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Olympic Track Events (III): The 800 metres with Yuri Borzakovskiy

HOW IT IS:

2004-06-21

He has all the natural talent needed to win an Olympic gold medal but it comes down to tactics. Yuri Borzakovskiy has already shown impressive form in this Olympic season: having been beaten by Wilfred Bungei, the 2001 World Championship silver medallist, who ran a world best for 2004 in Seville, the 23-year-old Russian took revenge on the Kenyan in the opening meeting of the Golden League in Bergen in Norway.

But the 64,000 dollar question remains the same as before in his brief career. Does he run the first lap too slowly, then try to win with his speed in the home straight? Though he has shown variations of this tactic in the last couple of seasons, he still prefers to leave it to the last lap. At the 2003 World Championships in Paris, this tactic brought him "merely" a silver medal: with 400m still to run, he was sixth but led in the home straight, only to be beaten at the finish by the Algerian Djabir Said-Guerni. At the Games in Athens, the challenge should also come from the current World Indoor champion, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (South Africa) and the Kenyans. We shall have to wait and see how Andre Bucher (Switzerland), the 2001 World champion, has recovered after an injury in last years outdoor season. Also in question is the form of the world record holder, Wilson Kipketer (Denmark), who showed last year that perhaps he is no longer the top man over 800m.

YURI BORZAKOVSKIY: NATURAL BORN RUNNER

His style is all ease and grace. Success came early in winning the World Youth 800m title in 1998 and achieving an impressive victory for Russia in the European Cup the following year. Going into the 2004 outdoor season he had twice broken the junior indoor world record as well as once the junior world mark outdoors. He ran his outdoor personal best of 1:42.47 at the 2001 Golden League meeting in Brussels. The previous year he broke the world junior record with 1:44.38 in Dortmund.

He attracts praise and criticism in almost equal measure. Praise, certainly, since how else could it be for a runner who set a European junior record in an Olympic semi-final in Sydney? But there has also been criticism for the way he ran in the final in 2000: Andre Bucher and Andrea Longo (Italy) led through the first lap in 53.43, not a quick pace by any means, but Borzakovskiy was well down. When Nils Schumann beat Wilson Kipketer to the gold medal, the Russian trailed in sixth.

Borzakovskiy ran in the 2002 European Championships in Munich but in the 400m. His old rivals, Schumann, Bucher and Kipketer were racing over two laps while the Russian qualified for the 400m semi-final. But finishing seventh meant no place in the final for him. Sometimes he gave the impressive he was doing a training session rather than competing at a championship.

He was back to his favourite distance in the 2003 World Championships in Paris, beaten only by the Olympic bronze medallist Said-Guerni. Borzakovskiys reaction was: "Im very happy with this result, it was a fantastic race." He deservedly has the respect of all his rivals. Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, the World Indoor champion from South Africa, discussed with his coach the potential threat from Borzakovskiy before the championships in Budapest this year. His coach, Makonde Makhumisane, summed the Russian up thus: "If you let him have an inch, hell run away from you!"


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