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Craig Mottram has created history by becoming the first Oceania athlete to defend a World Cup title, and in doing so produced the best run of his career to dethrone one of the best distance runners of all time – Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele.
If that wasn’t enough - Steve Hooker won the pole vault to reclaim the number one ranking in the world from training partner Paul Burgess, and Sarah Jamieson clinched a spot on the podium, finishing third in the 1500m.
To add further encouragement ahead of next year’s World Championship in Osaka, Sally McLellan produced a personal best – to race under 13 seconds for the first time in the 100m hurdles to finish fourth, Vicky Mitchell finished fourth in the steeplechase, as did Bronwyn Thompson in the long jump.
But it was the performance of Mottram that has the athletics experts gathered in Athens still talking long after the race. The defending champion produced a stunning run – racing to a personal best, Australian, Oceania and championship record time of 7min 32.19sec, smashing the previous meet record of 7min 41.37sec he set in winning in Madrid in 2002.
For his troubles, Mottram collected US$30,000 for his win – although stocks in Mottram Inc. will rise considerably more than that in morning trade – such was the manner and decisive nature of the win.
The race quickly became a classic man-on-man encounter that clearly showed who the better athlete was on this particular day - with no pacemaker and no other athlete to run interference.
When Bekele, the world record holder at 5000m, took the field through 800 metres in 2:01.34 it was already a three man race, with Jesus Espana, desperately trying to cling to the two leaders. By the time the clock ticked just over four minutes at 1600 metres the Spaniard was 60 metres adrift and fading.
Mottram’s race plan worked a treat. He and coach Nic Bideau had been forced to change tactics dramatically after the African superstar switched on Friday from the 5000 metres to the shorter race. They determined that Mottram had to go with 800 or 900 left to run and that is exactly what occurred.
For a brief moment after a further 200 metres it looked as though the man now known to all as "Buster" he might have gone too early as for a split second Bekele seemed to come back. But Mottram continued to surge and never looked anything but the winner from then on.
Mottram crossed the line in a new championship record, leaving Bekele in second in 7min 36.25sec. Driss Maazouzi from France was third in 7min 47.80sec.
"We have been looking for three years at ways we could beat this guy and now we have done it. It has turned out to be a great year," an excited Mottram said after his win.
"It's fantastic to have won the same event at a meet like the World Cup twice in a row. I will be aiming to make it three in Croatia in four years time."
In the 29 years of the existence of the World Cup before today, Oceania had tasted victory on only four occasions. Yesterday in Athens that statistic was nearly doubled in three hours of athletics.
In addition to Mottram's initial success in Madrid in 2002, the only other winners have been Kiwi Beatrice Faumuina in the discus in the same year and prior to that, Aussies, javelin thrower Joanna Stone in Johannesburg in 1998 and long jumper Lyn Jacenko at the first edition in Dusseldorf in 1977.
Joining Mottram on the top spot of the podium today were team co-captain Valerie Vili (NZ) in the shot put and Steve Hooker in the pole vault.
Hooker, like Vili a Commonwealth champion from the MCG in March seemed more relieved than excited after his slightly dramatic victory.
Hooker went into the competition a clear favourite but failed his first attempts at both 5.60m and his eventual winning height of 5.80 metres to put a slight flutter through his own mind and those of his support team.
But his second vaults at each height were towering clearances, far more indicative of the wonderful form he has been in for the whole season. His second clearance at 5.80m came just as Mottram was enjoying a lap of the stadium to the ubiquitous sounds of ‘Men at Work’s’ "Land Down Under."
"It has been a long season. I am very tired now. I am glad it is all over. I can go back home, take a rest and then get back into it - because what lies ahead is something I am excited about," said the Victorian who has recently relocated to Perth to train with Alex Parnov's squad.
He has reason to be excited as he is almost certain to become the new world number one when the next edition of the IAAF Rankings are released this week, taking over from training partner Paul Burgess who triumphed in the Stuttgart World Final seven days before. The two are likely to remain at the head of the list for at least six months.
Vili, bounced back from a narrow loss in the shot put in the World Athletics Final a week ago to record an emphatic win by more than 30 centimetres over her main rivals. Her best of 19.87m achieved in round two was never seriously under threat.
"I really enjoyed the competition and it was great to see both skippers leading by example. The team performed really well today - I think we have made a few people sit up and take notice of us," the proud Kiwi said after her success.
"And the $US30,000 will come in very handy for the house purchase."
The podium finishes did not end with the three winners, with Sarah Jamieson once again demonstrating her emerging star quality with a strong third in the women's 1500 metres in a time of 4.02.82, beaten only by the dominant figure at the moment in that event, Maryam Jamal of Bahrain and two time world champion, Tatyana Tomashova of Russia.
After finishing second at the Commonwealth Games, Jamieson has produced a sensational season, twice beating her personal best, setting a new Australian record and consistently reaching the podium in the major European meets this summer.
There were four fourth, and three fifth, places also for the Oceania squad which finished in eighth spot in each of the Cup competitions, just failing by one point to better France in the men's final tally.
Queenslander Sally McLellan's effort was perhaps the most encouraging of those one spot off the medals, running a personal best of 12.95 seconds into a slight headwind to eclipse the magic 13 second barrier for the first time. She moves past Jane Flemming to the number two spot on the Australian all-time list and was just .02 outside Olympic silver medallist Pam Ryan’s national record of 12.93 set in 1972.
"I really can't believe that. I seriously did not think I was in that sort of shape. I am so excited to have made the breakthrough - and to finish fourth as well," the youngster who turns 20 this week said after the race.
"I have never experienced running that fast before - I think I had to slow down to avoid hitting the hurdles."
She will get a further chance to see whether that is the case when she competes in Yokohama, Japan on Sunday before taking a short break in early October.
Bronwyn Thompson experienced upper leg pain during the long jump but still managed another of the fourth placings, her best effort of 6.63m just a centimetre off third spot and five away from the silver medal position.
Victoria Mitchell bounced back from what she described as a disappointing performance when she finished eighth in the 3000 metres steeplechase in Stuttgart last weekend, to finish a fighting fourth in the same event in Athens, and in a much quicker time of 9:36.34.
After running with the lead group until the bell, the Albury runner who has spent the northern summer based in London, maintained a steady pace, and then managed to slip past Russian Tatyana Petrova after clearing the last of the race's 35 barriers.
US based New Zealander, Kimberley Smith finished her season with a more than creditable fourth in the 5000 metres in 15:12.15 after having to do much of the pace work for the group chasing run away leader and eventual winner, Meseret Defar who was competing for Africa.
Scott Martin completed an excellent nine days, with another good result this time in the discus with a best of 60.93m. The Commonwealth Games gold medallist, equally well known for his television commercial ballet dancing appearances, had picked up fourth spot in the shot put on day one and fifth the previous weekend in Stuttgart.
The other fifth spots were achieved by Aussies Patrick Johnson who ran 20.52 in the 200 metres and 2002 Commonwealth Games 1500 metres bronze medallist Youcef Abdi who recorded 8:36.13 in the steeplechase.