krzewina, who has never before won a major gold medal, sports plenty of garish tattoos. "But those who know me, know that they are not for show, they add to my strength when I'm fighting for Poland," he likes to say.
All four of the team punched above their weight here as they eclipsed the mark of 3:02.13 set by another U.S. team at these championships four years ago.
The Americans' consolation was the scant one of also being inside the old mark with 3:01.97.
Omelko explained that it was teamwork which had won the day for Poland.
"We've all worked hard together," he said. "We met two weeks before the championships to train together for the relays and had a lot of exchange training. Still, this was a big shock."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)