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Bolt from the blue

August 26, 2004

Fani Halkia of Greece revived memories of Cathy Freeman's famous victory at the Sydney Games by delivering a magnificent gold for the hosts in the 400 metres hurdles final.

The Greek girl surged ahead on the home stretch and left her rivals gasping. From then on it was a fight for the minor places as she stretched her lead -- It was the biggest margin of victory in the event for the past five Games.

Taking the silver was Romanian Ionela Tirlea-Manolache, with bronze going to Ukrainian Tetiana Tereshchuk-Antipova.

The field also included world champion Jana Pittman of Australia, who faded to fifth while world record holder Yuliya Pechenkina of Russia trailed in last after a wretchedFani Halkia run.

The 25-year-old winner, who came from nowhere to run the sixth fastest time in history during the semi-finals, knelt on the ground to kiss the track after her triumph as the crowd bayed their support.

"I felt I would win when I came into the stadium," Halkia said, wearing a blue and white national flag around her shoulders.

"The Greek soul is enough by itself. We don't need anything else. We were born winners."

Kept out of the international spotlight by her coaching team this season, the former high jumper was putting together an incredible series of performances, improving her personal best by almost three-and-a-half seconds in 12 months.

A year ago she was a no-hoper, with a best of 56.40 -- a time which would have left her outside the first eight in any Olympic final stretching back to 1988.

Halkia stunned her rivals in the 400m hurdles when she knocked more than 1.2
seconds off her personal best time during the Olympic qualifying rounds.

Then, in the semi-final she thrilled the sold-out crowd by setting an Olympic record of 52.77 seconds in her 400-metre hurdles semi-final. That time would have been good enough to have won at any preceding Olympic Games since the event made its debut in 1984.

That time would also have won any preceding world championships apart from 1995 in Gothenburg.

It was a superb result for the hosts who have been jolted by the doping controversy which robbed them of one of their medallists.

This one was for Greece, Fani Halkia -- our Olympian of the day.

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