Fani Halkia stuns Greece with gold

Fani Halkia gave Greece its most exhilarating win in these Games, with a phenomenal performance that left her rivals way behind in the women’s 400-meter hurdles final. She powered home in 52.82 seconds, leaving Romania’s Ionela Tirlea-Manolache in second place with 53.38 and Ukraine’s Tetiana Tereshchuk-Antipova in third with 53.44. Halkia had served notice of her intentions in the semifinal on Sunday when she set a new Olympic record of 52.77. After the final, the 25-year-old former high jumper knelt down and kissed the track. She took off her shoes, wrapped herself in the blue and white flag and began a victory lap as the capacity crowd roared in joyous delirium. After the shock of the withdrawal from the Games of top sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou after they missed a drug test, this was supreme consolation for the Greeks. «I felt I would win when I came into the stadium,» Halkia said after winning by the biggest margin of victory in the past five Olympics. «I wanted to show the world that the Greeks are high up there,» she said. «The Greeks are born to be winners.» On Monday, Athanasia Tsoumeleka had won the women’s 20-kilometer walk for Greece’s first track medal of the Games. Also yesterday, veteran windsurfer Nikos Kaklamanakis earned silver in the Mistral class with an improbable comeback late in the race. Kaklamanakis started the 11th and final race very slowly, rounding the first mark in 21st place. Although he improved to 13th after the second mark, he was back in 17th place after the final mark. Throughout, he was out of the medals, in fourth place overall. In the home stretch, Kaklamanakis passed a total of seven boards, including the fast-fading overall leader, Fernando Santos of Brazil, to finish in 10th place. The finish gave Kaklamanakis a total of 52 penalty points, 10 behind gold medalist Gal Fridman, who won Israel’s first gold medal since the state’s founding. Great Britain’s Nick Dempsey, who led throughout the race, ended with 53 penalty points and the bronze, while Santos finished 17th to bring his points total to 54 and a disappointing for him, fourth place. «This was one of the most difficult races in my career and also the most important one. It was as if the whole world had conspired on my behalf,» Kaklamanakis said. The 36-year-old, who won gold at Atlanta in 1996 but finished sixth at Sydney, announced his retirement.

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