Hayes claims hurdles crown
She got some help when favorite Perdita Felicien fell at the first hurdle.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
ATHENS, Greece -- In a race Tuesday night that began with a two-lane pileup and ended with the Russian track federation filing a protest, the gold medal went to the first woman standing, Joanna Hayes of the United States.
Hayes completed the women's 100-meter hurdles final in an Olympic-record 12.37 seconds, the key being that she completed the race. Canada's Perdita Felicien, the reigning world champion, turned an eight-woman race into a six-woman event when she stepped on the crossbar of the first hurdle, crashed and rolled into the lane to her right, taking Russia's Irina Shevchenko down with her.
Both athletes watched helplessly as Hayes reached the finish first, much to her own amazement, followed by Ukrainian Olena Krasovska in 12.45 and American Melissa Morrison in 12.56.
Russians' protest denied
Afterward, the Russian federation protested that Shevchenko had been impeded by Felicien. Track officials debated for nearly two hours before deciding to deny the protest early this morning.
"I feel for her," said Hayes, a graduate of Riverside (Calif.) John W. North High School and UCLA. "I know in the hurdles, though, so many things can happen. It gets dangerous."
Felicien, the favorite to win the race, knows too.
"I'm devastated," she said, her eyes nearly as red as her uniform. "I was ready to run that race. I was ready to do this. I never asked for the gold medal. I just wanted to do my best.
"Now I have to wait for four more years."
Felicien, the 2003 outdoor and 2004 indoor world champion, started poorly, much slower than Hayes' initial burst, and got into trouble trying to close the gap. Her lead foot struck the top of the first hurdle, sending Felicien flying out of her lane and into Lane 6. There she collided with Shevchenko, both runners crashing hard into the second row of hurdles.
"I don't think I was spooked or anything, but she definitely got out on me," Felicien said, alluding to Hayes. "I'm a closer and I should have relied on that.
"I made contact with the hurdle on the eighth step. It was only eight steps to the first hurdle. I tumbled, fell and that was it."
Learned cruel lesson
Renaldo Nehemiah, former world-record holder in the men's 110-meter hurdles and an agent here representing several U.S. athletes, said Felicien learned "a cruel lesson. You learn it once
"From a technical standpoint, she was beaten out of the box, straightened up and tried to make it up, and landed on the first hurdle. It wasn't panic. It was just a matter of rhythm. She was trying to put herself back in the race on the first hurdle and landed on the crossbar."
As the race ended, Felicien was on her back near the start, crying in frustration. Moments later, Hayes was staggering around in circles beyond the finish, shedding tears of jubilation.