Poland storm to inaugural mixed Olympic 4x400m title in Tokyo

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    Polish 4x400m quartets have produced some huge performances and memorable upsets in recent championships but none more so than this evening when their team triumphed in the inaugural mixed 4x400m relay on Saturday (31), breaking their European record with 3:09.87 in the process.

    The Poles qualified fastest from the heats with a European record of 3:10.44 but the United States - who were initially disqualified from the heats but later reinstated - had upscaled their team for the final and European indoor champion Femke Bol was a surprise and last-minute inclusion into a Dutch team with strong medal ambitions.

    Along with the Dominican Republic whose star runner Marileidy Paulino ran a searing 48.7 second leg to put the Carribean nation into medal contention, these four teams were in close contention for the title on the last leg and for the chance to become the first ever Olympic champions in the newest event on the athletics programme.

    Dutch anchor runner Ramsey Angela forged past his Dominican counterpart with 200 metres remaining but he was shadowed by the taller Katejan Duszynski who had anchored the Poles to victory in yesterday’s heats.

    Duszynski only has a modest lifetime best of 45.51 in the individual 400m but the 26-year-old has looked a transformed athlete in the mixed relay.

    After easing down to a 44.74 leg yesterday, Duszynski powered to a 44.38 split to pass the tiring Dutch anchor leg runner and hold off the United States and the Dominican Republic for one of the great triumphs in Polish athletics in recent years. The Poles are accustomed to winning global titles in the heavy throws but their last Olympic title on the track days back to Moscow 1980 when Bronislaw Malinowski won the 3000m steeplechase title. 

    "In the last 150 metres I felt I still had a lot of strength,” Dusynski said. “I'm that type of endurance athlete. It is my strength to run the first 200 metres slowly and then to attack towards the finish line. So I knew that I could make it. It's my strategy and it worked for me."

    Their team was led off by the very experienced Karol Zalewski - who was part of Poland’s world record-breaking team at the 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham - who clocked a solid 45.1 to put the Polish team in title contention. 

    The youngster of the team Natalia Kaczmarek blazed to a 49.9 split on the second leg before their star runner and stalwart of the relay team Justyna Swiety-Ersetic, who was an injury doubt for the Olympic Games due to a quadriceps tear, ran 50.47 on the third leg before safely handing the baton to Duszynski.

    In a celebration which is more likely to be seen on the football pitch than on the athletics track, Duszynski celebrated by pulling his vest over his face before sinking to the ground on all fours, overcome by emotion and exhaustion. 

    Behind Poland, the Dominican Republic outdipped the United States for a shock silver medal - 3:10.21 to 3:10.22. The Dutch just missed out on the medals although their time of 3:10.36 represented another national record. Belgium finished fifth, also revising their national record with 3:11.51.

    The Belgians were anchored by the ever-dependable Kevin Borlee whose 44.21 split was the fastest of the final.

    Stahl and Pettersson secure a Swedish one-two in the discus

    There were also memorable celebrations in the discus final as training partners Daniel Stahl and Simon Pettersson lustily celebrated gold and silver, the first Swedish one-two in the athletics programme since the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

    After Stahl stepped out of the ring for the final time, Pettersson hoisted the significant frame of his training partner and friend off the ground before draping themselves in the distinctive blue and yellow Swedish flag and celebrating with a sparse but excited crowd of onlookers inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.

    On a largely windless evening in the Japanese capital, Stahl still threatened the 70 metre-line in the final. His second round throw of 68.90m took the lead and didn’t appear in any danger of being dislodged.

    Pettersson has the rare distinction of having beaten Stahl in recent seasons and while a repeat of that domestic upset in Vaxjo in late May didn’t seem likely, the probability of a Swedish one-two increased as he moved into silver medal position ahead of Austria's Lukas Weisshaidinger with his fifth round throw of 67.39m.

    The medal positions didn't change in the sixth round and Stahl, who began as the resounding pre-competition favourite, duly lived up to expectations, adding the Olympic gold medal to his world title from 2019 and his European silver medal from 2018. "There was a lot of hard work and fun on the way. I am extremely proud,” he said.

    “My training partner Simon has been working hard,” Stahl said. “I am also very proud of our coach (Vesteinn Hafsteinsson) for believing in us, and having faith.”

    A bronze medallist at the European Championships and World Championships already, Weisshaidinger ensured a continental clean sweep of the medals with another major bronze medal with 67.07m. Matt Denny from Australia came within a tantalising five centimetres of this distance in the sixth round with 67.02m.

    The tallest thrower in the line-up, European U23 champion Kristjan Ceh from Slovenia was a creditable fifth on his Olympic debut with 66.37m while Lithuania's Andrius Gudzius fell short of adding an Olympic medal to his world and European titles, finishing sixth with 64.11m.

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