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A high from hurdles

August 27, 2004

Red-hot favourite Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic streaked to victory in the men's Olympic 400 metres hurdles final on Thursday.

Felix SanchezFour days shy of his 27th birthday, the New York-born world champion flowed over the barriers to take gold in a time of 47.63 seconds -- the fastest time in the world this year.

Sanchez, who is unbeaten in more than 40 races and last lost in July 2001, is the Dominican Republic's first Olympic gold medallist. Their only other Olympic medal was a boxing bronze won by bantamweight Pedro Nolascos in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Sanchez has dominated the 400m hurdles for nearly three years. Undefeated at that distance since July 2001, he rose to the No. 1 world ranking that August and remained ever since.

But as they say great things often happen by accident.

Sanchez considered himself primarily a baseball player -- the Dominican Republic's most popular sport -- but turned to track after suffering a broken arm as a wrestler.

Although the fastest player on the baseball team, he soon found out that he was one of the slowest on the track team. He started out as a 400m runner but got lucky when three teammates were ruled academically ineligible.

He won his first world title in 2001 -- the Dominican Republic's first medal at a major international track and field event -- and successfully defended the gold in 2003. The only other man to repeat as 400m hurdles world champion was the legendary Edwin Moses, in 1983 and 1987.

Sanchez is still some way short of the 1976 and 1984 Olympic champion Ed Moses, who enjoyed a 122-race unbeaten streak spanning nine years.

But presently he is the most dominant athlete in track and field and the most likely to break or even equal Moses' incredible feat.

Felix Sanchez, our Olympian of the Day.

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