DAEGU, South Korea — In a fenced-off area below the stadium, American training partners Carmelita Jeter and Jason Richardson crossed paths, exchanging a quick embrace before going separate ways.
They were two unlikely gold medalists at the world championships Monday.
Jeter because, well, nobody beats the Jamaicans at 100 meters at major meets these days. Richardson because he was an afterthought in the highly anticipated 110 hurdles matchup in what could prove to be the race of these championships.
He originally won the silver but was stunningly bumped up to champion when Cuban world-record holder Dayron Robles was disqualified for smacking hands not once but twice with Liu Xiang of China over the final few hurdles.
“I can beat Robles’ world record,” said Richardson, who runs with his dreadlocks tied in a ponytail. “My next objective is to repeat the same thing in the Olympics.”
The race featured the three fastest hurdlers in history — Robles, Liu and David Oliver of the U.S. Yet it was the unknown Richardson who crashed the party, jumping out fast and beating all but Robles.
A silver medal? Richardson was more than pleased.
Traded up to a gold? Almost too good to imagine.
Liu appealed after Robles appeared to bang Liu’s hand several times, slowing the 2004 Olympic gold medalist.
“I am really sorry about the situation. You know competition,” Liu said. “Besides, we are good friends.”
There were other strange doings on the track.
It was supposed to be Allyson Felix’s stage as she finished off the first leg of her difficult double, an accomplishment that would have established her as America’s biggest track star for next year’s London Olympics. But Felix couldn’t catch Amantle Montsho of Botswana in the 400 final, nudged out at the line.
There went the shot at the double. An exhausted Felix now turns her attention toward winning a fourth straight 200 title later in the week.
Jeter’s chances at a 100-200 sweep have never looked better, even though she’s competing in Felix’s signature event and has riled the Jamaicans.
“We’ll see her again,” said Jamaican Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who finished fourth to end her run as 100 champion.
Long known as the sprinter who couldn’t win on the big stage, the 31-year-old Jeter ended that perception by winning in 10.90 seconds, 0.07 faster than Veronica Campbell-Brown.
After crossing the line, Jeter gazed around the stadium, looking for tangible proof of what her heart was telling her — that she did indeed win her first world title.
Then her image appeared on the big screen. Her name popped up — first. “I did it!” she screamed, falling to the track and bursting into tears.
“It’s good not to have that jinx, that I can only win bronze medals,” said Jeter, who finished third at the worlds in 2007 and ‘09. “I was just ready. This was just a different night.”
This also was a night when the run of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter known as the “Blade Runner,” ended with the semifinals of the 400. The South African finished last in his heat, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“These guys are unbelievable. They’re in a league of their own,” Pistorius said. “It’s an honor to compete against them.”
Jillian Camarena-Williams won the first medal for the U.S. in the women’s shot put, capturing the bronze in an event won by defending champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand.
In other finals, Pawel Wojciechowski of Poland won the pole vault and Koji Murofushi of Japan took the hammer throw title, winning his first world championship at 36.
Jeter and Richardson train together under coach John Smith. And soon after making her rounds for interviews, Jeter was told Richardson had moved up.
“Jason, you got the gold?” Jeter screamed across a nearly empty room. “You didn’t tell me that!”
That’s when they hugged, with Smith close by.
Smith said he felt that Jeter was on the brink of a breakthrough. She had the world’s best time this season, but lacked confidence in big races. Smith told her she had worked too hard to throw it all away.
“It was her time,” he said.
This appeared to be Felix’s time as well. Hardly known as a 400 runner, she got only better as the race went along and was closing fast on Montsho before simply running out of track.
Felix wished she had kicked into a higher gear a little sooner, even though she finished in a personal-best 49.59 seconds. That was simply inexperience.
“I still don’t feel as confident as I do in the 200. I know that race, when to move,” Felix said. “I’m definitely disappointed. Anytime I lose, I’m disappointed. I have to keep moving forward.”
Her teammate, defending champion Sanya Richards-Ross, finished seventh. It’s been a rough season for Richards-Ross following an injury-plagued 2010.
But for Felix this is all part of deciding whether it might be too ambitious to run both the 200 and 400 at the Olympics. She desperately wants an Olympic gold medal in the 200, the main thing missing from her storied career.
“What I hope to take away is how my body bounces back from the 200,” Felix said, “to decide if I want to do this again.”