Gevaert and Hellebaut win golden medal at European athletics championships

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kim Gevaert and Tia Hellebaut both won their finals last night in Gothenburg at the European Championships in Athletics. For Gevaert, who already won the 100m sprint three days ago and held third place in the world ranking, 22.68 seconds in the 200 metres was enough to haul in a second golden medal. Russians Yuliya Gushchina (22.93) and Natalya Ruskova (23.09) had to settle for silver and bronze. Hellebaut jumped over 2.01 metres and then only needed one attempt to cross 2.03 metres, unexpectedly winning the high jump event. Favourite Kajsa Bergqvist only finished third, after Venelina Veneva from Bulgaria, who also made 2.03 metres but needed two jumps to succeed.

As Gevaert crossed the finish line cheering, Hellebaut came to congratulate her carrying a Belgian flag. Indeed, the victory of the two 28-year old Belgian women was historical: while Hellebaut bettered the Belgian record, Gevaert was the first Belgian athlete ever to win two golden medals at the European championships. The last women to crown herself in both sprint events was Russian Irina Privalova in 1994. Francis Obikwelu also brought in a sprint double victory for Portugal on Thursday.

Gevaert credited her victory partly to Hellebaut’s medal: “I screamed when my friend Tia won the high jump,” Gevaert told the gathered European press. “Seeing her gave me so much motivation two minutes before my own start.” And she continued: “I wonder what is going on right now in Belgium with three gold medals. It is wonderful for such a small country.” Hellebaut admitted that her achievement was “…beyond all expectations.”

Gevaert succeeds Muriel Hurtis as European Champion. Hurtis didn’t make it past the semi-finals. Four years ago, it was Hurtis who held off Gevaert, who had to settle for silver then. “I was a lot better than four years ago in Munich, when I was four years younger and much more nervous,” Gevaert explained.

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