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Wednesday, August 6, 2003
Sanchez wins 400 hurdles in front of home crowd

Associated Press

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Felix Sanchez, the undisputed hero of his adopted Dominican Republic, was so excited after hearing the crowd during his warmup for the 400 hurdles that he thought he might miss his chance for gold.

"I was very hyper,'' he said. "I tried to calm myself but I couldn't so I came out too hard and after the seventh hurdle I was very tired. I had to keep my technique to get through the last three hurdles.''

It didn't look that way, though, as he cruised past his rivals with apparent ease to set a Pan American Games record of 48.19 seconds.

There was an air of inevitability about the victory well before the race.

"In 30 minutes, Superman will fly over the Dominican Republic,'' the stadium announcer declared, sending an already excitable crowd crazy.

Many waved flags with the Superman symbol, and cheered wildly when he limbered up, got into the blocks and throughout the race.

"He's a horse. Look at that!'' screamed one admirer, her head in her hands as she watched the replay on the big screen.

Sanchez is from New York, but has taken on the nationality of his parents. At the post-race news conference, he clearly struggled in Spanish.

No Dominican, though, was doubting his credentials.

"This gold medal is my gift to all Dominicans, who have been waiting for the country's first gold medal,'' he said. "I was very nervous. I knew people wanted this medal. I was warming up and heard the stadium roar. I knew if I didn't do it I'd have to wait for Brazil 2007.''

He also dedicated his gold medal to his grandmother, Lilian Gomez, who was unable to come to the games as she needed a heart operation in San Diego. The two are close, and he said he would now try to win gold for her later this month at the world championships in Paris.

"She was the first thing on my mind. She really wanted to be here. I was thinking of her and my whole family,'' he said.