They both said the altitude wouldn’t affect them.
Neither would the smog.
The home track advantage, however, would be a different animal entirely. Enough, it would turn out, to help set a world record.
In a 300-meter race initially marketed as Ana Guevara against Cathy Freeman, it was Guevara who made history Saturday night.
Guevara ran into the record books in the featured event of the inaugural Banamex Garnd Prix with a stirring 35.30 sprint, bettering Englishwoman Kathy Cook’s 18-year-old mark of 35.46.
Running in Lane 5, next to Freeman in Lane 4, Guevara was strong from the start and separated herself from the pack with a magnificent kick.
The red, white and green-clad crowd of 50,000 (an unheard of attendance in Mexico lest it be for a soccer match) erupted as Guevara began to put distance between herself and the others. The roar reached a crescendo when she crossed the finish line and her time flashed, smashing her previous best mark of 35.92, ahead of Romanian Ionela Tirlea (36.20) and Freeman (36.42).
The victory was sweet redemption for Guevara, who finished fifth in the 2000 Summer Olympics, .85 of a second behind Freeman in the 400.
Flexing muscles that would elicit blushes from fellow Mexican icons Marco Antonio Barrera and La Parka, a champion boxer and a professional wrestler who both competed in a celebrity 100-meter dash earlier in the evening, Guevara fought back tears as she addressed the crowd.
“I’m really proud to have competed here in front of so many of my friends, my family and all of these people who came to see me compete,” she said in halted breath.
“Thank for this dream. Viva Mexico.”
Freeman, the darling and home country hero of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, got a much different dose of perspective.
Not only was her view uncharacteristically from behind, Freeman also experienced the unique feel of her competition being the revered runner, the one who was implored loudly by thousands of her countrymen fervently waving flags and chanting her name.
“I don’t see any weakness in Ana,” said Freeman, in her first international solo race since taking a year off following her gold medal in the 400.
She admitted that she was not fit enough to take on Guevara, the world’s top-ranked runner at that distance, in a full-blown race.
But while Guevara’s win was expected, the biggest upset of the meet was pulled off by Canadian Nicholas Macrozonaris, who started the men’s 100-meter race with the slowest personal-best time (10.19 seconds) in a group that included world record holder Tim Montgomery and 2002 world champion Jon Drummond.
Overcoming a false start by England’s Darren Campbell, Macrozonaris (10.03) shocked the field and held off Montgomery (10.04), Drummond and Coby Miller (both 10.07).
In the women’s 200, Allyson Felix, 17, of Los Angeles Baptist High, also surprised the meet, which was touted as being the biggest in the Mexican capital since the 1968 Olympics, by setting a world junior record of 22.11.