OSAKA 's The Baltic states won gold as expected in the men's discus event at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan, Aug. 28. But what wasn't expected was that the medal should be won not by reigning world champion Virgilijus Alekna from Lithuania but by Estonian rival Gerd Kanter.
Throughout his career, Kanter had only managed to outhrow Alekna on one previous occasion, at a minor meet in 2003, and it seemed that he might always be destined to play a supporting role, finishing second to the great Lithuanian at both last year's European championships and the 2005 world championships.
But this time Kanter seized his chance. Recording a distance of 68.94m with his third throw from six, Kanter stayed ahead of the field for the remainder of the competition. When it became clear that he had won, the usually calm and cool athlete could no longer contain his emotion and ran over to the crowd pumping his fists and tearing at his shirt.
German Robert Harting was placed in the silver medal position with Dutchman Rutger Smith claiming bronze. Defending champion Alekna could only manage a disappointing fourth. Kanter's Estonian compatriot Aleksander Tammert was eighth.
Despite his obvious delight, Kanter still found time to acknowledge the man he succeeds as world champion: "In my eyes Virgilijus Alekna is the best discus thrower ever," he told reporters, "so it is a great feeling to have finally beaten the number one. I had struggled to do so in recent championships. He inspired me a lot in recent years."
For his part, 35-year-old Alekna accepted his first defeat in more than two years with equally good grace, admitting that he had not been fully fit coming into the competition. "Eight days ago I injured my calf muscle," Alekna said. "It became almost impossible to win, but I hoped to have a small chance for a medal." Finishing fourth in the world championship while carrying an injury is testament to his prowess.
Having finally overcome his great rival, Kanter immediately set his sights on another landmark, announcing his intention to try for a new world record distance at a meet in Helsingborg on Sept. 15. The current record is 74.08m, set by Germany's JÃ¼rgen Schult in 1986, making it one of the longest-standing records in world sport.
Having finally broken the shackles imposed upon him by Alekna and with time on his side 's at 28 he is entering his prime as a discus thrower 's Kanter may well achieve a new benchmark.