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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 August, 2004, 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK
Queen Carolina lights up Athens
By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport in Athens

Carolina Kluft had always been an Olympic champion in waiting.

Carolina Kluft

So none of the 80,000 people in the crowd were the least bit surprised when the Swedish sensation clinically eased herself into the heptathlon throne vacated by Britain's Denise Lewis.

Kluft was head and shoulders above her rivals as she completed the full set of Olympic, World, European and junior world titles.

And when the 21-year-old dragged her fellow competitors off on a collective lap of honour they were still where they had always been - trailing in her wake.

The new world order was rammed home in emphatic fashion when defending champion Lewis followed the injured Eunice Barber out of the competition, withdrawing with two events to go while down in 18th place.

It was a heartbreaking way for Lewis to go out after fighting a constant battle against injuries since her triumph in Sydney four years ago.

But Kelly Sotherton's bronze medal gave Britain cause for considerable optimism at the end of one of the nation's finest ever days at the Olympics.

"After watching Denise for the last 12 months trying to prepare to defend her title, I was sad for her," said Sotherton.

I'm just little girl in the big world
Carolina Kluft

"She should have been here to defend it right to the end.

"She was on crutches a month ago and just to have made it here was an amazing feat. My heart goes out to her."

It was a measure of the progress long jumper Sotherton has made since she started training as a heptathlete last year that she was not satisfied with bronze and a personal best.

"I was one second away from a silver in the 800m and I should have got it. Part of me feels more disappointed that I didn't than happy to have won bronze," said Sotherton.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Jackie Joyner-Kersee's world record has eluded Kluft - so far
"Obviously I didn't give it 110% to win that silver medal."

As for Kluft, she has taken just three years to go from new kid on the blocks to mistress of all she surveys.

A bundle of competitive energy, she never let up for a second on her relentless march to glory, geeing herself up before each jump, sprint and throw and punching the air at the result.

Despite her commanding lead going into the final event, the 800m, she squeezed out every last drop of energy, tumbling to the track after crossing the line.

But she was soon bobbing around again as Abba's Dancing Queen blasted out of the PA system on her lap of honour.

"I knew I could do well but I just went out there and tried to do my best - and here I am," said Kluft.

"More often my best comes when I have fun."

Having won everything on offer, Kluft remained coy, however, about whether she could one day beat Jackie Joyner-Kersee's world record of 7291 points.

"I don't think about that at all. I have many goals in my life, and not just in athletics," she said.

"The life I have outside sport is much bigger and I have many gold medals in my private life - my family and friends."

Kluft took exception to being called a "star" by one questioner, insisting she was still a "little girl in the big world".

Heaven help the chasing pack - and Joyner-Kersee's world record - when she grows up.

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