Kaniskina walks away with Olympic title

Olga Kaniskina walks Russia back into sole lead of the track gold medal standings today in a driving rain that hampered even the best of Olympic athletes.

Russia's gold medal winner Olga Kaniskina competes in the women's 20km walk final.
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BEIJING // Olga Kaniskina walked Russia back into sole lead of the track gold medal standings today in a driving rain that hampered even the best of Olympic athletes. After a week of clear and warm conditions, a downpour over the Olympic Green cooled things down for the 20km walk and Kaniskina responded with an Olympic record. It gave Russia its fifth gold medal of the track and field programme, despite several pre-games antidoping scandals which left several top contenders at home. Russia has nine medals overall, nudging back in front of Jamaica, which has seven medals, including four gold. The USA are currently in third place with only three gold but 14 medals overall, and will be counting on more in today's programme. Kaniskina dealt with the conditions better than her rivals, leading from start to finish for the first gold of a busy day in one hour, 26 minutes, 31 seconds. "It was better than a sunny and hot day," she said of the ideal walking temperature of 21 degrees C (70 degrees F). "I didn't feel it was very slippery." The javelin throwers did, often losing their footing and, for some, slipsliding out of the Games. Even the world champion Tero Pitkamaki was in trouble, hurting his right leg when his left ankle slipped from under him. The Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen held back. "When you see that you have to slow it down," Thorkildsen said. "When you go full speed and run, you can slip and get very injured." Throwing was stopped again briefly when Sergei Makarov of Russia slipped and fell on the runway. Officials used towels to mop up puddles of water on the runway between throws. The wet weather also delayed the women's high jump qualifying for an hour and, with rain continuing, technical delegates decided the 15 women who cleared 1.93 metres would all advance to the final. The defending champion Yelena Slesarenko was one miss away from elimination before coming through. Blanka Vlasic is looking for her 35th straight victory. "It was tricky, a little hard to get the right distance on approach," Vlasic said. The weather is supposed to clear up for the evening session, when Jeremy Wariner goes against LaShawn Merritt in the 400m race, a USA duel which could well threaten another world record of Michael Johnson after the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt beat Johnson's 200m mark late last night. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge may have loved the performance but not Bolt's celebrations. "That's not the way we perceive being a champion," Rogge said. "He should show more respect for his competitors." In the 110m hurdles, Dayron Robles is favourite in the absence of China's 2004 Olympic champion Liu Xiang, who withdrew with injuries in the first round. And in the women's 200m, the Jamaicans will seek to shut out the Americans in the golden sprint duel, which they already lead 3-0. Bryan Clay of the USA got off to a strong start in the decathlon. The 2005 world champion had the best 100m time in 10.44 seconds, then had the best long jump at 7.78 metres. That gave the decathlete 1,994 points with three events remaining on the opening day of the two-day competition. In second place was his American teammate Trey Hardee with 1,960 points. Clay's top challenger, the reigning world and Olympic champion Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic, was in seventh place with 1,794 points, with his best events still to come. The shot put, high jump and 400m close out the first day of the 10-discipline event.

*AP