Swiss successes at the World Athletics Indoor Championships are a rare commodity but sprinter Mujinga Kambundji pulled off the biggest surprise of the first day of the World Athletics Indoor Championships to take the women’s 60m title in a stunning time of 6.96 on Friday (18).
After struggling to make an impact in the early evening semi-finals – she finished second in her race in 7.08 but going through as only the fifth fastest qualifier meant Kambundji was seeded into the outside lane eight – she was certainly not favoured to do any better than the bronze she won at the last edition of these championships four years ago in Birmingham.
However, without any distractions, she produced the fastest start by far in the final, with a reaction time of a mere 0.116, and was in front with her first stride and never headed.
At first, she seemed unsure that she had won, and so did her fellow competitors who were initially hugging and congratulating the US sprinter Mikiah Brisco, running in lane four and in the thick of the action before eventually taking the silver in 6.99, but quickly it dawned on everyone that it was Kambundji who should be receiving the plaudits.
Her time in the Serbian capital moved her up to equal second on the European all-time list and just 0.04 shy of the world and European record of Russia’s Irina Privalova set in the altitude-friendly Spanish capital Madrid in 1993.
“To become the world champion, that sounds just so beautiful. At first sight, I was a bit disappointed with [getting drawn in] the lane eight because usually I like to run in the middle and to feel the other opponents. But I told to myself, ‘OK, it is how it is,’” reflected Kambunji.
“Then I just focused on myself and tried to do my best race and I think I did. The summer season will be exciting, and this result gives me a lot of self-confidence, that I can have a really good championships outdoors.
“I had a good indoor season, and I was able to build on it. I was thinking that the gold medal was going to be sub-seven seconds, but I did not know what time I could run.
“I was ready for a PB but I did not expect it would be so fast. It was so crazy today,” added Kambundji.
Kambundji becomes just the third world indoor champion from Switzerland, after a hiatus of 29 years, following in the footsteps of 1991 shot put winner Werner Gunthor and 1993 3000m gold medallist Julia Baumann.
Poland’s 2019 European indoor champion Ewa Swoboda, the world-leader prior to arriving in the Serbian capital and the only woman under seven seconds before the first gun went on Friday with her national record of 6.99 at the Polish national championships two weeks ago, was just edged out of the medals after a surprisingly sluggish start, the worst of her three races in Belgrade.
She crossed the line in 7.04, and was given the same time as the USA’s bronze medallist Marybeth Sant-Price, but she arrived just 0.002 in arrears of the American and missed out on a medal by almost the smallest margin possible.
It was little consolation to Swoboda that she ran the fastest time in the history of the championships not to get a medal.
“The time was fast, it wasn’t that I crumbled under the pressure, but I stayed in blocks too long and then there was too much ground to make up when someone is on their way to winning in 6.96. Nevertheless, it gives me hope for the summer,” said a bitterly disappointed Swoboda.