TALLINN - Estonia's Andrus Varnik turned heads when he won the World Athletics Champio-nship title in the javelin on Aug. 11, throwing 87.17 meters in the fourth round. With a crowd of nearly 40,000 Finns convinced that national hero Tero Pitkamaki would bring home the gold, Varnik's throw left mouths ajar.
The Estonian went into the competition with only a ninth-place finish in Helsinki's Grand Prix barely 10 days before. What's more, Pitkamaki, recently the obsession of Finland, didn't even win a javelin medal. Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway took second and Russia's defending champion Sergey Makarov took third.
On June 26, in another Finnish meet, the 22-year-old Pitkamaki sent his spear a soaring 91.53 meters, becoming the sixth longest thrower of all-time and an instant national hero. Yet the Finn didn't fare so well in Rome, where Varnik showed a strong performance.
"I won in Rome so I showed my condition," Varnik said after his Championship win.
Although Pitkamaki entered the stadium to wild roars and waving flags, the athlete couldn't even stay among the top six at the end of the first two rounds.
Makarov was the only competitor who managed to throw more than 80 meters in the first round, while Pitkamaki guaranteed himself an extended stay in the final round with 79.69 meters.
But the competition, beset by rain and wind, didn't really take off until Varnik's astonishing performance in round four. Pitkamaki hit a mark of 81.27, and Makarov re-took second place with 83.48 before succumbing to Thorkild-sen's 85.71-meter throw.
Varnik cites his gold medal as proof that years of hard work can pay off, despite coming off a poor season.
"I knew I was capable," the Estonian said. "The weather just made it a little bit more difficult."
Pitkamaki was clearly dissatisfied with his fourth-place finish. "I am really disappointed," he said. "I just couldn't find the right way to throw the javelin into the wind. I just couldn't do what I wanted to."