Manuel Guijarro seems overwhelmed. He has three giants in front of him, three who have shaken him to pass him imperiously, a Dutchman, a Belgian, a Briton, three cabinets block his way in the final of the 4×400 relay. Overtaking them with a witness, a tube, in hand, seems out of the question, impossible. On a 200m track, in an oval of just straight lines and tight curves on lane one where they skid and the centrifugal force spits them out?
No way, Manuel.
Manuel is Manuel Guijarro, and he is from Villarrobledo, Albacete. He knows no fear in the streets. He knows them all. He is a force unleashed. A bull, and a determined heart on an athletics track so hot that sweat is chewed, and the penetrating smell of adrenaline, released testosterone, excitement, dizziness. The queen of Serbian athletics, Ivana Spanovic, has just won the length (7.06m; seventh, Fátima Diame, 6.71m); Mondo has the pole in his hand before a bar so high, 6.20m, the height of a second floor balcony, at least, and a low one, that no one has tried to surpass it before in history. Nobody sees impossible. Pebble, accelerated, minus. He doesn’t see impossible. He sees a crack on the inside and launches, before the 300m curve, his last chance. And in an unusual maneuver, never seen before, and so fleeting that it lasts the blink of an eye, he overtakes the three on the inside, Agard, Sacoor, Reardon, takes them a meter, two, and delivers the first the witness to the fourth reliever, Bernat Erta, the hero of the Glasgow European medal. Everything was possible, of course.
Nightfall in Belgrade. Mondo waits. The bar is still there.
A few hours before. The midday sun shines in Belgrade with the youthful hopes of the hungry relievers led by Bruno Hortelano, a wise opener for Iñaki Cañal, Manuel Guijarro and Bernat Erta. They run the fastest semifinal of the 4×400 (3m 6.98s), a phase in which the United States is eliminated after their last reliever, Isaiah Harris, the one Mariano García called “kid” for his way of running the 800m, break their ischium, and they end up so excited, they feel so masterful, that Hortelano assures, “and in the final more, and I’m not talking about a medal, I’m talking about gold”. The captain of the Cuatrocentistas was narrowly mistaken, who was looking for, at the head of the group, a kind of personal redemption, the last step in his return to the kingdom of the best in the matter, a way to erase from many memories his last relief in the Berlin European Championship, an overflowing Olympic stadium, in the summer of 2018. It should have been the crowning of the generation of Samuel García, Lucas Búa and Óscar Husillos, those who gave life and air to the long relay after years in the underground. Hortelano, who miscalculated, such was his desire to arrive first, had 20 meters left over. The gold was bronze.
In Belgrade the gold was silver, but it was gold, gold, until the 100m, and it was in the incredible legs of Erta, whom Búa had dyed blonde when the success of Glasgow, and there are still dyed strands in her chaotic mane . And she ran as well as ever, like in the semi-final, in which she gave her rivals false hope, that they couldn’t. In the final, however, he was running with death on his heels, like a few hours earlier Jakob Ingebrigtsen in his 1,500m frustrated by the final attack of the Ethiopian Tefera. Erta was stabbed by the knife in the last corner, cold, calculating, expert, the fourth of the Belgians, Kevin Borlée, a family, a country that only lives for the relief. And the extraordinary Lleidan did not sink, but rather withstood the final, desperate attack of the Dutchman Van Diepen. And Spain (3m 6.82s) was silver. For Belgium (3m 6.52s), the gold, and for the Netherlands (3m 6.90s), the bronze.
It is the second medal for Spanish athletics in Belgrade, which had been raised on Sunday with the forgery mist raised by the splendor of Mariano García García and the fatigue of Adel Mechaal, who finished seventh in his 3,000m final and criticized the federation, and regrets that he was forced to go to Madrid last Monday, attend the farewell session before the authorities and media of the 27 of the team on Tuesday, and from there take with the whole team, he, his captain, a flight to Belgrade on Wednesday to compete Friday and Sunday. “And I was in Istanbul, where I live with my wife and I would have gotten much better directly to Belgrade from there, and with such a heavy journey I have arrived tired,” explains Mechaal in the mixed zone, a stakhanovist figure in the competition and the training, and unstoppable, untiring absolute, three races of 1,500m, seven of 3,000m, two long crosses and a 10-kilometre race on asphalt held in two months; European record holder (7m 30.82s) six weeks ago in New York; Spanish double champion, 1,500m and 3,000m three weeks ago in Ourense. The fatigue of the trip and a busy season, and a better form reached a month ago and perhaps already past, Mechaal accuses him in a semifinal in which he gives himself over to playing catch with the untouchable Selemon Berega and, more than ever, in a final not very fast for his standards to which he arrived thinking of a medal and ran offside. He won Barega (7m 41.38s) ahead of fellow Ethiopian Girma (7m 41.63s) and British Marc Scott (7m 42.02s).
And in mid-afternoon, there is still sun, and it is lit up by Asier Martínez, Zizur’s tremendous hurdler, 21 years old, who qualifies for the final after achieving the best mark of his life (7.55s) in a semifinal in which the North American Grant Holloway, the monster of the distance, will equal, 7.29s, the world record that he himself achieved a year ago on the Gallur track in Madrid. Asier Martínez is third and passes with the best time of those not classified by positions, and escapes by just over a hundredth of the cruel and unprecedented fate of the Japanese Shusei Nomoto, who, tied at thousandths with the British David King (7,565s) in the eighth place, and there are not nine lanes, loses the draw that decided who occupied the last lane.
And Asier Martínez, so established in the elite, so confident in top competition, has the right to feel a kind of deja vu, Well, together with Holloway he ran in that Gallur in February and also at his side he played the 110m final at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium in August, and he did not finish that far. Second the North American (13.09s), sixth the Navarrese (13.22s). In the final, Asier Martínez ran almost as well, and thought he finished third because, from his lane, lane two, he couldn’t see the center very well. He grazed, and fell, the fourth and fifth hurdles, and in the last meters he suffered the final attack by the Frenchman Martinot Lagarde (7.50s), silver, and the American Jarred Eaton (7.53s), bronze. Ahead had already passed, so superior, Holloway (7.39s). Behind, so close that he was third, but was fourth (7.57s), the 21-year-old Zizur from Navarra, who proclaims: “But I’m a summer runner, 110m, eh? This winter was just a test…”. And you have to believe him and not believe him: he is a winter and summer athlete, short track and long pants, and long track too.
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