Isinbayeva finishes sixth, Merritt within a whisker of gold at 400m

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Isinbayeva finishes sixth, Merritt within a whisker of gold at 400m

DAEGU - Yelena Isinbayeva failed to win back her title in the pole vault yesterday while LaShawn Merritt of the United States came within a hair’s breadth of nailing the men’s 400 meters after returning from a drug ban.

Merritt, who is coming off a 21-month doping suspension, tore over the line in 44.63 seconds, 0.03 seconds behind gold medalist Kirani James of Grenada for a dramatic closing act to the fourth day of competition at the World Championships in Athletics.

This gave the brash American silver, which must have felt like a consolation prize at the event he dominated at the last Worlds and also at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

More excitement came earlier in the night when Kenya’s David Lekuta Rudisha blasted through the 800 meters final to make up for his disappointment two years ago in Berlin.

But the crowd favorite at Daegu Stadium yesterday was clearly Isinbayeva, the 29-year-old Russian pole vault queen who may have worn the crown for the last time.

She may been the fan favorite but the gods shined on Brazil’s Fabiana Murer who collected the title after clearing 4.85 meters.

Martina Strutz had to settle for silver despite managing 4.80 meters and setting a new German record in the process. Svetlana Fofanova of Russia took bronze.

Isinbayeva, a three-time IAAF World Athlete of the Year, couldn’t get above 4.65 meters and ended sixth. She was looking to make a comeback after virtually vanishing from the sport in the wake of her meltdown two years ago at the last Worlds in Berlin, when she failed to clear a single height.

But this edition of the track-and-field festival only marked a small improvement for the 2005 and 2007 world champ, who still holds the world record of 5.06 meters. After her first clearance, Isinbayeva skipped the 4.70-meter bar and went straight for 4.75 meters ? and bumped the bar off its posts.

Instead of making a second attempt, she raised the bar another 5 centimeters and blew her remaining chances.

Not deterred, the two-time defending Olympic champion said she still intends to defy the odds and shoot for a third straight gold in London next summer.

In the men’s 800 meters, 22-year-old Rudisha lay some demons to rest from Berlin, where he couldn’t secure a place in the final, to trounce his rivals in Daegu.

Last year’s World Athlete of the Year clocked 1 minute and 43.91 seconds to beat Sudanese runner Abubaker Kaki. Yuriy Borzakovskiy, the 2004 Olympic champion, pocketed the bronze.

Rudisha never threatened his own world record of 1 minute and 41.01 seconds but held the lead from the start and did not give the other runners a look-in.

Yesterday’s other gold medalists include Russia’s Tatyana Chernova, who beat defending champion Jessica Ennis in the women’s heptathlon. The 23-year-old Chernova collected 6,880 points after finishing the final 800-meter heat to seal the victory.

This marks a dramatic turnaround from two days ago when Ennis looked a shoe-in to defend her title. But this was before her calamitous attempt at the javelin throw ? when she claimed to have slipped on the wet track ? which convinced all but the sunniest of optimists that she was out of the running. The Brit finished with 6,751 points.

In the men’s discus, Germany’s Robert Harting threw 68.97 meters to defend his title, while Yuliya Zaripova of Russia marked 9 minutes and 7.03 seconds to win the women’s 3000-meter steeplechase.

By Joo Kyung-don []
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