DAEGU, South Korea — In a golden half-hour for the United States, three Americans won world championship titles Thursday, none more surprising than Jennifer Barringer Simpson getting the first 1,500-meter victory since Mary Decker-Slaney in 1983.
Jesse Williams added the first men’s high jump world title in two decades, and Lashinda Demus ran the third-fastest time in history to take the women’s 400 hurdles.
At the end of the night, the United States led the medal standings with seven gold medals and 12 overall. Russia was closest with four gold and 12 in total.
“What a wonderful night for our team,” Williams said. “Will I celebrate? You can bet on that. We will have a big party.”
On a day of surprises, double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius reached his first major final Thursday, leading off South Africa’s 4×400-meter relay team and helping it qualify with a national record. The South African team is to decide early Friday whether Pistorius still would be in the starting lineup for Friday’s final, because it also could use Thursday’s 400 hurdles bronze medalist L.J. van Zyl.
Simpson’s astonished face said it all after the race. She did not figure in the top 10 of this season’s performers before outpacing all of the favorites and winning the first title for the United States in the race in 28 years.
“I am supposed to say that I am not surprised,” said Simpson, who had the 25th-best time of the season heading into the worlds. “All I can say is that a dream has come true.”
Simpson sped past rivals on the finishing straight and then, with big eyes, looked at the giant screen facing her in Daegu Stadium to see if it really happened.
“I’m coming down home stretch and thinking, how did I get here?” Simpson said. “I knew coming off the curb I had another couple of gears, and I just thought I’m going to be really hard to beat now.”
She closed her eyes and raised her fists after the race.
In the high jump, Williams was perfect through the winning height of 7 feet, 8 inches, needing one jump less than Aleksey Dmitrik of Russia. Both failed three times at 7-9 , handing the United States a first men’s high jump title since Charles Austin at the 1991 worlds in Tokyo.
If two golds in a dozen minutes was great, Demus made it three in 29 minutes after a thrilling duel with Jamaican rival Melaine Walker.
After twice getting silver, Demus finally got the breakthrough victory when she moved ahead after clearing the last of 10 hurdles alongside Walker and putting in a better finishing kick.
Her time of 52.47 seconds beat the Jamaican by 0.26 seconds and Kim Batten’s 16-year-old U.S. record by 0.14.
“It feels so great to bring it home,” Demus said.
The Kenyans added their customary gold in the men’s steeplechase as Ezekiel Kemboi successfully defended his title, then put on a dance performance that would have made ultimate showman Usain Bolt proud.
Kemboi stripped off his shirt and flexed the muscles as the crowd cheered. He pumped his fist several times and started wiggling his hips in a raucous celebration.
On the track, Kemboi left the pack behind with about 200 meters to go and beat Brimin Kipruto. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad was third as he failed to get past Kipruto in the final meters.
The “Curse of the Cover” of the official program claimed another victim Thursday when two-time defending women’s triple jump champion Yargelis Savigne of Cuba was forced to withdraw with a right thigh injury.
Bolt, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles were among the stars on the cover who did not medal.
Olha Saladuha of Ukraine won the gold in the triple jump, beating world indoor champion Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan.
David Greene of Britain won the men’s 400-meter hurdles ahead of Javier Culson of Puerto Rico and Van Zyl.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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